Thursday, 29 October 2015

Deep Thoughts - Is the need to move abnormal?

I have a very active six year old son.  He can't sit still in class.  He fidgets.  He wiggles.  He's always dancing, striking some kind of dramatic pose.  When given the chance, he runs everywhere.  He takes after his mother.

A few weeks ago I posted something on Facebook about children who can't sit still in school with an article from the Washington Post by occupational therapist Valerie Strauss highlighting the fact that kids do not move enough in today's world and many of them have poor core strength, balance and subsequently, poor attention spans.

My son on the farm - being himself
The resulting flurry of commentary from my Facebook friends got me to thinking.  Many questions started swirling in my head.

Why can't my son sit still?  He is frequently disciplined, often by missing his recess ironically.  He obviously needs to move and needs to move a lot.

Is this abnormal?  Although my friends were supporting me, many comments resulting from my post were based on the assumption that it is indeed NOT normal to need to move all day long, and that the inability to sit still is pathological.

But is it really pathological?  Were our bodies not created to move?  It is "normal" to sit still all day long, listening to didactic teaching and intensely listening and watching someone else be active? I am reassured by my younger teaching friends that it is not.

Could I sit still all day long?  NO!  I was a good student (and a girl) so I managed ok in school because I was an oldest type A child.  But I also grew up on a farm and activity was as part of a normal day as eating and sleeping.  There were always chores, and I naturally ran from one part of the farm to another.  I was even known to run pushing the mower around the several acres of grass that I had to cut...back in the old days when we didn't have a riding mower.  I was impatient and I didn't walk if I could run.  The farm was the perfect place for me.  Which is maybe why I could tolerate sitting still in school for 18 years.  Fast forward to grad school in Michigan.  While pulling a marathon 64 hour studying and exam session in my first year of physical therapy, I survived by racing out onto the football field in the middle of the night and running sprints as my friend threw balls at me.  The ONLY way I could focus my mind was to move my body.

Now almost 20 years later, I have a son that seemingly needs to do the same thing.  And he's punished for it.

Back to the questions in my head.

We all know that 100 years ago, the majority of a person's day was spent in manual labour. People lived on farms or earned their living with their hands. My parents were raised in the 50's and 60's being told that children should be seen and not heard.  This was a core value. People began moving into towns and cities, but many still had a farm to run around on, and chores to do.  I was raised in the 70's and 80's during a time of technological revolution.  It was the era of the Apple II in schools - we were one of the first families I knew that had a PC with a dot matrix printer.  I was lucky to live on a farm because as people continued to move into the cities and buy computers, sitting still became something that was not taught, it was necessary and became the new normal.

Now I am raising my kids in the early 21st century when rationing tech time is a battle, riding in vehicles is safer than walking to school, and playing outside on the playground is a liability for the school board rather than a joy and a necessary part of childhood.  I'm a 3rd generation parent of the "seen and not heard" philosophy.  It's trendy to promote activity in youth, but in many schools we are still very much stuck with mid 20th century values.

Where did we go so wrong?  And more to the point of this blog, how do ultra runners fit into the mix?

Flashback to Feb training on Vancouver Island
The answer is we DON'T fit.  We like to move our bodies.  We need to move our bodies, for very long periods of time.  We are all driven by different things.  Sometimes there are inner demons, addictions to overcome, epic vistas to see, or something to prove.

For some of us, might it be that we simply didn't have the need to move trained out of us?  Were we lucky enough to have parents and environments that allowed us to move as much as we wanted as children? Is the need to move simply a part of us that we simply can't deny or suppress? Maybe we are the normal that no longer exists?  The evolutionary biologists certainly would agree.

As I struggle to help my son find his way in the world, I want him to know that he is NOT broken.  There is nothing wrong with him.  I am not going to label him.  He is very intelligent. He simply needs to move more than his peers in order for his mind to work well.  I get that because I am the same way.

I'm often told I'm crazy for running ultra distances.  Maybe.  But maybe I'm just reflecting a normal part of humanity that struggles to find expression in the western industrialized world. Since I don't have to farm, hunt or gather, I just run.

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