This morning I set up the living room to do my workout. Erica was sleeping in our bedroom; Ethan was in his bedroom playing Minecraft on his Nintendo Switch. I did the 15 minutes of Cardio that I’ve started to add on in the last two weeks perfectly happy. Then, as I got ready to do the mat/Pilates part I heard that niggling voice in my head:
“He’s been staring at the screen for an hour…you really should do something active with him…”
“You did a workout yesterday, and the day before, can you really justify another hour when he has to occupy himself?”
“Why should you have time to yourself when there’s washing to put on/out/in, the dishwasher to empty, hoovering to do? You’re so selfish!”
Life is busy right now (it has always been busy to be honest, who am I kidding, but it seems particularly pressured at the moment).
A new born has brought more washing than I remember, not helped by the choice we have made to do cloth nappies and wipes again. Ethan seems incapable of wearing anything more than once so his washing basket is always full. I’m getting through more clothes than usual (baby sick, baby dribble, baby everything, the food I’m dropping while I try to eat while she’s feeding (no-one’s going to notice the sriracha stain on her onesie, right?!)).
Keeping Ethan in snacks could almost be a fulltime job…shop bought stuff runs out quickly and is more processed than I’d like so I’ve been baking cookies and flapjacks and banana bread to fill him (and Nick, to be honest!) up. But that takes time, and the first time I tried to bake with Erica in the sling I remembered that opening the oven door is not a good idea with a baby in front of you and so had to re-think.
Then there is the time spent playing with Ethan, which I don’t do anywhere near as often as I should. As an only child for ages he misses playing with his friends, and he’s rubbish at occupying himself alone with anything other than the Switch, inane individuals on YouTube, or comics. I can only really go and kick a football or play swingball with him whilst Erica is asleep, and the one time we attempted Lego with her awake I feared the tiny yellow people wouldn’t recover from the digested milk that ended up all over them!
So, there are many, many things I should be doing whilst Erica is sleeping. And at the moment, the only guaranteed longer than an hour stretch we get is first thing in the morning, after she’s been up an hour. It feels like I have to try and fit everything I need to do in that space, just in case she’ll only sleep on me for the rest of the day. That little niggling voice in my head tells me that exercise shouldn’t be a priority.
And maybe you agree with it. Which is perfectly fine. Not everyone “gets” exercise. Not everyone has the luxury of even thinking about fitting it into their day. And I’ve not always been an endorphin chaser. After revelling in my place on the netball team at primary school (GA thank you very much *takes a bow*!), the social complexities of secondary school team picking combined with being tall and ungainly (and the whole nobody understood the need for sports bras to be part of the uniform thing) sport was not something I enjoyed. Getting sweaty and then putting your uniform back on for the rest of the day was just asking for red-faced related bullying, and people generally wanted to pass to their friends, no matter how good at shooting you actually were. I didn’t enjoy moving my adolescent body, mainly because it seemed unreliable and alien. When I got to Uni there were far too many other fun things to do, and it wasn’t until my best friend and I decided to join a gym together in the 4th year that I got back into the whole “getting fit” thing. We’d stay up late out or in with friends and far too much wine, get up for the 6am spin circuits class (trying not to be sick) and then come home, eat porridge and watch Friends re-runs… With the odd lecture thrown in, obviously. In the holidays back at home I’d run with friends, or by myself, and I started being proud of what my body could achieve, rather than cross that it didn’t seem to compare with media images. When Mark and I married we’d run to the gym together, work out and then run home – me much slower than he would have liked and feeling like I was holding him back. I was always trying to catch up, with him running 10ks most weekends and half marathons when he had the time to train. Running seemed like the most sensible way to keep moving, but although I loved the feeling of being able to run as fast as I could, that was never for long, and I never seemed to improve.
At some point in 2010, I’m not sure how, I came across some workout DVDs by Tracy Anderson, a ridiculously tiny, perky, blonde American trainer completely opposite to anyone I would have normally trusted with my wellbeing. Her moves were like Pilates on crack, mixed with dance cardio routines that I was hopeless at learning, looked like an uncoordinated elephant doing, but completely loved! The whole thing just fit, with none of the repeated stress on my joints that running gave me and a constantly changing routine that meant my (possibly ADHD) brain never got bored. And I’ve been a devotee ever since. Not (pretty obviously) because she’s made my body the perfect specimen I used to yearn after, but because the daily practise of focusing on what my body can do better than it did yesterday has improved my relationship with it more than I can say. I have still had days when I look in the mirror and dislike what I see, but I am kinder to myself than I used to be. When I dance around like a lunatic for 30 minutes I don’t have to think about anything other than trying not to fall over or making sure I don’t kick Ethan in the face, and that has been better for my mental health than anything else I have ever tried. I can work out stresses, lift myself out of despair, and feel as if I have accomplished something when everything else about my day has been shit. When I was pregnant with Ethan it kept me healthy and flexible. The consultant we saw after the debacle of Ethan’s birth was pretty sure it was the reason I recovered so quickly. When Mark was sick I would come home and workout in the kitchen, and then collapse, dead tired, into much needed sleep which I wouldn’t have had otherwise. After Mark died it was my “me time” once Ethan was in bed, and when the day had been filled with “When is Daddy coming back?” questions I could lay it all on the mat and leave it there to start afresh a new day. Even now I don’t feel like myself if I leave 2 days between a workout, and right now it is helping me rebuild my strength after giving birth. It is also, now that we’re in lockdown, the only 45 minutes to an hour that I get for myself during the day. And, no matter how loud the voice in my head gets, it will take a lot for me to give it up. And, I do feel a bit smug that now everyone is catching onto this “working out from home” malarky!
Ethan says it looks really funny when I do it, he likes being able to join in with me sometimes, and he doesn’t really mind being occasionally kicked in the head! I like to think that I’m setting him a good example, that movement can be a healthy part of your life even if you’re not a naturally sporty person, and that there are loads of different ways of managing difficult emotions.
I think a lot of my family and friends don’t understand why I workout so much, and think that I’m a bit nerdy about it all. I remember once my gran was staying with us and after 30 minutes she said “Are you not done yet?! That much exercise can’t be healthy!” But my life so far has been fairly stressful…and this keeps me sane…well this and red wine, anyway… #balance