Growing Like a Weed
Social class and homemade athleticism + I’m not an influencer + a mega-list of all the movement stuff I kinda like now.
I was very upset the first time I read Annette Lareau’s 2011 book, Unequal Childhoods. It is the rare sociology book (that isn’t mine, heh) about a fairly complex social theory to find a general audience—and is a modern classic in the field. Sociologist Lareau has many arguments. Many of them are good. Some of them are contested. All the usual for this kind of academic work.
I was not angry with this book for academic reasons. I was angry with it for explaining a part of me to myself that I had never before questioned. Lareau has this framework that describes how social class influences the way that parents parent. The fancy kids get cultivated. Their parents are deeply embedded in the social fabric of their little kid worlds. These fancy parents organize their kids’ lives like they organize their own upper-middle-class branded selves: schedules, time clocks, goals, and strategy. The point, of course, is to lift an already high floor beneath their kids’ mobility.
The less fancy kids get natural growth, which sounds like what we do to weeds. We throw those kids out into the yard and let sun, rainfall and nature take care of their developmental needs. Can you guess which social class parenting style I got? Weeds, baby. Weeds.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in my absolute, total lack of athletic ability or even athletic exposure. Fancy kids are all about the athletics. You have a sport by the time you are 3 years old: T-ball, swimming, dance, track, and so on. No one expects the cultivated youth to become professional athletes. Athletics is about disciplining bodies into acceptable middle-class shapes and forms, the kind that can wear sleeveless dresses to the office without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
Well, I did not get that memo. I took dance classes as a kid but mostly as part of an Afrocentric home curriculum than as any kind of athletic cultivation. For years I did “African dance.” That is a catchall marketing term for anything offered at a studio that is taught by a Black teacher and involves learning how to use a pelvis. It is mildly offensive to think about reducing an entire continent’s diverse movement tradition to one class. But this was the South in the 1980s. Just having such a class was a huge progressive statement.
I excelled at dancing and still do. But I sucked at teamwork and still do. Going to dance class involved Vivian rolling up to the studio and maybe slowing the car down long enough for me to jump out. Then I would enter this space, an adult world with all the adult chatter that goes with it. There were social hierarchies and expectations, but I could not yet speak adult proficiently enough to parse it all. I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by the dynamics. I often fled class to the library down the street where the rules made sense to me.
Anyway, that was my foray into athleticism. I did not run track or play softball or do any team sports. I occasionally tried out for the dance squad and sometimes made the cut. But when it came time to suit up and walk in a line with a group of chattering people, I would find a way to be somewhere else. All of this is to say that at my Big Age, I recently found myself with leisure time, an aching hip, and no way of reconciling it all.
Then the pandemic hit.
There was nothing standing between me and middle-aged movement discovery except myself. That is how I ended up secretly becoming an athlete.
Well, let’s not go too far. I’m not an athlete. But I do a handful of athletic things. I do some of them fairly well, but most of them I do poorly. Still, I do them. After age 30, that is enough to qualify as “athletic,”
This is a brief story about how I became a bad athlete and why that is successful enough.
It all started with That Bike. You know the one. I do not speak of this often but, yes, I have a Peloton. It is the most embarrassing thing about me. Owning a Peloton is … basic, in the internet meme sense of the word. It is up there with Uggs and Pumpkin Spice Lattes on the cultural-capital consumerism chart that ranks our conspicuous consumption from White Lady to Cool.
Buying the Peloton was a late-night panic buy. I had just sold my Richmond, Virginia, home and had not yet found a new house in Chapel Hill. The pandemic made it virtually impossible to enjoy the home search—or even to search in any real way at all. Everything was out of my control, which I define as generally “out of control” because I have control issues.
I could not rush the house contract. But I could buy a Peloton. And so that is what I did.
I knew nothing about the bike. I had never taken a spinning class. I did not know anyone with a Peloton. I bought a Peloton because I saw it on Instagram and the website was easy to use—and it was 3 a.m. and there wasn’t a single updated mid-size home in my price range within five miles of work anywhere in this god-forsaken college town.
When the bike arrived at my new house eight weeks later, I had almost forgotten about it. The Peloton pedagogy sucks, especially during the pandemic. Some very nice guys dropped off the heavy bike, plugged it in, and bounced. There was no manual, and no one ever told me how to work it. It took me almost an hour to clip into the bike the very first time. At the end of my first beginner ride I was sweaty and in pain and mad and ugly-crying because I could not get my feet out of the pedals. I sort of threw myself to the ground, wrenched my knee to pull my feet free of the evil spin shoes, and collapsed into a puddle of non-athleticism.
I did it again the next day because, what else did I have to do? Boredom drove me back to the bike over and over again. That is one thing weeds know how to do. We know how to turn boredom into intrinsic motivation. Being at home gave me the isolation I crave and the freedom to fail spectacularly, every day for weeks. I just kept getting on the damn bike.
It took me almost an hour to clip into the bike the very first time. At the end of my beginner ride, I was sweaty and in pain and mad and ugly-crying because I could not get my feet out of the pedals. I threw myself to the ground, wrenched my knee to pull my feet free of the evil spin shoes, and collapsed into a puddle of non-athleticism.
This isn’t an inspirational story. I am not taller or anything for getting on this bike. I’m not an Evangelist. I am not, by any reasonable standard, an athlete.
What I am, however, is a consistent moving person who does some athletic-adjacent things. I learned to accept that this was enough.
That may be my point, if I have a point. The great thing about being a grown-up is that we get to make up our own goals. There are no parents cultivating us, if there ever were. We do not have to get fit enough to get into college or to make a team. We don’t even have to be thin enough for sleeveless office dresses. It is all arbitrary and completely invented.
