7 Health Tips I Learned From My Week With an Eight and Ten Year Old

The Face of Joy

I spent at least a week preparing for their visit. It would be the first time two special little girls were flying for their first time in an airplane to come for their very first visit to the East Coast. My son has been raving about his girlfriend’s two little girls for a few years now, and how special they were. He really wanted our large Italian family to meet them, and so this Thanksgiving things finally fell together and they came to visit for the week.


Melanie is eight and Savannah is ten, and I really wanted them to feel at home. If you have never been to Justice, a store for little girls (and those who love unicorns) and you have a little girl you need to impress, well Justice is your store. I picked up two colorful and glittery pillows in the shape of an “M” and “S” for their beds. I bought Z bars and Flip Yogurts, their favorite snacks. I picked up some cool coloring books and colored pencils. I could just picture them sitting and peacefully coloring.

And they did. For a minute or two. What I quickly learned was that these two little girls, age 8 and 10 had a different idea of how they like to spend their time. Think perpetual motion interspersed with sudden bouts of quiet when they would become intrigued with something that caught their eye. I found myself belly laughing, suddenly playing, being joyfully buried in leaves, hula hooping, making up dance moves and in general, totally immersed in their lifestyle. Now that the dust has finally settled, the sheets are washed and changed in the guest room, the random socks and trinkets have been found and the leftovers gone, I have realized I learned a lot from those energetic sweethearts……so I wanted to share it. Maybe it can help you consider other strategies to be healthy besides the rigid controls we try to put in place in our lives that tend to set us up for failure. Maybe it isn’t that hard after all if you think like an eight year old. So, for all you little girls at heart, here are the tips:

