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The Most Stressful 8 Minutes Of My Week (and why I changed my mind about them)

by Sarah Powers on May 25, 2014

Hi everyone! Sarah here, stepping in for Meagan in the Sunday morning spot. Every Sunday we share a moment from our week and a few thoughts on motherhood or life in general. We call it Sunday Morning Tea – except when I’m writing, when it’s coffee. :)

Swim Lessons.jpg

On Monday and Wednesday afternoons we have swim lessons. 

(Well, my older two have swim lessons and my 16-month-old strengthens her immune system by putting disgusting things in her mouth while sitting in Puddles of Unknown Origin, fully clothed, by the side of a very busy indoor pool.)

Twice each week we pull into the parking lot of the athletic club at 3:45pm and exit the minivan as a foursome: six-year-old girl, four-year-old boy, 16-month-old hellion toddler in a stroller, and me: mama running on too little sleep.

The eight minutes that follow happen like this.

If we’re lucky enough to get a choice parking spot, we don’t have to walk through the crowded lot, where drivers seem to be already mentally on the treadmill: moving fast and thinking about other things. Instead, we have a straight shot of sidewalk between the car and the first of several doors between us and the pool.

Path to gym.jpg

What would take an average adult about 45 seconds takes our pack of wild things upwards of 3 minutes – IF we stay on task. There are curbs to balance on, bike racks to straddle, and toddlers who also want to balance on curbs and straddle bike racks to reason with.

Walking to the door.jpg

The only thing motivating enough to get us into the building is a metal post just outside the exterior doors with a button that automatically opens one of the doors for people needing extra assistance (if I do not qualify as needing extra assistance at this point, who does?).

The big kids race to the button. The older one wins. The younger one whines because he didn’t win. They discuss whose turn it is to push the button. They decide to push the button at the exact same time. They count to three and bang it forcefully, staring expectantly at the doors. Nothing happens. They discuss again who should be able to push the button. They try again. One of the doors begins to open automatically, but slowly. They race to the door and stand in front of it as it creeps open, blocking the entrance to the building entirely. When the door is open enough to scoot through, they do, and I wait on the other side until there is room for me and the stroller. 

Door 1.jpg

(During all of this, gym-goers silently size us up and offer anything from an understanding smile to a forced look of feigned patience as they navigate around my children. About one in ten people will stop and wait while the kids “help” open the door, a decision they immediately regret when they realize we are a hopeless band of slowgoers that threaten to take many minutes off their intended workout time. Save yourself! Go on ahead! I tell them telepathically. It’s best for everyone.)

We have now spent about a minute and a half going through the front door, and do you know where we are? In the entryway vestibule. Looking at another door. With – yes! – another automatic-open button beside it for people who are unable to pass through unassisted (which, Lord knows, we are not).

Door 2

The process repeats in the vestibule, only with more inconvenienced gym-goers and less patience on my part because where there are two exterior doors to the building (one of which we just spent upwards of 90 seconds blocking in dramatic fashion), this door is the only one through which worker-outers may pass. The kids maintain an uncanny inability to figure out who should pass through a door first: one of them, the other of them, the stroller, a poor hapless bystander, or no one at all. 

After more awkward door blocking (them) and cruise-ship-directing/profuse-apologizing (me), we’re IN. We sign in as people gratefully scoot around us toward their child-free locker rooms and waiting ellipticals. At this point the kids realize they are inside and do that bizarre thing where they dart off in separate directions and then stop suddenly for no reason, and I herd them toward the next door.

The next door, you guys. There’s another door. It leads to the Family Changing Room.

Good news! No automatic-open button to fight over. Bad news, though. The door is heavy. And they want to open it themselves. Together. At the same time. And then hold it for me and anyone else who needs to pass through. Only they can’t quite get it open, so I have to reach around the stroller to help. And then they can’t quite hold it open wide enough for me to pass through. And then they decide midway through to stop holding it all together and abandon me mid-doorway.

Door 3.jpg

We make it in to the changing room and have only one objective while there: get two towels from the shelf (I dressed them in swimsuits at home because HELLO). Straightforward though it sounds, there is the complicated choice from 65 identical white towels to make, and the important draping of the towel over one’s neck, and the accidental dragging of the towel through puddles on the floor, which may result in the procurement of a replacement towel.

Et cetera.

But don’t worry, because there’s another door at the end of the changing room. You knew this was coming, right? We left our car seven minutes ago and we haven’t seen the pool yet. It took less time to drive from our house to the gym than it has to walk from the car to the pool.

Door 4.jpg

This door is heavy, too. And the door handle is unnaturally high – for safety reasons, I’m sure, but also because it’s clear by this point that no one at the fitness center actually WANTS anyone to make it to the pool where things like FUN and LESSONS happen). That means only the six-year-old can help open it, and barely. But oh, she tries. And I wait and we block the door, though blessedly we are now among our own people: other moms with strollers and kids and a pained look behind their tired eyes.

And then, just like that, it’s over. We’re inside the aquatic area, with just a couple hundred feet of wet tile to slosh through before lessons begin. They run, and I ask them not to. They kick off their flip flops in sixteen directions (hard, since it’s only four shoes), and I collect them. They wait patiently while I adjust their goggles and splash happily to their respective lanes. And then they swim and I baby-wrangle for 25 minutes, after which we repeat the whole process in reverse, only wetter and hungrier.  

