The advice I hear over and over as a new parent is that sleep is the most important thing you can do to survive the first year of parenting. And believe me, after getting anywhere from 3-5 hours of sleep night after night, the idea of taking a daily nap sounds pretty appealing. And yet each day when given the opportunity, I turn to exercise instead.
I’m somewhat envious of friends who are less reliant on exercise. They seem to go about their day with ease, rolling with whatever the day presents without concern for how it will affect their ability to get out for a bike ride or run. I imagine these friends to have infinite time to read the newspaper at their local coffee shop, engage in lengthy philosophical discussions with their wives, play for hours with their kids, and write poetry in their spare time.
Meanwhile, i start twitching and becoming irritable if noon rolls around and i haven’t yet gotten my heart rate up to 150 (i’ve been pretty grouchy the last 2 months since my achilles injury). Yesterday was a perfect example. I was sitting in the living room, the late morning sun was streaming in through the windows, birds chirping outside, and the cutest little baby I’ve ever seen was napping in my lap. What could be better, right? And yet i was unbelievably irritable. The sun was too hot. Simple tasks too tedious. And I almost hurled my phone over the balcony after yet another AT&T dropped call. What’s the problem here? I need a nap. No, i need a bike ride.
So with the blessing from my awesome wife, I went for an hour and half ride along the stunning pacific coast on the famous Highway 1. The views of the ocean from this rolling highway (peacefully free of traffic on a weekday – hurray for paternal leave!!) are breathtaking. On a clear sunny day in winter, the Farralon Islands are visible on the horizon and the water is a beautiful turquoise color that seems only possible in the Mediterranean. From Stinson Beach, my route climbed up the lower slopes of Mt Tamalpais, where I danced on the pedals as if i was finishing the Alp d’Huez stage of the Tour de France. But instead of fist pumping fans and flag bearing countrymen cheering me on, 200 year old redwoods creaked and groaned overhead with approval. After summiting the climb, the ride finished with a cruisy descent through shady redwood groves as dappled light danced across the road. It was pure bliss. It was one of the best bike rides of my life.
Funny thing is, i’ve said that to myself after my last three bike rides.
When i come home from these rides and my wife asks how it was, i try to act nonchalant. But like a kid who just scarfed a chocolate bar out of the cupboard, the evidence is all over my face; pure smiles.
From that point on, the day seems to unfold with ease. Washing dishes feels less tedious. The crying sounds less piercing (as perfect as she is, she does cry on occasion). Sitting down and being still with my daughter, taking in all the details, the new facial expressions, and the funny little noises that come out of her, becomes an absolute joy.
I think it all comes down to patience. In addition to the health benefits, the pursuit of goals, and the fresh air, exercise makes me more patient. And patience, i’ll venture to guess, is one of the most important traits to foster as a successful father (and husband).
So for now, and the foreseeable future, i will have to abandon any hopes of leisurely mornings reading the newspaper, afternoon naps, and poetry writing. Because the one personal activity that makes me a better (i.e. patient) parent, husband, and employee, is exercise.
Coffee comes a close second.