The Drevitches, Week 10: For Exercise, There's No Place Like Home

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

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The boys' makeshift basketball court is a tight space, but it works. Credit: Gary Drevitch

It's getting cold in New York City, and that means one thing: Kids bouncing off apartment walls on the east side, the west side, and all around the town.

I wrote earlier about the challenges of finding sporty activities for young kids, including the cost, the competition for slots and the logistics of getting three young kids where they need to go with grumpy siblings in tow.

But for most of the year, the kids can also take advantage of a terrific network of city parks and playgrounds to get out of the house and run around. None of our children -- Benjamin, 10; Natalie, 7; and Adam, 4 -- have outgrown the playground. The older kids may ignore the slides and swings in favor of playing ball or Frisbee, but they all still angle for as much time on the (cushioned) blacktop as possible.

And then, winter arrives and the outside shuts down, leaving the kids inside what, on first glance, is a cramped and completely inadequate play space -- a 1,200-square-foot apartment holding a family of five, and a wide array of tight corners, doors and breakables. Yet, as Jeff Goldblum's character said in Jurassic Park, "Life, uh ... finds a way," and so does youthful energy. Despite the limitations and risks, the kids find a way to exercise and run amok in our apartment.

For weeks, Benjamin and Adam have been playing football in our living room with a small, very soft ball -- we're indulgent, but not crazy. Each play starts at our front door with one of them holding the ball and the other defending, and almost every play ends with an end-zone dive onto our red-leather couch, which was, once upon a time, a showpiece. (Admittedly, it's also suffered from my repeatedly falling asleep at night on its right end, especially with my pre-weight loss frame.) And each play requires weaving around the credenza that holds our fine china and the stand on which our piano keyboard rests, as well as avoiding the sharp metal edges of our former coffee table, now covered with various children's books and toys.

But that's just one arena. During Chanukah -- side note: props to me for actually losing a pound during a holiday whose staples are jelly donuts, fried potato pancakes and waxy chocolate coins -- the boys got a Nerf basketball set, with two hoops that you can stick to walls. We've set the nets up at opposite ends of the narrow hallway leading from the living room to the boys' bedroom, and mine. At one end, it's high on the wall for Benjamin; at the other end, it's lower for Adam.

The nightly basketball and football games can last an hour. Sometimes the boys don't bother with ball games at all and just play Monster, an apartment-wide game combining tag, hide-and-seek, wrestling and screaming, in which someone has to find everyone else, and then shriek and tackle them and run away. Sometimes Natalie joins in the games, sometimes she practices gymnastics moves or dance steps on the rug, despite the obvious fact that there's no room to do a tumbling "run" that consists of more than one-and-a-half tumbles.

This nightly sports time usually takes place at an hour when we'd rather Benjamin was doing his fifth-grade homework, but remarkably, when he finally stops and, winded and sweaty, sits down with his school notebooks, he can work diligently without further interruption. Adam, after the games, often likes to hop right into bed. And Natalie, who typically does her homework while the boys play ball, sits down with a book. In other words, while the indoor games may be nerve-wracking, they work. They help the kids burn off their excess energy, they're very much exercise, and they're clearly necessary. So, bottom line: Sorry, downstairs neighbors. The games will continue through the winter.

In fact, partly inspired by the kids, I had a workout at home recently, too. Since we started working together, my trainer, Victoria Gallagher of New York Sports Clubs, has made a point of highlighting exercises I can do at home as easily as at the gym, such as stair runs, sit-ups, crunches and (since I have a pair of 20-pound dumbbells in the apartment) weight-training. Finally finding 45 minutes to myself on a Sunday morning, I stepped out of the apartment to do several sets of stair runs in my 13-story apartment building, alternated with sit-ups, crunches and lifts in my living room.

It was a great little workout, and I didn't even put any wear-and-tear on the couch.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.