eliza berkon is a journalist and musician based in washington d.c. 

A working mom's workout

Before I went back to work full-time, I envisioned my average weekday.

With flawless hair and makeup, I’d jet off to work at 7 a.m. in designer clothes with my two little ones happily fed and tucked into their car seats. I’d drop them off at daycare, enjoy some witty morning banter with their teachers, cruise to the office while listening to an inspiring podcast and ace everything at work. Afterward, unless there was a happy hour scheduled, I’d don some Lululemon and hit a boutique fitness studio for about an hour; swing by to grab the kids; feed them an organic, locally sourced dinner; read them Beatrix Potter stories with my husband and ready them for sleep with chamomile room spray. Then, my DH and I would enjoy our own gourmet meal while we chatted about the day’s events, watched a PBS doc and read from our respective novels before turning out the lights.

And then I actually went back to work.

My hair was wet and stringy and my clothes random selections from Target as I piled my cranky children into the car, still scarfing down the last bites of their breakfast. I’d speed away from home 30 minutes late, drop them off, fight traffic and then fight my Outlook task list all day long. At day’s end, I’d pick up the children five minutes before daycare closed, where I’d find them grouchy and hungry yet again. I’d dart home, hand them some nuked mac and cheese, frantically pack their lunches, read them whatever book was lying around (baseball stats, anyone?) and then tend to their many nighttime requests for an extra hug or glass of water before declaring it officially bed time and shutting their door. My husband and I would then shovel some leftovers into our mouths, watch a dispiriting news show and pass out as we attempted to read one page of a magazine.

Nowhere in that scenario did I exercise. If I didn’t have time to comb my daughter’s hair or even dry my own, how on earth could I carve out 30 minutes to run on a treadmill? Besides, exercise wasn’t a real priority, I reasoned. I needed to tend to my children, my husband and my career. Working out just wasn’t a part of that equation.

But after a few weeks on the new job, I had a few discoveries. For one, my lower back and whatever that nerve is that runs up it were suffering from eight hours of sitting. The stationary experience of office work was also draining me of energy. Whereas before I ran around the house all day, tending to my infant son, I was now just sitting—and nearly falling asleep.

I had to do something. I didn’t seem to have any time to squeeze into my frenzied daily routine, but I had to find it somewhere.

The idea of working out at night in the precious 30 minutes I had between dinner and my bedtime was reprehensible. And I couldn’t fathom how anyone could get to the gym, change into workout clothes, sweat, shower and get back to work on their lunch hour. I had to find my exercise opportunity elsewhere.

And then I had an epiphany: Would it be possible to wake up just 30 minutes early a couple days a week? If I could do that, I could fit in a quick run while my husband was at home with the kids, and still get to the many duties of the day. And to prevent a loss in sleep (also crucial), I would attempt to go to bed 30 minutes earlier.

The next day, I tried a morning run. I had intended merely to burn a few calories, but the benefits I found outside were far greater: The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. The trees waved good morning. The birds sang to me as they woke (not that I could hear them over the techno music in my earbuds, but hey). Moving my feet on the pavement while observing the first signs of the new day was both peaceful and invigorating. It was something I wanted to experience whenever I could.

But what really helped me solidify this new routine—and what I’d strongly recommend to any working mom—was finding a friend to join me. In chatting with one of my neighbors, we both realized that we liked to run at roughly the same time. I immediately suggested we negotiate a common time and thus Workout Club was formed.

A few mornings a week, we’d text each other about going out for a run or doing a yoga or cardio DVD inside on bad-weather days. During our workouts, we would chat about our children’s sleep habits, the chores that were piling up, our difficulties at work—basically the daily challenges we both faced. Much was shared in the way of both advice and laughter. And a couple of weekends a month, we’d also hit a barre class and attempt to fit right in with the single 20-somethings wearing makeup and perfect topknots.

The workouts were fun, kept us accountable and transformed exercise into a social and supportive activity.

A year later, we’ve added a couple of neighbors to our club, each participating when we can and taking our exercise to the community gym down the block when the weather dictates. We help each other get through our workouts, but more importantly, we help each other just get through the week. When I open my front door at 5:30 a.m., even when I’m exhausted or cranky, I know I have a friend waiting outside.

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