Emmeline and I were cuddled on the couch, watching Sesame Street on a rainy afternoon. I left the room for a moment, only to return at the sound of a nightmarish scream.
I thought: How could she get hurt on the couch, covered in blankets and pillows? I dashed back to the room, expecting to find a mutant zombie spider feasting on her neck or maybe a burglar tapping his knuckles on the window.
“It’s Big Bird!” Emme cried.
She shielded her eyes with her fingers.
“What?” I asked, “What happened?”
Is this the episode Big Bird contracted avian herpes? Did the Letter J do something inappropriate to 3? Did Cookie Monster suddenly develop a taste for chicken?
Who on earth is scared of Sesame Street?
Emme began to weep openly, waving her hands to cut off my questions.
“Just please,” she gasped, “Turn it off.”
This is why we have such a hard time keeping up Family Movie Night, one of the things I used to love as a kid. My parents would make huge bowls of popcorn and then we’d all sit around for the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. In those days, you’d watch whatever came on: Old Yeller, Bambi, Where the Red Fern Grows, something brimming with mirth.
Now, Dana and I settle onto the couch and take about an hour flipping through OnDemand for a suitable show.
“Here, this one say it’s G,” Dana will say, and then we remember all the scary Sesame Street episodes and wish for a rating under-G or a series of movies with cotton candy drifting amiably across the screen. From time to time, Emme will pipe up and insist on watching something she sees in the preview window, some Halloween cut-up job by Wes Craven or an action movie starring Tom Cruise.
“Oh no,” we reply, “There are kid movies and then there are adult movies. You’ve got a long time to go until you can see an adult movie.”
She pouts for a bit, mumbling, “I am too old enough for an adult movie,” while Dana and I stifle a laugh, the both of us trying to come up with a better term for movies designed for a more mature audience, as opposed to, well, adult movies. But the term has yet to come to us.
In the end, we usually settle on some G-rated cartoon and then wait a few moments for the mom to die or the main character get chased around by jungle birds or whatever. Emme shields her eyes again and starts gasping between sobs.
“Maybe. We. Should. Just. Watch … The Food Channel.”
My blood pressure reads more like a meat thermometer than a measurement of anything remotely medical. I remember an evening when I strolled over to the emergency room for a brief once-over and the nurse slipped the blood pressure cuff over my sleeve. After a few seconds, she tapped the read out and adjusted the cuff.
“Must be broken,” she said.
I knew it worked perfectly fine.
She cranked up the machine again, did a double take at the display and then excused herself. Outside the exam window, I saw her run down the hallway for the doctor.
Like any hypochondriac, I am scared to death of medicine. I rarely take Tylenol and dread the idea of starting blood pressure pills, all those loopy ups and downs as the dosage is adjusted.
So for the past few years, I’ve been exercising like a professional athlete, performing all manner of weight training and cardiovascular work to stay healthy. Thankfully, it has worked. Combined with a better diet, all the exercise has dropped my blood pressure to something at least resembling non-rodent levels. Plus, I’ve gotten to see a new side of the city, with all these multi-mile runs. I like to run over to Glen Canyon to search for an illusive coyote or climb to the top of Twin Peaks to admire the cerulean sweep of sky and cityscape. I plan to tackle every hill in the city over the next few months.
But it’s hard work. If I slack off, my blood pressure rises and I begin to have visions of medicine and fainting spells and emergency room visits. So I work out pretty much every day.
It was much easier when Emme was napping. When she was a baby, she’d nap for three or four hours, so I could spend the afternoon belly dancing in the living room or jogging in place while watching a soccer match. As she got older, I had to squeeze in the workouts while her nap times grew shorter. Now that she’s approaching five, the nap is, finally, officially, over. At a time when I need the most relaxing exercise, I have the least amount of time.
Emme and I are working our way around a new system. I pick her up from school, set up some craft or game for her, and then I lock myself in the TV room, dancing in place to a 20-minute exercise show or watching part of a Criminal Minds re-run while skipping rope or lifting weights. Emme doesn’t like it, that closed door and grunting, but it’s only for a tiny bit of time and then we go to the park or play around the house.
Occasionally, she’ll tap on the door and I’ll emerge drenched in sweat.
“Are you done?” she’ll ask.
She’ll peak around me, hoping to catch a glimpse of the TV.
“What are you watching?”
“Just a movie. Five minutes.”
I’ll quietly shut the door while she mopes back to her craft or book.
We don’t do this every day. Just those days when I can’t find the time to go running in the morning or evening. It’s a new arrangement and I feel badly for her, but I tell myself it’s not good for kids to be so dependent on their parents for every second of entertainment. Boredom is good for the soul, an ironic statement considering I like to workout in front of the TV to avoid losing motivation. But whatever, it keeps me healthy.
The other day I picked Emme up from preschool in the afternoon as usual. It was bright and sunny, almost hot after a few weeks of unseasonably wintry coldness.
“What are we going to do today?” she asked.
We maneuvered down Fillmore Street around the iPhone zombies and doublewide sidewalk strollers.
“I need to workout,” I said, “And you can read, and then maybe we’ll do to the park?”
We stopped at the curb. A crowd gathered around, waiting for the light to change. Emme sighed and lowered her head.
“What?” I asked. She pouted some more.
“What is it?”
She looked up with a sad face and began to protest loudly.
“I just don’t like it when you lock yourself in the TV room and watch adult movies while grunting and sweating all afternoon.”