In my latest example of weird obsessions, I recently requested copies of all the Ontario Curricula for Grades 1-8. In part, this was inspired by a friend's research into homeschooling and wanting to know what the benchmarks should be, but I was also just curious. Among the books that arrived on my doorstep was the full text of the controversial 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum. The controversial parts include a focus on inclusion, approaches for teaching young children about consent and bodily autonomy, and goals for age-appropriate conversations on the variety of experiences of gender and sexuality, all of which are apparently somehow up for debate. In any event, reading the actual curriculum as it's laid out really draws attention to how overblown those arguments have been. In contrast, what really drew my attention to the emphasis on the importance of family and community reinforcement of the curriculum as a whole, and the encouragement for families to seek opportunities to practice and celebrate physical activity as a normal and common part of everyone’s lives.
As a teenager, I had a tendency to think of myself as an intellectual, and imagined a vast chasm between me, on the side of the Thinkers, and the athletic kids. This despite the fact that my most academically successful peer was also my most athletically successful peer (the leaps we make with our cognitive dissonance, I guess). I saw it as something defining, as if the world were a Venn diagram that didn’t have any overlap. I’ve admittedly caught myself thinking that way on a number of things over the years, and only recently have I started to seriously reconsider that worldview. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I recently joined a gym, and as I've gotten more involved and enthusiastic there, I've been thinking quite a bit about fitness and the mentality around it, and this false dichotomy, between Athletic People and Non-Athletic People, has been something I’ve had to battle with in the last few years, as my body is aging and the things that used to be fine kind of…aren’t anymore.
I’ve been working on this a lot lately, personally: the idea that there are relatively few things that are traits and a great deal of things that are skills. We can learn to be healthy, and optimistic, and kind; we can set goals and practice these things, and forgive ourselves if we have days when we're not as good at it as we'd like to be, because we can practice more tomorrow. I like to think that a lot of the things we tend to think of as true about ourselves can be modified with practice and patience. And while I don’t mean to say that categories and identities serve no purpose (on the contrary: they can be fundamental tools to helping us find each other for both support and celebration), I do think there’s an over-reliance on them that can be harmful. What my adult self knows that my teenage self didn’t is that there are more ways to signal the people we are and want to be than by our hobbies, our fashion, or our associations. We signal who we are by how we interact with the world, and interactions are relatively easy to change, because we can decide how to do it every single time.
And so, while I’m still not an Athlete and probably never will be, I am learning to be a little more athletic, and to enjoy physical activity in ways I never did before. I am practicing being optimistic. I am practicing taking the urge to procrastinate tasks and instead try to finish tasks so I can rest without worry afterward. I am practicing doing things that I know are good for me, for my home, and for my family, even when they aren’t precisely the things I want to be doing. I am practicing self control and maturity. I am forgiving myself on the days when I’m not great at these things, and embracing the opportunity to learn more. I am practicing being a better learner, and accepting that there can be joy in making mistakes and not knowing how yet in the same way there is joy in knowing I’m good at something.
I’m practicing being who I want to be.
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