Think of the words “mommy and me fitness,” and now picture the person likely saying them. Crumple that up and throw it away. Now, picture someone whose favorite exercise is remembering decades-old Chris Farley quotes and laughing until she’s kind of winded. That second one is me.
And it isn’t parenthood that made me like this. I spent more energy trying to quit the gym next door to my office than I ever did working out there. I was on the softball team in high school, and before you think that means I have some athletic prowess, remember that softball is a sport in which you sit down half the time — unless you are terrible at it, as I was, and then you get to sit down almost the whole time. When we ran laps at practice, I’d wait for the coach to look the other way, then bolt across the middle of the track instead of making the full lap.
Now, if I ever do some kind of low-key fit-person thing, like get off the train one stop early to take a slightly longer walk to work, I will insufferably slip it into conversations for weeks as if it’s just a thing I do all the time. (If I mentioned that one to you, please know I have done it twice.)
So when I was expecting my daughter, no amount of fierce pregnant dancing Instagrams could peer pressure me into taking up prenatal exercise. I have always had a pretty chill relationship with my body — we let each other live, you know? But I gravitate toward clothing that pretends my midsection doesn’t exist at all and is just a floaty blank space between my clavicle and thighs. Pregnancy, though, meant all my clothes became clingy, and any weight I gained only meant I filled them out better. Rather than squirming to pull my shirts loose, I found myself chuckling about that Juno quote — “that T-shirt’s working really hard” — while feeling impressed by everything my body was doing (considering it is not used to doing much at all).
Then, the baby came out, taking much of my “baby weight” with her; some of it came off from breastfeeding; and some of it just feels like the size my body is now and what the fuck ever. So, no, you will not catch me at CrossFit. Never mind that the entire notion of returning to your “pre-baby body” is a scam. My body remained a pretty low priority in the day-to-day of helping a slow-gain infant learn to eat, constantly having to delete single photos at a time so my phone could continue to function, or trying to remember that not everyone wants to hear my birth story. (It wasn't that bad! Really!) There are a lot of very good and valid reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with looks at all — feeling energized, improving strength, posture, sleep — and I’ve consistently failed to convince myself of them, which is exactly for lack of trying.
This June, my daughter turned 2, and I can count on one hand how many times I have worked out since before I was in that delicate condition that required near-constant sitting and Slurpee-drinking. Make that half a hand. So when I got a press release exclaiming that “Baby Zumba Is A Thing,” I had to laugh: Wow, do you have the wrong editor for this.
But then I remembered how, back in January, I spilled my guts about being a contrarian. I vowed to try more things. To stop holding myself back. To admit that there might be something in this non-healthy-habit-forming lifestyle of mine that I’d like to change. So I wrote back:
That sounds fun! I’d love to try "Zumbini" with my 2-year-old!
That's when I found out the class takes place in the middle of a BuybuyBaby store. During store hours. I immediately pushed my affirmative RSVP to the place in my mind where I keep rebates I should mail in, insurance claim questions that need following up, and event invitations on Facebook. The “forget about this forever” pile. And, I actually forgot, only to be blindsided two weeks later when the reminder email showed up. My immediate impulse was to fire off an excuse, but instead I wrote, “We’ll be there,” before I had the chance. I texted my husband about my surprise plans, feeling preemptively ashamed.
His response, in a word, was "what?" Man, I KNOW.
But what is motherhood if not embracing something that feels awkward, that you think you will suck at, that seems to bend all logical functions of physics, and then finding out you CAN do it, well enough at least. It is also accepting that it is finally your job to be mortally embarrassing — not the one who is embarrassed all the time. There is no time like the present to lean into the shamelessness of motherhood, and so I grabbed my kid, and put on some yoga pants that had never seen the inside of a yoga studio but have seen so very much Netflix, and was on my way.
The class was tiny. There were four families, and no one looked like they had Insta-storied their outfits on the way in. There was peppy music, a fusion of different pop and Latin styles, with kid-friendly lyrics in both English and Spanish. The warm, welcoming teacher, Celinda, spoke-sang directions over the music, and we just followed along, while students who seemed to have come to know each other chatted about upcoming first birthdays, or new adventures in baby cereal. It was legitimate friendliness, not the faux intimacy of those boutique fitness experiences that so often feel intimidating. Plus, the class was easy.
One woman showed up late and didn’t provide a single apology or excuse, and all the other people were like “kids, right?!” This was not Becky’s Pilates Fusion where you get locked the hell out if you’re a single exhale behind start time. Nothing stressful. No judgment — except for what I brought in with me and promptly realized was not needed. It was just 45 minutes of cute, silly fun with kids. Who gets that on a regular basis?
My daughter, Ellie, was hesitant at first and wanted me to just hold her, while I rhythmically walked forward and back, side to side, jumped up and down, and made noises and hand motions like all the animals in the jungle. (Let me assure you, this was exercise.) I couldn’t tell for sure how Ellie felt about the whole thing, except at the end she didn’t want to leave. And then, a solid four days later, she started wide-stance sliding her legs back and forth across the kitchen, saying, “I did this in my class!” She was talking about Zumbini.
It turns out, attending a fitness class with my daughter was a game-changer: Seeing her budding shyness and knocky knees, both of which I know are solidly my fault, I threw caution to the wind and decided to Zumba like every mommy-Fitspo person I’d previously hated on, simply to see if I could help Ellie learn to leave her pretense at the door. (Quick! Before she could learn pretense in the first place.) And while I was busy focusing on helping my daughter get into it and have fun, it didn’t occur to me to be preoccupied with my own exercise-inferiority complex.
(Here’s the other reason why working out with little kids was so helpful for breaking my fitness fast: They aren't very good at following basic instructions. I was not going to be the least coordinated person in this class. Two of them couldn't even walk.)
At one point, a BuybuyBaby shopper wandered into the section of the store where our class was taking place, and I was all, Are you looking for a hooded bath towel that has a cute woodland creature on it? Well buckle up, sir, because we are doing interpretive dancing with colored scarves! I bugged my eyes out at my daughter, as if to communicate, is this blowing your mind? I KNOW. She giggled and giggled and released her koala grip from around my neck, then helped the teacher pull all the floaty scarves back into her bag. I've since found out that Zumbini takes place at various locations all across the country, but the cognitive dissonance of doing it in the middle of a giant retail chain did add some excitement to the experience.
This was the first time that I started to think those people who claim to work out for fun may not just be bullshitting me. This was fitness. It was time with my kid. And it was fun. And it was over by 11 a.m., and approximately 15 feet away from a coffee stand. This, I could do.
So, look. I'm not joining a run club or pretending I understand the appeal of picking up and putting down tractor tires, but one Saturday morning, I made my daughter laugh while we moved our bodies in ridiculous ways. I broke the tiniest sweat, and felt really good afterward. And, apologies in advance to my friends, but that's something I might want to talk about for a while.
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