My friend Tara is the happiest person I know. I love this woman’s energy for life. She sort of grabs it all, sifts through for what she wants, and throws the rest away. Early in our friendship, she told me that as a teenager she couldn’t wait to be 35. “I hated being young,” she said. It was a mind-blowing concept. I did not much enjoy being a kid or a young adult either, but I thought we all had to miss youth. That is the American way. But, nope, Tara says she always knew that being middle-aged would mean the freedom and the means to build a life on her own values. That beat youth every time.
I found a little piece of that self-awareness during the pandemic. I am having the best years of my life right now. The only thing I miss from my youth is my abdominal wall. I used to have one. Now I have two. I wouldn’t mind having just one and a half. Everything else, I can give myself whenever I like, just the way I like it.
No one is more surprised than I am to discover that I like this stupid bike. I get on it almost every day. I never “kill” it, but I’m on it. My stats are so bad that I would not blame the Peloton people for kicking me off the platform. I bring down the curve. But I post my ride stats to social media like I have really done something because for me, I have.
I also have a new hiking problem. For someone who has struggled with just walking for most of her life, this is a development. I have worked on my body mechanics during the pandemic using, I kid you not, a book on training yourself to walk. Author and social-media friend Courtney Milan recommended a book about walking to me three years ago. As it turns out, people know things and some of those things can improve the quality of your life. I do a mile or two a day around town, but my real pleasure is getting lost on a beautiful trail.
Better walking has also added new functionality to the movement stuff I have done for years. After practicing yoga for over 15 years, I stopped punking out on lowering myself from plank to cobra. I can now do it slowly, using my arms, instead of plopping on the mat like a dead fish. What I am basically saying is that I expect to hear from the Olympics any day now.
I like being an athlete my way. A lot of nerdy tools have helped. I have a heart rate monitor and a metabolism monitor and a silly Apple Watch. I have become obsessed with “closing my rings” and figuring out why my body hates white bread when my taste buds love it so much. I am not a rah-rah Peloton person, but I join the Facebook groups. Unlike the physical spaces for working out, these virtual rooms let me lurk in cultivated spaces while retaining the freedom of being a weed.
A few weeks ago, I did a three-mile hike up a pretty challenging elevation just to prove to myself that I could. I paused my watch’s fitness tracker every time I stopped along the way to catch my breath. I finished the hike in maybe double the time it is supposed to take. On the way back to my car, feeling accomplished, I posted the edited hike statistics—with all the pauses magically erased as if they never happened—to a Facebook fitness group. On the internet, no one knows that you laid on a rock midway through your hike unless you tell them.
I am no athlete and I am no influencer. People on Instagram are VERY AGGRESSIVE about you disclosing every brand you wear in a photo. I refuse to do it because I am a serious person. You can’t force me to become an influencer against my will. But I have gotten into gadgets! And gear! As it turns out, science moved on while I was free-range growing up. Materials and technology really do make a difference to how much you enjoy moving. It is a revelation to a girl like me, who grew up during an era when you were expected to be athletic in Chuck Taylors with no arch support and sports bras made for girls who did not need underwire by the eighth grade. I have put together a list of non-self-hating, non-diet-culture accounts, classes, and gear that I enjoy. Don’t you dare come asking me about this on IG. I will ignore you. Because I am totally a serious person.
Jason Harrison–Present Tense Fitness Jason is a long-time reader of mine, which blows my mind a little bit. You can check out how his “doing the reading” shaped his training practice. The man moves through anti-Black misogyny to fears of “getting big” and how he does none of that in his practice. He was recently on my favorite SiriusXM show “Just Jenny,” hosted by the wonderful Jenny Hutt.
Core to Coeur offers accessible wellness for everybody through online courses. I have Vivian doing the Chair Yoga. I just steal ideas from their IG to make use of all of my props. I have SO MANY PROPS. Love props. Used to feel guilty about props. No more. Gimme props, people!
Mirna Valerio and Jessamyn Stanley are inclusive athletic GOATS. Both of their accounts are amazing. Jessamyn, a yoga instructor, has a new book coming out. Mirna is a new Lululemon ambassador. They also weather an immense amount of racist and sexist and heteropatriarchical vitriol for daring to be seen in public with bodies that move. Just horrible stuff. They thrive, as we always do, but they should not have to thrive under these conditions. Heal thyselves, white people, so Black people can live and move in damn peace.
Now for the goods:
The Scosche heart rate monitor is the best because it straps to your forearm and not your chest, which is just weird. I did the chest monitor for a long while because I did not know better. Now I do. I have a Lumen to see if I have a working metabolism. I do not. The app is easy-to-use and it is a harmless data point. My goal is to never have diabetes. I don’t know if this helps but I have learned that if I eat pasta, I do not burn fat again for 11 days.
Trainers Sam Yo and Denis Morton on Peloton, because I am too old for all that “hustle life” inspiration talk that other trainers do. I have a good life. I don’t need “eat, pray, love” on my walls and I don’t need anyone telling me that if I don’t hustle, my family won’t eat while I’m on my silly spin ride. But, also, I’m rooting for everybody Black, yada yada yada.
People sometimes send me free stuff because they are also confused about me not being an influencer. Despite anything I have gotten for free, my hands-down favorite workout gear is from Athleta. I would never wear some of the more aggressive fit-girl styles outside of my house, but at home, it is ON. The leggings are great. The bras fit me. The fabric is high tech. The sizing is great for me. I am sorry if it isn’t true for you but, again, please note that I am not an influencer. I’m also not a body-positivity or fat-culture ambassador. Please leave me alone.
Also say yes to: AllTrails.com app for hiking ideas anywhere you are, having walking poles in the trunk of the car for impromptu adventures, and a Zojirushi for hot coffee that stays hot far longer than however long you will be on the trail.