Exercising With Kids... When You're Not Gwyneth

by E. R. Catalano
Originally Published: 

A couple of months before my daughter was born, Gwyneth Paltrow shared her views on new mothers losing the baby weight through exercising. She said, “Every woman can make time — every woman — and you can do it with your baby in the room. There have been countless times where I’ve worked out with my kids crawling around all over the place. You just make it work, and if it’s important to you, it’ll be important to them.”

I only heard about what she’d said after I gave birth, probably about eight weeks after, because that was when the doctor said it was safe to start exercising again following a c-section, and I plunged right back into a daily routine.

Excuse me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter off my face.

It took longer than that for me to return to exercising at all, not to mention with any regularity. Fact is, I am not like Every Woman/Gwyneth Paltrow. I was tired. You see, I’d been getting up several times a night to feed a baby; then, after I went back to work full time, there was commuting, plus day-care pickups, preparing meals, doing laundry, trying on designer dresses, keeping up with my exciting nightlife … oh wait, those last two were from Gwyneth’s life. Her every woman-ness is insidious like that, you start having her thoughts.

Back to my own thoughts, which, about six to seven months after my daughter’s birth, still lacked focus from not enough sleep, but were nonetheless communicating to me the need to restart some sort of exercise program. I’d stopped breastfeeding after four months but had continued to ingest that extra 500 calories a day recommended for breastfeeding moms, and far from losing the baby weight, I’d gained about eight pounds. So I was determined to get back into shape and I figured since “every woman” could do it with “kids crawling around all over the place,” I could too.

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My daughter is not against exercise per se, to judge by her constant state of movement, aka her waking life. She’s against me, and to a lesser extent, her father, exercising. And I’m not including here endless rounds of “Ring Around the Rosy” (Why don’t two-year-olds get dizzy?). Or performing extra vehement renditions of “Wheels on the Bus” to engage your obliques. I’m talking about weights, lunges, and all those variations on plank that are supposed to tighten the core muscles and get me back into those jeans I could barely zip all the way up before I got pregnant.

Toddlers have a tendency to want attention. So it was a real head-scratcher to me how any mother could exercise with her child in the room. It was one thing when my daughter was an infant but when she became ambulatory, forget it. As soon as I get down on the floor to start stretching, she’s all over me. I get in push-up position, and she sees it as an invitation to play horsey. Sit-ups she interprets as a variation on peek-a-boo, with her little forehead intercepting mine on the up motion: “Ow, boo-boo.” “I sorry.” “Hi, Mommy!”

Mommy magazines suggest using your baby as a kind of free weight, holding them while doing squats, balancing them on your legs as you do crunches. I did this a few times but eventually gave up because: Ow, boo-boo.

I considered baby yoga but I don’t see how you can expect these little beings to hold poses when they can’t even hold their bladders.

Even when she’s not literally in my face, she’s trying to get my attention, calling for mommy, asking for juice, yelling, “I poop!” And I have to stop what I’m doing to see if she pooped, though I eventually learn that if she tells me she pooped, she hasn’t; because if she has, she’ll never admit it.

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Our eventual solution was to use Elmo as a distraction, running his DVDs back to back. It didn’t completely solve the problem because she likes one of us to sit with her while she watches TV, but at least we could take turns.

As for the idea that if it’s important to you it’ll be important to your children, I can see that being true . . . someday. Probably in the far distant future, when my bones will be too brittle for any sustained movement, and then my daughter may recall my foolhardy and doomed attempts at exercise and see me as a good example. But right now, I have to say, there is nothing that is important to me that my daughter has also recognized as important. Not Mommy sleeping, not Mommy drinking a cup of coffee while it’s still hot, certainly not Mommy going to the bathroom.

So for now my husband and I take turns, and through the grace of Elmo, I will someday again almost fit in those jeans.

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