Eight minutes from the car to the pool. Eight, give or take, back again. Sixteen minutes twice a week, for a total of 32 minutes each week. And I’ve been thinking about them all wrong.

For two months I dreaded this walk. I fought it. I huffed and rolled my eyes and apologized to strangers for my dawdling children. I let the tension rise with every door we took 47 years to get through and every person we nearly bumped with the stroller. I wore the mantle of a mother burdened by her lot. And you know what? It worked. People felt sorry for me. They said things like “wow, you’ve got your hands full!”. They accepted my apologies and tossed scraps of grace and patience my way. 

But the thing is, my attitude was more habit and less a reflection of how my day was actually going. I got it in my head that this whole ordeal was annoying and frustrating and I let my emotional auto-pilot to take over. And once I did, the people around me responded in kind. I acted like a stressed-out mom and they treated me like one. 

Sure, some days are frazzled. Sometimes I really do lose my patience and Grumpy Mom makes an appearance. And it’s no more productive to beat myself up for that than it is to expect my small children to walk through doorways like mini-adults. But to default to Grumpy Mom twice a week at 3:45pm for eight minutes, purely out of habit? I realized it was silly – and that it was within my control.

So a few weeks ago, I changed my mind about the walk to the pool. I reminded myself that the kids weren’t misbehaving, that we were not in a hurry, and that no one’s life or day or workout was worse off for our inefficient journey. I stopped apologizing (unless we actually bumped into someone, of course). I stopped searching the eyes of strangers for sympathy. I stopped wanting sympathy.

And guess what? The doors don’t open any easier. The kids have made no progress toward being able to walk in a straight line. The handle on that last door is still too high for my preschooler to reach, and sometimes he’s still bummed about it. But I have a half hour every week that doesn’t suck anymore. My kids have two hours less Grumpy Mom each month. We’ve gained back an entire 24-hour day over the course of the year. 

And that’s something, isn’t it? 

Leaving the gym.jpg

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with me! If you’ve missed them, you can catch up on more Sunday Morning Tea posts right here.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen May 25, 2014 at 8:11 am

Great attitude! Sometimes I tell my kids that I’m crabby, catch myself and start to get so theatrical about it that they’re laughing and I’m no longer crabby.

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Sarah Powers May 25, 2014 at 10:13 am

Thank you, Maureen! So true – and I think it’s good for them to see us acknowledging (and dealing with) grumpy feelings, no?

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dr frank May 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

Excellent article and attitude! I will forward this on to my daughters :D

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Sarah Powers May 25, 2014 at 10:13 am

Thank you!

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Michelle May 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Love this, Sarah! I make that exact same walk several times a week!

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Sarah Powers May 25, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thanks, Michelle! One of these days maybe we’ll run into each other and actually meet in person! :)

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Rebecca H May 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Sarah, we attend this same Lifetime and fight those same doors! (WHY is there no family parking? WHY is there no assist button on the doors of the family room OR the Childcare center??) Love your perspective. Thank you!

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Sarah Powers May 25, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thanks so much, Rebecca! xo

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Kirsetin May 25, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Fantastic post Sarah! I love it. ❤️

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Sarah Powers May 26, 2014 at 10:02 am

Thanks, friend. I’m sure you remember these days so well. ;) Happy summer! xo

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Steph May 25, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Oh girl, you know I’ve walked that same walk so many times in the past. Thanks for the reminder that the days are long but the years are short!

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Sarah Powers May 26, 2014 at 10:03 am

Thanks, Steph! Can’t wait to catch up soon! xo

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Alissa May 26, 2014 at 2:19 am

I go to LTF every single day and I go though that same routine every single day!
It made me laugh for sure :)
Great article. Maybe tomorrow, I will let the kids play!!!

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Sarah Powers May 26, 2014 at 10:03 am

Thanks, Alissa! :)

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Tawn May 26, 2014 at 2:31 am

Oh, I just laughed and laughed (i just came home from a weekend of public places with my children.) My 3 children are almost the exact same ages as yours and oh.my.goodness WE TAKE FOREVER to do the most routine things in public places or go to the bathroom at restaurants. I shall try to remember to stop commanding and start enjoying ( maybe not ENJOY so much, as tolerate benignly without snapping?) as the getting there is really for them almost as interesting as the doing.

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Sarah Powers May 26, 2014 at 10:04 am

“Tolerate benignly without snapping” = YES. Pretty much a good goal for most outings, no? ;)

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RookieMom Whitney May 28, 2014 at 2:12 am

I have 50% less children, but I did the swimming lesson thing involving a multi-level parking structure (elevator #1) and then the gym with the pool in the basement (elevator #2). I would shower my kids at the gym afterward and put them in their jammies there so that when we got home that was already done (5 pm lesson), but I was always acutely aware of how many people came and left the locker room while we did the shower thing. It took forever!

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Sarah Powers May 28, 2014 at 8:47 am

Oh, yeah – elevators are totally the same phenomenon! And if I didn’t have the squirmy third the shower/PJs idea is pure genius. Thanks Whitney! :)

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