It’s been a year. My toddler will be 2 years old this fall, and my oldest just turned 5. Adding a second child to our family means more coordination, including two school drop-offs and pickups, and generally a lot less free time. I’ve been feeling out of sorts, and beyond that, a few years into my 30s, I’m fully aware that neither time nor metabolism are on my side.
Exercise is key when life is chaotic, but working out isn’t exactly easy for me. Aside from my too-busy schedule, I’m a black woman, and I haven’t mastered how to straighten my natural hair; I rely on salons. I generally head to Drybar whenever I can schedule a hair appointment around my children’s and partner’s loaded and ever-changing schedules. Usually, that means I’m at the salon at 7 a.m. on a weekday. Working out — in other words, sweating — would immediately ruin that blowout.
As a black woman, I know firsthand how important hair maintenance is and how we may be perceived in the workplace when our hair doesn’t fit certain standards. I’m also aware that black women are more likely to have serious health problems and less likely to work out, which could mitigate said risks. If I can manage to juggle everyone else’s calendars, why should working out be any different?
I signed up for ClassPass in mid-May and set out to exercise once a week for a month. Here’s how that went.
My partner works weekends, which means I do more than my fair share of shuttling our daughters to dance class and back-to-back birthday parties. I am generally exhausted by the evening and eager to enjoy some much-needed me time, which usually involves falling asleep to a new show or movie. This week, instead of going to Drybar at 7 a.m. one weekday when I didn’t need to handle the kids’ morning drop-off, I signed up for a 6 a.m. spin class.
I rolled out of bed, hair still wrapped, threw on some sweats and hopped in an Uber, because it was still dark outside. The class was structured as if we were all racing in a cycling marathon. Within the first 10 minutes, I was disappointed in the music and counting the minutes until class ended (they felt eternal). But as time went on, and as the instructor pushed us to climb, sprint, rest and repeat, I slowly got more into a flow.
My metrics weren’t bad and I could feel those good endorphin vibes. I descended the cycling studio’s brownstone steps, legs trembling, and realized how much I need to work out. I walked the few blocks back home. It was still early in the morning, so there were not many pedestrians shuffling along the sidewalks. I passed Washington, D.C.'s LeDroit Park sign and felt saddened by all the change in this gentrifying neighborhood. Others who were in my class might not know what this neighborhood used to embody, or that people like me miss it.
I daydreamed all the way home. Then I made a cup of coffee and rushed to get ready for work. I put my hair in a bun.
The weekend was a marathon of dance rehearsals, birthday parties and kid appointments, and I hit the ground running again Monday. My partner had been in a sleepy Maryland town working on his entrepreneurial endeavors, and wouldn’t be home until the end of the work week. It was the week before Memorial Day and work was busy. We got an early dismissal ahead of the holiday, so I chose to get a much-needed hair trim and attend an Elizabeth Acevedo book signing. The next three days were packed, too. I shopped for party supplies for my now 5-year-old daughter’s birthday party (which I planned in five days). My partner and I went to a melse — an Ethiopian wedding reception — Sunday. A visit to the ER preceded my older daughter’s birthday party Monday; the youngest had a minor small ankle sprain.
On Wednesday, another morning with no drop-off responsibilities, I headed to a barre class. I had taken one years ago and vowed I’d never do so again (leg shaking, no thank you). I ended up here because the dance class I’d signed up for was actually at 6:15 p.m. — not a.m. Whoops. So, I canceled that class and quickly booked the next best thing that would allow me to get to work at a decent time.
I was reminded that I have poor form, poor posture and an incredibly difficult time with the most basic moves — stretching my leg on the barre, for example. Because I was struggling, I was paired with a barre instructor who happened to be taking class that day, not leading. She was kind and helpful. Because I was having such a tough time, I was moved to different areas in the room to make my workout more seamless. The experience took me back to being that kid who never excelled physically. My Snoop Dogg T-shirt didn’t match the cutesy aesthetic and soft-rock music. I need trap music. I need culture. This? This wasn’t it.
Later that day, in front of other people, a colleague asked if I was expecting. My diastasis recti (abdominal separation) worsened with the birth of my second child, and my small frame doesn’t help. I played it off, but I was somewhat humiliated. My workout wasn’t very good — neither was my day.
My partner handled afternoon pickup. I’d committed to attending an intimate gathering for black women in public relations at an extremely cute Cuban restaurant. I grabbed a piña colada for sheer presentation purposes (it was served out of a pineapple) and scarfed down passed tapas before the evening dance class that I was really pumped to take — the same class I’d thought was in the morning last week. I was out of the happy hour quickly — a bummer, because I left just as some friends were arriving. That said, I was glad that I wouldn’t be the one closing out happy hour. Instead, I was the one committed to fitness. I’m that girl now. I knew it could be done, if only I’d discipline myself to make time for working out just as I carve out space for professional, familial and fun activities.
As soon as I arrived, I noticed the class atmosphere was casual and warm, comprised of a bunch of 20-somethings, including a few other black women. We were dancing to Rihanna’s “Work.” I am a terrible dancer, and was working hard to keep up with all the moves, but it was fun. I love music. After class, the instructors sent a video of the group dancing. I sent it to my mom and best friend. They had mixed reactions.
I noted that I was channeling my wellness idol, Hannah Bronfman. I think I’ll return to this class. Each workout is formatted to teach a single dance to a single song. R&B singer Sisqo and rapper Megan Thee Stallion are coming up later in the month.
As a mom of two young girls, I try to jam-pack my free time with the activities I’ve long cherished: concerts, window shopping, solo dinners where I can be alone with my thoughts.
In addition to the health- and mood-boosting benefits, working out has offered me the chance to meet new people. That small perk alone means time well spent. Between work and playdates, I’m often socializing with adults who are not part of my core group of girlfriends, so I’m learning to lean in to low-stakes friendships. Next up: I’ll return to those fun dance classes, and I may try a hip-hop themed spin class. My hair doesn’t deserve better treatment than my body — and to be honest, with D.C.’s notorious humidity, those blowouts aren’t lasting anyway.