  1. When it comes to making decisions about what to eat, pick your favorite.  The girls and their mom have never seen Boston and so we did a day trip there, and started out at Faneuil Hall. If you have never been there it can only be described as a 2 block long building lined with vendors serving every food imaginable. Seafood, Asian, burgers, ice cream, Southern, Italian, candy, smoothies, you name it. After inspecting the entire place with a slow walk-through I volunteered to take the girls back to get what they wanted. For me, this is always torture. I can’t make up my mind but usually end up getting the gigantic scallops wrapped in crispy bacon since I never make that at home. I assumed the girls were going to take forever, this being their first visit. Nope. They knew exactly what they wanted. One picked macaroni and cheese with broccoli and chicken, and the other picked barbecue chicken wings with a side of carrots (honestly) and they both wanted yogurt smoothies. When we got to the smoothie counter, I panicked as there were about 99 choices. It took less than a minute for them to pick out what they wanted (one mango and one papaya). How did they do that? I was jealous. Then, it occurred to me that for a child picking your favorite things is logical. They are not thinking like I do (what can’t I make at home? what will sustain me for this entire day?). Nope, they very calmly and intuitively picked what they wanted. Phew. But the carrots….? Later on we did get to the famous Italian bakery where they also immediately knew what flavor gelato they wanted.
  2. You don’t have to finish it. I chuckled several times when I would find an apple that was nibbled around the middle (best part) like a little squirrel had gotten a hold of it. Or the half eaten banana pancakes and 3/4 piece of toast and nutella. Milk or hot cocoa cups left 1/4 full. Two out of six chicken wings consumed, the rest brought home for another time. Yes, these little girls were pretty intuitive when it came to how much to eat. Thankfully, their mom was fine about them leaving food or drinks, most of which was wrapped for a later snack (or consumed by my son). It struck me how natural it was for them to listen to their fullness, but how hard it is for many adults. It is a “sin to throw food away” to some of us. But why does that mean we have to stuff it in and possibly get that uncomfortable too full feeling just because we need to clean our plate? Yes, the fridge gets kind of cluttered with those little wrapped leftovers, however feeling good matters too. FYI they did consume entire grinders at Subway (6 inch) after a long hike in the woods. They were hungry, nothing left but a few scraps of lettuce (and most of the mini-bag of chips).
  3. Spend a lot of time outdoors. I will never look at a pile of leaves the same way. Their first day here the only thing on their minds was getting outside to jump in leaves. Apparently, this does not happen much in Colorado where they live since most of the trees are evergreen. Thankfully, we never finished our fall cleanup since the leaves were late in falling. They threw on jackets and ran outside, grabbed the rakes and in no time had a gigantic pile. They thoughtfully planned out how they were going to do this. They lined up about 20 feet away and bolted, jumping joyfully into the pile as if they just entered Disney world. They did this for hours. Coats came off, hats were thrown as their bodies got warmed up from all the moving. Of course I let them bury me so that I could scare my son and pop out of the leaves once they brought him out of the house to find me (hint: if you have a touch of claustrophobia and feel like you can’t breath under a pile of leaves, if you make a tiny tunnel to see the sky it really helps. The quiet under their is heavenly when you can breathe). At night we had a bonfire and these girls ran around with my nephew’s 6 year old daughter for hours into the night. Chasing the dogs, squealing, their joy was contagious. Yes, it was a bit cool, but that’s what jackets and hats and gloves are for. I forgot how fun it was to play outside. It felt so good.
  4.  Break the rules, go off the beaten path. Getting into trouble and breaking the law is not what I am talking about. We adults tend to walk on the sidewalk, or on a marked trail with a destination in mind. We don’t always notice the beautiful things around us as we go where we are going. These girls don’t miss any opportunity to explore. While walking through Boston Savannah just blurted out “I want to climb something!” This random declaration made me laugh! Who thinks like that? Well, we eventually came upon the statue of Paul Revere on his horse, which the girls did try to climb but weren’t too successful. However they were successful in finding a stairwell that led up to a balcony near the giant Christmas Tree near Faneuil Hall for a much better view. Not enough time to list all of the other wonderful experiences I had just because I was with two little girls who knew how to have fun…off the beaten path.
  5. Rock-Paper-Scissors really solves problems. Don’t you get tired of arguing with adults about things that often don’t really matter? You want to go to the movies. They want to go visit friends. You want to order pizza, they want Chinese. You want the remote. They want the remote. And on and on and on. I know couples who think way to much about the reasons it should be their way. There are always good reasons on both sides, but last week I witnessed first hand how rocks-paper-scissors solves problems and quickly restores peace. Try it. Living in a peaceful environment is good for our bodies.
  6. Think about others and have empathy. We may think of little kids as instinctively selfish and wanting everything for themselves. They have not gone through much yet in their little lives and it is a learning process. I was blown away however by the instinctual empathy and caring that these little girls showed during their week with us. Granted, they are blessed to have a wonderful family and love in their lives, and that surely helps. But, it seemed to me they were simply being kids. For example, many children love their stuffed animals. They often treat them like they are real, giving them the best spot on the couch, in bed, on the car ride, etc. Well, one day I decided to take the girls to a Nature Center with a gift store, animal barns and lots of hiking trails in the woods. We spent time in the little museum, I let them pick one small item from the little gift shop (Savannah picked a mini-bear that came in a mini-backpack, and Melanie picked the same thing but a bunny). The girls were delighted with these tiny 2 inch toys and so we proceeded to harass the cows and chickens, and then started on one of the trails. It went on and on, and after about 45 minutes of hiking in the woods I decided we should turn around because it was not coming out back on the main road where I thought it would. And it was getting cloudy. We started back and Melanie spotted a log she just had to try to walk across. We convinced her to keep moving so we could get back. As we walked, Melanie was trying to come up with a name for her bunny, finally settling on “Pouchy”. Only about 3 minutes later, she suddenly cried “I can’t find Pouchy!” Oh no. Her sister tried to help her search her pockets. She was sobbing. We turned around and retraced our steps all the way to the log where she last had it, but it was no where to be found. So we headed back as her sister and I tried to console her. I stupidly said “the store is still open, maybe we can get another one!”. Wrong thing to say, as Savannah filled me in: you can’t replace something you already named. Well, if you are an uncaring adult who does not understand you can. But if you are an empathetic and loving child, of course you can’t replace it. There is only one Pouchy. It felt like a death just occurred. I was hoping this would not ruin our entire day. Thankfully, right as we got back to the spot where the meltdown occurred, Savannah spotted her sister’s little pet. Thank God. She dried her tears (with the help of her sister) and on to the next adventure we went. I wish I could bottle the energy from that week. Thinking about others, truly caring about their feelings gives us an amazing feeling that has to be good for our bodies, too.
  7. Crash when you need to. My body felt like I ran a marathon the day they left. Those girls have energy, but the one thing I noticed was they also listened to their body when they were finally spent. They would plop on the floor, grab those coloring books and pencils and go to town with art work. Or maybe cuddle on the couch and watch a cartoon for awhile. Sometimes, they would just jump up to be held with their head on your shoulder. I don’t think we adults give ourselves permission to do that when we need to. We tend to tune out our bodies because we have “things to do”. And then we may get overly tired, grumpy or even sick. Instead, take it from the girls, have a blast but take a rest when you need it.

There are more stories to tell about that week that would make you laugh for sure. Maybe my week with these little girls was so special because it was a reminder of how I used to be. It is not easy to remember that simple living, and not possible to truly live like an 8 year old, but certainly there are some lessons to be learned about what is truly important in life as far as having a healthy body and mind.

As they say, “Tis the Season to Be Jolly”. Maybe we can make it last past the holidays!


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