Curls and girls

I have a gym membership for the first time in seven years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve been a parent for almost exactly that length of time (factor in my first pregnancy and it adds up to six years, ten months, and counting). Exercise is just one of those things that kind of falls by the wayside when you have small children, right?

OK, I know that’s not entirely true. I’ve seen dedicated moms frantically pushing jog strollers through my neighborhood. I tried that at one point, but my kids wouldn’t tolerate it for long and I can’t say I was a fan either. (No one should run with their arms stiff out in front of them, except for maybe a Scooby-Doo villain.) Other mothers, I understand, are so hardcore they rise at dawn to go for a run, or hit the gym late in the evening, when their kids are snug in their beds.

That just doesn’t work for me. I already get up at around 6, which gives me enough time to wash my face, bust a few yoga moves, make my bed, feed the dog, glance over the day’s headlines, and down my first espresso before the kids emerge at 7. I want to spare them the horror of starting their day with the Ms. Hyde version of Mommy — unvarnished, un-caffeinated, and really unpleasant. And I simply can’t get up any earlier unless I’m super-motivated, like I’ve got to catch that 6 a.m. Continental flight to Newark. At the tail end of the day, after the kids have been wrestled to bed, I could, theoretically, go for a run or bike ride, and sometimes, when the temperature dips below 90, I’ve managed this feat. But on most nights, I succumb to the temptations of dinner, a glass of wine, HBO. I am weak. Lazy. Lacking the Eye of the Tiger.

The thing is, I actually enjoy exercise. I like the burn, the sweat, the rubbery fatigue. But I don’t like gyms. I don’t like having to drive somewhere so I can run nowhere (and be forced to watch Fox News or The View while doing it). I resent having to pay for the privilege of doing something that comes complimentary with, well, existence. I don’t like having to wear shower shoes. Nothing against the footwear itself, just the idea of why I have to wear it. It’s troubling. Mostly, though, I’m a bit of a misanthrope; I embrace “the loneliness of the long distance runner.” As Dorothy Parker once said (sort of), “Hell is other people watching you while you’re struggling to bench press 40 pounds.”

But health clubs — what with their air-conditioning, on-site day care, and Wi-Fi-equipped smoothie bars — are clearly the way to go for a person in my predicament: I’m stranded between that summer-camp rock and hard place, with a 2-year-old too young to be signed up for any drop-off activities and a 6-year-old who’s old enough, but would also be wild with jealousy if she were banished to camp every day while little sister got to stay home and watch cartoons and play Legos and go on exciting field trips to Petco and Starbucks. And I think that’s fair. Not to mention it just seems silly to spend a lot of cash to keep big sister occupied for part of the day when I’ve still got little sister on my hands — I mean, what’s the point?

So I scrutinized the family budget and decided to funnel money earmarked for preschool tuition and extracurriculars into a family gym membership, just for the summer. Despite my misgivings, the promise of two head-clearing hours of childcare per day — even if we don’t go every day — was too much to resist. I figured the only downside would be that I’d have to, you know, work out the whole time. But I’m finding that’s not the case.

Health clubs are a lot nicer than they were seven years ago. And they’re definitely swankier than the last gym I belonged to, a Brooklyn YMCA. While my kids are hurling basketballs at each other and coloring endless pictures of Ariel, I can chill on a chaise by the adult-only pool and read. I can languish in the steam room or sauna, then sit in the café with my laptop and consume a day’s worth of calories in about six minutes (ah, peanut butter smoothie, you will be my undoing). Which is now making me wonder, how, exactly, I’m going to give it all up come September … 

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