There Is No Wagon

I had an absolute meltdown the other morning. A wonderful meltdown, because it led me to a wonderful revelation. For quite a few weeks now I’ve been trying to get back into a regular exercise routine. For me, the strategy is to incorporate it into a routine part of my day so that it becomes habit for me, a no-brainer that I don’t need to think about. And the most logical place for me is to plug it into my morning, first thing. I get up, brush my teeth, drink some water, then hit the gym or run. And it’s been a great way to start my day.

However, there is one little thing that keeps derailing my “exercise every day” goal. And that little thing is my little daughter. On the days I have my kids, my 3-year-old usually wakes up sometime in the middle of the night and makes her way to my bed. If I’m not in bed with her when she wakes up, she hunts me down and cries and fusses and generally starts the day off with a meltdown.

Now ideally – and this is what so many other parents are able to successfully do – I try to get up way before my kids wake up so I can get a home workout in before the house starts stirring and demanding attention. This should be easy. However, every time I gently roll out of bed and tip-toe downstairs to sneak outside to the cold, dusty patio, I’ll just be loading weights on my bar when a frantic, sobbing 3-year-old in Paw Patrol jammies launches herself at me accusing, “I didn’t know where you were! You were gone! I was so scared!”

I mean, how do you even respond to that?

And so I hold her and I console her, and usually I take her back to bed with me, because it is still ridiculously early for her. I coax her back to sleep for an hour or so while I just lay there next to her, wide awake and in my gym gear, my feelings ping-ponging between the love and comfort of snuggling my little one to bed, and seething in resentment that can’t I just have this one time to myself to get my stuff done? I mean, she owns me all throughout the day, is it too much to ask if I have from 9pm until 6am to myself??

And so here I was, laying in bed next to my tiny daughter, and it suddenly occurred to me that she’s almost 4 years old. And her brother is almost 7. And she’ll grow out of this eventually, this crawl-in-mommy’s-bed-every-night habit. And I know I’m going to miss it so hard.

In another year or so she’ll be fine and won’t be climbing into my bed every night. And then I get sad that she won’t always be this small, dependent, and cuddly. Do I really want to give up these quiet mornings of snuggles and closeness for exercise? Am I prepared to start paying the cost of having my kids need me less?

I don’t know if I’m really ready for that yet, because I know it’ll come sooner than I’m prepared for. Soon they’ll be requesting slumber parties with their friends, asking me to drop them off at school around their corner so their friends won’t see me. They’ll stop giving me hugs and kisses and start hiding behind closed doors and giving me one-word “grunt” answers to “how’s your day been?” They’ll be dating. Breaking curfew. Planning for college. Then one day moving out and holy crap I’ll be an empty-nester and then I’ll totally have all the time in the world to exercise anytime for as long as I want!

So to the moms of small children out there who struggle to find time to take care of yourselves and feel guilty about it: if you can’t find the time to consistently exercise and it is stressing you out, that is totally and completely okay to just not work out. You are not indifferent to your health, lazy, or uncommitted. And if you can’t give yourself permission to not feel guilty about not having “structure” or “a routine”, then let me give it to you. You have the permission to drop the idea that you need to work out every day if trying to fit it into a day that already starts too early, ends too late, and has approximately zero amount of self-care time built in is causing you stress and shame. Because this is just a phase of life and This Too Shall Pass. Soon you will sleep through the night again, have time in the evening to cook a real meal and even maybe sit down to a TV show uninterrupted or be able to go to the bathroom alone. I know, right?? Such dreams. But it’ll happen someday.

Now, I’m not saying never work out. When you have the opportunity, seize it! Had the baby off to the other parent, and jet off to the gym. Use a lunch break to squeeze in a run. And when you can get it done, relish it and feel good that your doing something good for yourself. But don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not doing enough, that you need to “get with the program” or “get back on the wagon,” because I’ll tell you a secret …

There is no wagon.

So just do what you can, let go of what you can’t, and just live your life. Because if you can find the happy and joy, you get to model how to be happy and joyous to your impressionable little ones who are always watching, and isn’t that what parenting is really all about?

And the little kid snuggles are so, so worth it.

Go make it a great day, friends!

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