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This Is Why I Exercise Alone

During the school year, I get up early to work out – not because I’m a morning person, but because if I don’t do it before the day gets going then I don’t do it at all. And if I don’t work out regularly, all my old dance injuries fall apart and I can barely hobble around. So I get up a few times a week at 5:30 a.m. to work out and shower before getting the girls up for school.

But it’s summer now and we’re not on a tight schedule, so I’ve been setting my alarm for 7:30 instead; this lets me sleep in and the girls are usually still asleep by the time I finish my workout video and head for the shower.


Sometimes, though, one or both of them wake up and stumble downstairs while I’m sweating to Jillian Michaels, and proceed to park their butts on the couch and enjoy the show.

I’m a retired dancer, so I’m used to having people watch me move, but it’s more than a little disconcerting to have my children stare passively at me while I grunt through push-ups, leg lifts, and jogging in place. Having my kids watch silently is not nearly so painful, though, as having to endure their commentary while I work out.

Cora, in particular, feels it’s her duty to keep an eye on my form, make sure I’m not cheating, and in general keep me in line. She’ll watch the screen, judge the “advanced” and “beginner” versions being demonstrated, and then watch me to make sure I’ve got it down right. Here are some of her honest-to-goodness comments from this past week:

“Mommy, both girls are swinging their arms while they pretend to jump rope. You need to swing your arms more.”

“Mommy, Bea (advanced girl, who Cora knows by name apparently) is moving her feet a lot faster. You need to go faster.”

“Mommy, Jillian says that if you need to you can leave your legs on the ground. It looks like you should leave your legs on the ground.”

“Mommy, get lower in your squats. See how Bea does it? You do it that way now.”

It’s not just me, right? Those are truly obnoxious, yes?

Having my girls watch me work out is mildly-to-moderately embarrassing, but I persevere. I don’t want them to think it’s something I only do in private: I want them to see exercise is important to stay healthy. At the same time, they never hear me talk about exercising to look good: I always talk about it in a framework of staying strong, keeping my heart healthy, and taking care of old injuries. I am passionate about my girls growing up happy about the way they look and never want them to see exercise as something they do to chase some impossible physical ideal.

Which is why I absolutely hated having to answer this question Maddie asked just yesterday:

“Mommy, you know how the girls in the videos have muscles on their bodies? Why don’t you have muscles like that?”

Um, because those girls are twenty years old and work out six hours a day? Because they exist on protein shakes and cabbage? And by the way, Missy, I’d like you to look this good at this age?

But I said none of those things. I simply took a breath, and said, “Well, baby, everyone’s body looks different. And the more you exercise a muscle, the bigger it gets, so those girls probably exercise those muscles more than I exercise mine. I do my exercises to stay healthy and don’t need muscles that strong, so mine probably won’t get that big. Those girls work hard to get such strong muscles, and they probably do it for a reason, like their job needs big muscles.”

And a flat six-pack. But I don’t add that part.

Maddie accepted my explanation and moved on, refraining from more comments about how my body looks.

Which is why she’s still alive today.


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