I was dropping a less-than-willing boy off at the child care area, on my way to the treadmill, happily anticipating the opportunity to sweat out those particular toxins that accumulate when you are charged with feeding, dressing, and shoeing two children and ensuring they are safely buckled in the backseat by 8:30 am every weekday. I do love to get sweaty. But more than that I love to move, as fast or slow as I like, without anyone dragging and scraping his little shoes as slowly as possible across a parking lot. There should be a rule. Every mother should get at least 30 minutes a day to move at her own pace.
So as I'm saying goodbye to Gabriel at the rec center, another mother I'm friendly with is dropping off her adorable two year old daughter. "Mommy's going to go exercise now," she said as she made her way to the door. "Why does Mommy exercise?"
"A healthy body!!" responded the beaming miniature person standing at the play kitchen. She was so pleased with herself, so proud to know the right answer. All the adults present beamed right back at her. Adorable, I tell you.
For some reason the exchange stuck with me. Does little Mary Ellen have any idea of what a healthy body means? We give our kids words for things, and eventually the meaning coheres. Maybe right now "a healthy body" has to do with Mommy leaving and coming back sweatier and happier than when she left. Later it will mean something else.
Once Frances asked me why I had to go for a jog. I told her it was so I wouldn't go crazy. My need to exercise has long been tied to the physicality of parenting small children, which requires considerable stamina yet can be so constricting. A hard afternoon makes me long for freedom of movement. In the early days with babies, I would dream of hiking all day, or swimming in an endless lake. Exercise has sometimes meant escape from the world of sticky hands. The nice thing about "a healthy body" is that it isn't about them. It's a clean and simple reason; it's about me, my body, my health.
I'm finally at a place where that feels true. My kids are such big, capable people now that if anything, I feel nostalgia for the days when they rode contentedly across my body in the sling. I have enough breathing room that I've come to a healthy body breakthrough moment: I can take the time I do have and move. I have missed a regular yoga practice intensely since becoming a mother. Between work, nap schedules, transportation, money, and all the other complicating factors in family life, I haven't been able to attend a weekly yoga class with any regularity. I've nurtured some strange amorphous resentment about that fact for years, mad at a world that conspires to keep me from the haven of a yoga studio.
But one day I looked around and realized those feelings were misplaced to begin with, and totally unnecessary now with my big kiddos. I've been practicing yoga for anywhere from 15 - 45 minutes daily for the past couple of weeks. I feel sensitized, aware of my body in space, able to breathe! Detoxed - at least for the hour following my practice. I had to get over the idea that I needed a rarified hour of privacy and stillness in which to practice. Who has those, anyway? Today, I encouraged Frances to play with the little girl next door in the backyard during Gabriel's nap so I could unroll my mat on the back deck and do a half hour of standing poses. And it worked! It made me think of watching my dad when I was five or six, doing tai chi barechested in the backyard. I wondered if other dads did weird stuff like that. At least we had a fenced backyard then! Poor Frances and Gabriel have to deal with a mother who does half moon pose for all the world to see. The eventual embarrassment they'll feel, and the fact of being that weird mom? Friends, it feels right to me!
And better yet, I'm forming a group of yogini mothers who would like to practice together once a week. I'm no yoga teacher, but I can be responsible for leading us through a sequence of poses. Someone has secured a conference room at their workplace that we can use on Sunday afternoons. Our first gathering was supposed to be yesterday, but sadly I couldn't make it. (You can read about why here). There's talk of scoping out various outdoor locations for the summer. I am beside myself with excitement.
Accepting our limitations can be so liberating. I finally stopping being mad about the dearth of excellent yoga studios with affordable classes at times that accommodated my difficult schedule, and started doing yoga. I realized nothing was stopping me from unrolling the mat in the middle of my chaotic living room. A healthy body can be about the small choices we make every day (yoga instead of washing dishes!) that quietly nurture new growth, ever-so-slightly broadening our vision.