The other day I took a break from homeschooling #7, #8, and #9 (John, C.C., and Sam) and went to a barre class at noon (#6 who is 14 was home). Although it’s been awhile since I was really unable to steal away, it still feels a little strange when I do. For so many years my only chance at exercise during the week was early in the morning or while the kids were napping (thank God for my lifecycle). It’s a question I’m often asked, “How did you fit it in when your kids were all young?”
It wasn’t easy. But then again, since I’ve always loved fitness, I know it wasn’t that hard (I developed a habit of fitness early and it’s been something I’ve relied on for energy and well-being for a long time). I’ve homeschooled my children and so my schedule is not that different from someone who works outside the home. It’s not like I could go out for a run in the middle of schooling when my kids were young. The dawn hours were often my only chance at fitting in a workout (and I do mean dawn…sometimes out the door at barely 5 am which meant an alarm that actually said 4 something). Yet exercise in the early morning hours also came at a cost. Too many of my kids weren’t great sleepers when they were infants and so morning always came with me longing for a few more hours of sleep…which of course I never got. I would tell myself that I would get a nap in the afternoon. How comical this is now. Since having kids I can count on my fingers how many afternoon naps I’ve actually had. It’s like my body has a response control when I close my eyes in the middle of the day. Immediately I start thinking of all the things I should be doing and I literally couldn’t sleep if you paid me. Luckily I learned long ago (from another mom of a large crew) the value of just closing my eyes for 15 minutes everyday. It has been a blessing. Sleeping mid-day may be impossible, but “cat napping” works wonders.
Those early months after each baby I would forgo the early alarm wakeup and try to get out for a run when my husband got home in the evening. Either we would go together or I would go alone (or with one or two in tow in the baby jogger or on a bike). Ever since #1 was born 25 years ago, there has always been a baby jogger (or two) in my garage. We still have “Bob” in our garage. If you are a running mom you know this stands for a stroller, not a man! Although #9 is now 5, I don’t see myself getting rid of the double Bob anytime soon.
We were really fortunate with #5 and #6 (Annie and Grace), who as infants were amazing night time sleepers. I remember two weeks after Annie was born, I woke up at 6 am in a total panic because I hadn’t gotten up at all the night before. I literally jumped out of bed and ran to her basinet in our room. She was still asleep. This was totally unlike any baby we had experienced. I thought something was wrong with her! But the next night it was the same thing. And the next. Although this wasn’t ideal in terms of breast feeding (let’s just say she had PLENTY of milk every morning), I started back running three weeks after she was born. I would rise at 5:45 and she would be waking up, so I would nurse her and then meet Karrie (my next door neighbor and longtime running buddy). Even Karrie couldn’t believe I was so fortunate. Then Grace, the next baby, was the same way! Alas, it was not to be after #7. Or #8. Or #9. The last three weren’t the sleepers #5 and #6 had been, and although I still found a way to sometimes get out the door early, I was exhausted doing it.
Over the years (and especially when my last three were babies), I also relied on my Lifecycle for a source of fitness. 45 minutes, level 3, hill circuit. I started doing this workout in my first days of homeschooling when I sometimes felt stuck if I didn’t get out in the morning to run. I remember reading George Washington’s World aloud while my kids colored in maps or mazes and I pedalled away…literally so out of breath at times they would get annoyed and ask me to read it again without the breathing noises. James bought me the Lifecycle before he started law school 22 years ago right before #2 was born, and it has been a good friend ever since (for a great story about my lucky Lifecycle click here).
So how do I answer the question about exercising with young children? Fit in what you can. If you are fortunate to own some exercise equipment, put it to use while kids nap. Don’t worry if you have to break up your workouts. Maybe you get 15 minutes in the morning. Don’t take that shower quite yet! You may find you can get out with a stroller in the afternoon. Leave some free weights in your closet where you can do a “quick and dirty weight workout”. Or try one of my body weight workouts when you’re pressed for time. There are lots of ways to fit in exercise that aren’t necessarily the traditional 60 minute workout.
I probably answer the question slightly differently now that I am 47. I say, “This too shall pass…unfortunately.” Unfortunately the baby stage (and even the toddler stage) doesn’t last very long. I’ve done those stages nine times and they seem like distant memories now. Sadly. Even with a large family…the infant and toddler stages go fast. I’m not saying the stages get worse as they get older. Not at all. They are more rewarding in many ways. But they come with different kinds of sleepless nights. I love the way things are now, as I watch my older kids venture out into the world, but I know that those earlier days were special in so many ways… and I won’t get them back. I was tired, yes. But the dirty little secret is that, even though I can sleep through the night now, I am still tired (and not just because I often wake to find #9 in bed next to me). I’ve learned that having older kids can be more emotionally tiring than younger ones because they are facing big decisions and life changes. While I realize how important sleep is, I also know that for mothers it can be elusive.
I was in line at Starbucks the other day behind two women who looked to be in their mid to late twenties. They were discussing exercise and how frustrated they were that they weren’t finding time to fit it in since they had babies and toddlers. I stood behind them thinking of the country song, “You’re Gonna Miss This” (I know it sounds cliche – but it’s true -“you’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast“). I wanted to lean over and tell them not to worry about exercise too much. This too shall pass. And when it does, I promise you won’t be thinking about how fast you got back into your skinny jeans (if you ever did). Exercise is important in that it makes us feel better. As a mom, that is often apparent to my kids. So if you can fit it in…do it. But don’t sweat it (pun not intended). I barely remember any of my workouts when my kids were young. But I remember lots of great times with my kids.
As I look back over the years of fitness (from 1 Kid Fitness to 9 Kid Fitness), I realize that I have developed a vision of what is essential. Exercise will always be an important part of my life. But there are many other more important things. Now with three kids in their twenties, I am much more relaxed about working out. Exercise still ranks towards the top of my priority list, but it has had to move over to fit in other priorities. And there are no regrets about that.
To those with young ones at home who find fitting in fitness difficult, don’t worry. Your time will come. Do whatever you can do, and leave the rest. Maybe a walk in the evening with your husband and a few kids in strollers is all you get for exercise today, but this too shall pass…unfortunately.