The maternal force runs strong in our house. Deciding the thing he most wanted in the world was a Nintendo Wii, our five-year-old son came to me first. Either I’m a real pushover or he’s the shrewdest businessman in the nursery (you should see how he’s taken to Monopoly) – whichever it is, he sold me the idea in seconds. No such luck with his more sensible mother. ‘You work for a magazine,’ she said in disgust. ‘I thought you had more imagination.’ Suitably scolded, I slumped down next to my son, and together we gazed out desolately at the still-stifling summer heat.
The next morning was a Friday, when malls don’t open in Abu Dhabi, where I live, until 3.30pm, so I rolled over with the intention of sleeping my way through to lunchtime. No such luck. ‘Up you get!’ yelled my wife from the kitchen. ‘Indoor Olympics starts in five minutes.’ Er... Indoor what? ‘Indoor Olympics,’ she repeated. ‘We’re going to put paid to all this Wii talk and get you both fit at the same time.’ I pulled on my T-shirt and staggered downstairs, cursing my son for having mentioned the retched Wii in the first place. All I ever wanted was a quiet life.
My wife stood in the kitchen, dressed in fitness gear, holding a small Tupperware box. I wiped the sleep out of my eyes and stifled a yawn. ‘In here,’ she began in an all-too determined tone, ‘are 20 events written on separate pieces of paper.’ Events? ‘Yes, events. You have 30 minutes to complete them all – then you can have breakfast. We’ll be doing this every morning until all Wii-related thoughts have desisted.’
‘But why?’ I bleated, pointing to my son: ‘It was his idea in the first place!’ I pulled the first piece of paper from the box. ‘Pick up the baby, then hop to the bedroom window and back three times.’ With extreme reluctance, I followed the instruction. This had to be the worst idea she’d ever come up with.
Five minutes later, I was lying on my back, gasping for air. The baby was delighted, clapping her hands and thumping me on the chest. Hopping is one of those things I gave up sometime around my eighth birthday. It’s surprisingly tiring. I don’t know why children do it so much.
No time for reflection, though. The drill sergeant was standing over me brandishing the Tupperware. ‘Lift your son as high as you can and hold him there for one minute.’ Easy. I’m always throwing him around and playing rough and tumble. One minute should be no problem.
I managed about 25 seconds. It’s difficult holding a five-year-old for longer than that when he’s laughing so much, but 25 seconds is fairly pathetic. Must do better, I thought, and gave it another go. Seventeen
seconds was unquestionably worse. I moved on.
‘Lie down on the floor, then get up and run around the bed. Lie down again when you’ve finished, then start again. Do it 10 times.’ If this wasn’t a family magazine, profanities would be entirely appropriate. I went neck and neck against my son on this one, and he beat me by a mile. I thought I might have a heart attack. It took five mornings for me to manage this event without wanting to throw up.
But then something strange happened: I actually started to see the benefits of our ‘Olympics’. Half an hour of family high jinks in the morning keeps the heart pumping and the imagination fresh. Before we start, we challenge our son to come up with a more outlandish activity than the one he came up with the day before (it may sound dull, but I still rue the day he suggested I stand up and sit down on the floor 20 times), then the whole family darts around the house as though we were kids in a playground. It saves money, too: no wasted gym fees, no dusty home fitness apparatus. The only precautions necessary are to move all breakables out of the way and do your stretches after the games have drawn to a close. Oh, and the Indoor Olympics may make you feel like a kid, but, if you’re anything like me, your muscles will take great glee in reminding you that they aren’t as supple as they once were.
So, what of the Wii? Well, there was talk of making it the grand prize at the end of the Olympics, but it felt a little like we’d be undoing our hard work. Besides, Indoor Olympics aren’t limited to a time period; they run for the length of your own imagination.