How do you stop your kids becoming couch potatoes?

You see a lot of chubby kids these days. I immediately feel guilty having written this. It feels unkind, unsympathetic to people who struggle with their weight. But in my defence, I’m not having a go at the kids themselves.  Their misery is well documented – and is nothing new, as this eloquent blog post shows.

In some cases it’s just down to metabolism. And the food industry has a lot to answer for too, packing their products with vast quantities of sugar. But I think it’s also about lifestyle. What I really worry about with my own kids is inactivity.

It’s in the nature of growing older that you come to think of your own childhood has somehow more wholesome than that of the current generation. I wasn’t sporty, but I spent a lot of time wandering around the countryside enjoying innocent pleasures like poking sticks into cow pats.  My kids – given half a chance – would spend the whole day doing nothing more strenuous than swiping their finger across a touchscreen or clicking a computer mouse.

My answer to this is Project Get Your Arse Off The Sofa and Do Something Active Instead (though I usually try to market it in slightly more attractive terms). I’ve had a lot of failures. The words “Let’s all go for a walk in the wood” are pretty much guaranteed to evoke a disdainful groan. But I’ve also had the occasional success. One of them is sailing.

There’s maybe some emotional baggage here. My parents were divorced but I used to visit my dad for short holidays. One time we were staying in a caravan he owned, and he took me for a walk. We ended up in this small boatyard where he excitedly showed me what looked like a small bathtub, full of rainwater and covered in green slime. “It’s a Mirror dinghy,” he declared proudly. “I’ve bought it. I was wondering, if you’d be interested in us going on a course together and learning how to sail?”

I looked down at the slimy bathtub and thought about it for a few seconds. “Not really,” I told him.

A couple of years later, I’d read Swallow and Amazons and felt very differently about sailing. Exploring secret islands… pirate adventures. But by then my father was dead, and there would be no sailing courses together. I’ve thought about it often over the years, regretted the missed opportunity. So this spring I signed myself up for a dinghy sailing course, along with Groucho and Number Two.

One thing I learned on this course was that wearing a wetsuit is not a great look for me, especially on a chilly day in April when it makes me look like I’ve got the genitals of an Action Man. And I can’t pretend the course was a complete success – I ended up sharing a boat with Number Two who spent a lot of the time screaming in terror. Messing about in boats, it seems, is not for her – or at least for now.  But Groucho? She loved it!

Since then we’ve joined a local sailing club and I take her along most weeks. I can’t say I’ve done a lot of sailing myself – I’m like a nautical roadie, helping her get the boat rigged and cheering from shore. But (fingers crossed) she’s sticking at it and has finally found a pastime she enjoys that doesn’t involve the TV, computer or a tablet. Perhaps in the years to come we will spend afternoons out on the water together, building memories that will last a lifetime.

Well, that’s my hope. Time will tell.

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