How's it going with the ex-wife or stepmom in your world? On a misery scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst, are you pushing an eight? A 9.5? Is the dial turned to eleven? When it comes to pick-ups and drop-offs, does your stomach clench up within two miles of their front door? Five? Does the sound of your phone ringing fill you with dread until you see the other woman's NOT on Caller ID? Are you sick of hearing about how the ex-wife or stepmother "always let's us do it this way at their house" when it comes to TV, the computer or video games, staying up late, chores, homework or junk food? Do you just wish you could just give up, but you can't -- because you're stuck with her? Sometimes, no matter how hard you're trying, no matter how much you're biting your tongue, taking a deep breath, practicing patience, forgiveness, the extreme discipline involved in failing to murder the other woman, things are still… bad.
Sorry to hear it.
So, what to do?
The only thing you can do.
Tend to the moment. And yourself, away from the whole situation.
Take it a chunk at a time. In bits and pieces. Day by day. I'm talking about getting out there and shaking your little (or big) tush.
Exercise can make you feel so much better. For the most part, it's free; can actually be fun (honest) and doing it for even five minutes makes a difference. Best of all, it diffuses stress like a magic little pill, without side effects!
Carol (the stepmom) and I (the mom) usually get along pretty smashingly, but to help dissolve accumulated stress from my grueling life (writing NYT bestsellers; going on yet another foreign sojourn with my children; sipping mimosas while lovingly surveying my extensive "grounds"; lifting that tiny, but oh-so-heavy silver bell to ring for my personal assistant), I consistently do two sports that I love: rowing and rock climbing.
I started rowing right before I turned 40. I got really sick of driving over Town Lake every day (it's called Town Lake, but it's really a river - the Colorado River to be exact, but not the one in Colorado, very confusing) and seeing all the uber-fit rowers, gliding along the water. I would sigh and long to be out there, but thought you practically had to be a tri-athlete in order to row. Catch-22.
Long story short, it wasn't as hard as I thought, and after rowing for only about two weeks, I started seeing actual pecs! That alone was enough to sustain me for months while I tried not to row into the trees lining the water -- just self-obsessively gauging pec-progress. Kind of like navel-gazing. But different.
Two years ago, an ex-BF (hi Karl!) introduced me to rock climbing. Hmmm, perhaps now's not a good time to mention the young woman I heard screaming this weekend, a newbie on her second climb. Problem was, this shouldn't have been her second climb, because it was a bit beyond her abilities. She panicked when she fell (a normal, and usually fairly safe part of climbing) and ended up bumping her head as she flailed around, eyes closed. My heart went out to her, not only because she was so terrified that she started crying, but also because my own second climb involved a fall and ended in tears. This is dangerous and stupid, I remember thinking. I'm never doing this again!
Well, now I'm an enthusiastic convert (which could be a whole other essay), but that's not why we're here. We're here to talk about YOU and why YOU should exercise!
It might take some experimenting before you really stumble upon something that makes you say "Ahhhh…" at the same time that you're grunting and sweating away, but trust me, the combination is possible.
When I'm out on the river and I hear the rhythmic swooshing of the oars; when I smile at the stacked dominoes of turtles sunning themselves on fallen logs and turn my face to the side to let the wind blow away wisps of hair escaping my cap -- all while pushing my legs as hard as possible so I can feel the boat slip along the top of the water with increasing speed -- well, how much better does it get?
If you hate working out at gyms, then don't go. Get outside. Explore. Try things out. And all that sampling is the perfect opportunity to get better at something else....
So you feel like a newbie, ignorant and stupid amidst all the experts. A klutz, dorky and unathletic, or simply fat and out of shape. So you feel like you're spilling out of your clothes in all the wrong places or like you're not even sure what clothes you "should" be wearing. So you may as well have day-glo yellow paint annointing your behind -- who cares?
Get used to blowing that feeling off.
I'd bet money that feeling stupid or feeling bad about your body are the main reasons people either don't take up exercise, or don't stick with it. Mortification is a temporary experience. De-stressing is worth a few cringe-worthy moments here and there, even if it takes weeks or months for them to finally stop coming.
My initial investment in rock climbing was slightly over a hundred dollars (later on, once I knew I was really into it, I spent more). I can row every day of the week for as long as I want for thirty-six dollars a month, the cost of a really inexpensive gym membership. This is SO MUCH BETTER than signing up for a gym and then berating myself every single day for not going, like I used to. (You'd think all that guilt would have at least burned a few calories, but I doubt it.) Be creative. There are lots of things you can do with a pair of tennis shoes.
Which leads us to location. Tell the truth -- if it's a pain to get there, huffing and puffing's probably not going to happen much, is it? I just happen to live five minutes from the nearest climbing wall outside and seven minutes from the river and know I'm lucky in that respect.
Can you ride around your neighborhood or city block, can you make it fun with music you love? Does yoga appeal? Weight-lifting? Are there hiking trails around you? Places to run or ride a bike? Somewhere you can go shoot hoops?
Things are always more fun with the occasional buddy. Sometimes, this makes all the difference between fear and drudgery and procrastination -- and a shared learning curve, a good laugh, and ultimately, commitment. I've made some really close friends through both climbing and rowing (nothing like putting your life in someone else's hands to forge a bond!). It's helpful to pair up with someone who's on the same level, but not absolutely necessary. It’s good to learn, but it's nice to teach too.
Do it on a regular basis
Face it, you're always going to be tired - in the morning, after work, on a Saturday or Sunday morning. But the secret trick about exercise is that once you do it consistently for about a week or two, it starts giving you energy. All of a sudden you stop having so many mid-afternoon comatose crashes. You bounce back a little easier when you wake up early. Exercise is the gift that keeps on giving. Give it a chance to prove it and ignore your excuses.
Enh. Just like anything in life, your routine, time and wherewithal will falter. When I first started rowing three years ago, I was so afraid I'd permanently "fall off the wagon" if I didn't exercise every. single. day. So I rowed in 30 degree weather on dark winter mornings, in the wind, in the rain (okay if there's no lightening). I rowed through colds and nights with little sleep. Now I know I can have a few bouts of non-exercise, lasting weeks, or god forbid, even a month or two. I trust that I'll always come back to it, because it's something I genuinely love and miss when I don't do it.
Even if you can only get down on the floor and stretch for seven minutes, or jog in place for ten. Even if you can only hop on your bike for a quick jaunt, or have time to do a fifteen minute walk -- do it. Your body will thank you. Your monkey-mind will thank you (and shut up for a bit, instead of harping on everything that's wrong in your life). Your levels of emotional angst will drop and your feeling of strength will rise -- yes, EVEN IF you're struggling with someone else you can't stand on a daily basis.
Is there a correlation between stress relief and how well you might end up getting along with the ex-wife or stepmom that you're "stuck" with? Absolutely. Even if nothing else changes and she stays as impossible as ever, things are already better in the moment because YOU are.
Have fun and I'd love to hear about how you exercise, or any other stress reduction techniques that work for you.
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved