Recently as I came off the greenbelt from my early morning hike, I found myself at Austin’s central park during the Stay at Home Mom rush. It was a total madhouse. Parking lots overflowing with SUVs and minivans. Babies and toddlers crawling all over things, fumbling snacks, slinging goo, crying. Mommies, and probably some nannies and grandmas, extending nine arms toward their charges while desperately trying to nod at the appropriate intervals in each other’s conversations.
There were no men. Power to stay-at-home dads and mannies, but this particular morning was Estrogenfest. And total chaos.
Except for one group of moms in a field off to the side of the playground.
These moms had a row of tiny babies in strollers lined up to face them. And they were singing. “Sally the camel had FIVE humps, Sally the camel had FIVE humps…” and as they sang, they did some weird little toe-touch dance involving a deep dip each time they said how many humps Sally the camel had – then sprang up at the word “humps.”
Now look. I am not a Stay at Home Mom, but contrary to what a lot of people might think, I imagine that getting in exercise is harder for them than anyone. When I have the kids full time on the weekends, it’s like a black hole for productivity. I love spending time with them, but that’s basically all that gets done between the “Mom – mom – mommy – moms” and the nursing and the feeding until I go insane and strap them in a car so I can shop but then pay for it later when they are full of energy at bedtime. And Stay at Home Moms do that EVERY day.
So I feel for them. Standing in a field, humiliating themselves. Because there’s no way around it: they looked completely ridiculous. And they were probably burning fewer calories than the moms who were nodding and lunging all over the playground. Moreover, every few seconds, one of the babies would cry, like they do even in the face of live entertainment, and the mom would have to break rank for the remainder of the song trying to calm them back down.
At least that’s how it was for the few minutes I watched. I didn’t want to creep on them or make them feel any worse.
Now it’s possible that they found this on Pinterest and all thought it was a cute thing to do. But I think it’s more likely that they were driven to it, desperate for more energy and their pre-pregnancy wardrobes, willing to try anything, ANYTHING to feel good again. (Well, maybe not more likely, but I have more faith in humanity if I believe they knew it was ridiculous but couldn’t think of a better idea.)
One way or another, though, we’re all just trying to make it work. The internet tells us there is NO EXCUSE for not immediately reclaiming our “health” – and by “health” they mean “skinniness” – the moment the baby “pops” out. And by “pops,” I mean painfully and stressfully pushing a human out of you, tearing up your body pretty good in the process. (Now is the time in the post when I will resist the feminist rant against body shaming we’ve all heard before – but you should call it to mind regardless.)
Anyway, getting in shape again with little kids is hard. Your body is torn up, you are suddenly responsible for another human being who is entirely dependent on you to stay alive, you get less sleep than ever, and you are perpetually exhausted.
Sure, some people find a way to just hop back on the treadmill and click everything back into place, and that’s great, but they are a freaking minority. And their reality is impossible for us mere mortals to aspire to, so we should STOP DOING IT. Not stop trying to be healthy – of course I don’t mean that – just stop holding ourselves to other people’s standards. My schedule, my body, my life is not exactly like anyone else’s. I can tell other moms what I am doing to work in that early morning hike and the paddle boarding, but I can’t tell them how they could do the same thing.
And I wish I could because the pressure is REAL. Before my first son, I was a size 6 and after I was…not. When he was 8 months old, I went to my brother’s wedding and one of the attendees who knew how much bigger I was told me I should pump my breastmilk like crazy between nursing to lose the weight. That is apparently what she had done after she had her kid and was now thinner than she had ever been. That was the moment I decided I was okay with being bigger than I was before.
Another baby later, I had other challenges to deal with and it took me nearly a year after he was born to start figuring it out again. And now people look at me on Facebook and ask, “how do you do it? How do you work and be a mom and exercise and have hobbies and cook healthy meals all at the same time??” And I feel like an asshole perpetuating the illusion that this is somehow easy and if you’re not doing it just like this, you’re failing.
I’m not “doing it all.” Multiple times a week, we eat frozen pizza or drive-thru burgers. My friends go months without seeing us, and when they do, it’s brief, and then more months go by. We don’t travel except to see family. The house is usually a mess. I haven’t folded laundry in…half a year? We just dig it out of a pile on the laundry room floor. My closet is a mess, but I don’t even know how because all the clothes are on the laundry room floor. There are stacks of papers everywhere. I just found an expired refund check for $1,400 sent to us more than a year ago when we moved. Fortunately they reissued it, but still. Our yard looks SO BAD. Beyond bad. It’s brown except for the “garden” which is overgrown entirely with the only green grass on the lot.
My kids watch more TV than I’d like, I play more phone solitaire than I’d like and my husband and I both feel like we’re balls to the wall 24/7. And I mean, we are (solitaire nothwithstanding), and it is STILL not enough.
And I am STILL not a size 6. I might never be again. Not even if I start Sally the Camel off with eleventy million humps and somehow find the time to toe-touch endlessly until death.
I am not your Yoda. I don’t have the keys to the universe. Yodas are dangerous. Yodas tell you to pump and dump breastmilk into your own oblivion. Which just feels akin to bulimia.
Life (in the U.S. – these are the most first-world problems ever) is about compromise and priorities – and everyone gets to choose what those are. I am creating the best balance possible between working, working out, and being a mom – and all those other things you are supposed to do while living. Everyone is doing that.
So moms, if you don’t like how things are going, figure out a way to change them. Even if it means singing stupid songs and doing silly dances in the park on a Monday morning, you won’t know whether it’s a total game changer until you try it. But please don’t get so overwhelmed by ‘how all the other moms are doing it’ that you lock yourselves into a bad routine or hide out. Having a kid is probably not a good enough excuse to throw in the towel, but it’s definitely a pass on doing things as clumsily as ole hump-back Sally.