The birth of my twins 13 years ago coincided with the death of any semblance of privacy or personal space.
First there was the nursing, which kept at least one of them dangling off my body for a good part of the day and night. Then, once they could crawl, I was afraid to shut the bathroom door for fear they’d bring a bookshelf down on their heads or eat the refrigerator magnets and get stuck to one another at the belly.
I was a nervous mom to begin with, and the two of them, constantly in motion and mischief, made me anxious and hypervigilant. Unfortunately, my open-door policy with my toddlers led to their begging to sit on my lap, even when I was peeing. I said no, but I was too ridden with working-mom guilt (bad mommy, earning money to support your children!) to boot them out and too exhausted to deal with the ensuing meltdowns if I tried.
I’d gotten myself into a bad pattern in which the kids felt entitled to a 24-hour all-access mommy pass, and I didn’t know how to break it. I loved them to the moon, but I was depleted and not exactly a joy to be around.
That’s when I started saying, “Mommy has to go to the gym.” I’m not sure whether my husband was more thrilled to afford me the free time or to just be rid of me, but it didn’t really matter. For a full hour, I’d go downstairs to our building’s gym and do… whatever. At first, I’d simply sit in the ladies’ room and marvel at what it was like to not have to rush out—pants open, hands unwashed—to avert some impending crisis. I’d noodle around on the bike and then head back upstairs, a saner person for it. Sometimes I made uninterrupted phone calls, and occasionally I cried from the stress of it all.
But eventually I began to use my time efficiently, doing 40 minutes of cardio and either stretching or using the weight machines. I’d been a regular before I had my kids, so getting back in shape wasn’t hard. And just going to a place where I could have myself all to myself was amazing.
Now my children are teenagers, and when I text them through the closed door of their bedroom to say, “Mommy’s going to the gym,” I’m lucky if I get a thumbs-up emoji in reply. But it’s all good, and the gym is still my sanctuary, a place I will forever associate with blissful escape.