I remember seeing a friend at the Y, on the treadmill, in the evening after her workday. I had just been in the swimming pool with my three kids and was ushering them out the door while my friend was running (and sweating) her heart out. A couple years older than me, this friend is fit and beautiful. She prioritizes exercise and you can tell: her skin glows, her hair shines, her muscles bulge.




"It takes a lot of time to get into shape," I mused to my husband James that night. "If you want to do it right, you really have to work on it." "That's true," he answered happily, in a tone that made me realize he didn't understand that I was complaining not celebrating. I've always been active-I bike whenever I can and walk to buy our groceries-but I wasn't in anything like the shape my friend was. I wanted to be in as good shape as her but it seemed like a monumental task, one that I didn't know how to begin. At that time, it also seemed hard to imagine taking that much time for myself, away from my kids and my family, for the sake of my body.




A year later I am doing it. I got bitten by an exercise bug and I've become addicted to going to the gym. It helps that the trainer is an exquisite (and totally appropriate) young man who is always ready to help me with a new exercise or machine. It helps that the gym I go to these days, unlike the Ashland Y, plays funky African music that makes me run faster and pedal harder. It helps that I see the same friendly faces when I go in the evenings, that a lot of women go there, and that we're all "of a certain age" (I've always found it intimidating to lift weights in a room full of ultra-buff jocks).




When I don't go to the gym I usually go for a run or a bike ride. On the days I don't exercise I feel restless and dissatisfied. I have less energy and I'm less patient with my kids.




"Look at your arms," my friend Dina said when I stopped at her house to chat the other day. "You've really changed them."




It's nice to get compliments and have people notice that I look good. But exercising like I've been doing lately really does take a lot of time. One day last week I was under deadline and I put in about eight hours at the computer. Then I went to the gym. When I came home my kids were already asleep. I'd spent the whole day away and wasn't even home to put them to bed. When I went to kiss their little sleeping selves I felt guilt wash over me. Was it fair of me to spend those two hours at the gym instead of coming straight home to my family after work?




"Mommy, can I come to the gym with you, for Mommy and Me time?" My oldest daughter, who will be eight this summer, asked recently. So I took her along. At first she needed a lot of help with the machines and I started getting frustrated, feeling like my time away was being invaded by the annoyances (read: whiney children) of my home life. Then Hesperus got fascinated by the different speeds on the treadmill and spent an hour walking and running on it. She scowled at me with furrowed brows when it was finally time to leave.




"Can I come next time too?" Hesperus asked at dinner that night. "And me?" her little sister piped in. "Me too!" our toddler cried.




When I finish this column, I'll lace up my sneakers and head out for a run.




Ashland-based writer is the mother of three children and the author/editor of three books. Her book, "Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Urgent, Irrational, Tiny People We Love," was banned in Ashland.