What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Every morning, I throw on some workout clothes, strap my toddler into the stroller, and head over to our local gym. People nod and smile as I walk down the street, and joggers occasionally give me an encouraging thumbs-up. Then, I enter through the front doors, but rather than checking in at the front desk, I make a beeline to the open-to-the-public cafe located on the other side. After placing an order for a smoothie, I wait for it among those who have finished their workout, and they usually pass the time by making silly faces at the baby, making him giggle, all the while assuming that I must have also completed some sort of exercise routine.
The thing is, I don't even have a gym membership. Other smoothie bars are located in the area, but I specifically visit this one because I enjoy putting up the facade that I had just exercised.
I'm a total gym fraud, and I have no shame about it.
My favorite part of this ritual is the return walk home. I sometimes fake an exasperated look on my face for a more dramatic effect. Passersby often stop me for small-talk, and they probably assume that my smoothie is extremely healthy and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and add-ons like protein powder, but it's actually just a peanut butter smoothie with a squeeze of chocolate syrup. I guess it's technically healthy since it contains bananas, but I only order it because it tastes delicious.
After I return home, I toss my empty smoothie cup aside and go back to my usual day: errands, cleaning, and making baby food that will most likely get flung onto the floor, which leads to more cleaning, more cooking, and chasing my toddler around the house. Lately he's been making up weird games, like climbing on top of the coffee table and jumping into my arms over and over again. He thinks that it's funny, but I always nervously grab him in order to prevent any serious injuries. By the end of the day, I'm totally wiped out, and my whole body feels like jelly — and I do it all over again the next day.
As for my fraudulent ways, I wasn't always like this. It actually began completely by accident. It started almost a year ago whenever I ran into neighbors on the street who wondered why I walked with a limp and had achy muscles, but when I explained that our ridiculously energetic child was keeping me on my toes, they were a skeptical. Occasionally, they asked me to join them for happy hour or impromptu movie nights, which I usually declined because I preferred to catch up on sleep, which just added to their disbelief.
This went on for a while until something pretty awesome happened. I had bought a bunch of sweatpants and T-shirts to replace my maternity clothes, and that's when I noticed a complete difference in the way that people treated me. I got the feeling that everyone was rolling out the red carpet for the new mom who was seemingly trying to get into shape. It all came together when I ran into a friend who was entering the gym at the same time I was and she enthusiastically asked whether I was going to drop my kid off in the gym's daycare center; when I replied that I was just going to the cafe for a shake, she became completely confused and anticlimactically confessed that she thought I was about to workout. We said our goodbyes, and I could see the disappointment in her eyes.
I proceeded to place my order for the peanut butter smoothie, and that's when it truly hit me: people were only being nice to me when I started wearing what looked like workout clothing because they thought that I was a "super-mom," falsely assuming that I was on my way to lifting, squatting, and boxing my way into my pre-baby body.
I felt a little sad at first, but I got over it quickly, because why shouldn't I get to live out this fantasy? From that moment on, I relished in every minute of it.
I used to enjoy going to the gym back in the day, and I do have mom-friends who, unlike me, manage to get a full workout routine into their day. For a while, I obsessed over why I wasn't as strong and disciplined as they were, but then I stopped comparing myself to other people. Why should I slowly drive myself crazy? I have nothing but the utmost respect for new moms (and dads) who love hitting the machines and going for a morning run, but I know my shortcomings — plus, I enjoy sleeping in whenever I have the opportunity.
All in all, it's nice to receive a nod, smile, thumbs-up, and a sense of understanding from random strangers, even though it's for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes I stretch out my calf muscles and rotate my shoulders while I wait for my shake, just to play it up a little. I'll be more honest eventually, but until then, you'll find me slipping on my "gym clothes" and faking it all the way to the smoothie bar.