A couple of years ago, when I first started contributing to this magazine, it was for the unambiguously-titled ‘Just for Mum’s’ column, and I was encouraged to write about non-kid topics, ‘me-time’ for mummies and so on.
To be honest, I struggled with the notion of ‘me-time’ because in my case, it simply didn’t exist. Well not unless you counted my nightly date with a box-set of House, and a lacklustre foot rub from my husband – and even then it was likely to be interrupted every three-and-a-half minutes by a thirsty child or an over-worked washing-machine.
With the exception of the box-set (currently Downton Abbey), not much has changed since then, at least not until recently, when I stumbled on a ‘me-time’ activity by accident. Namely, the humble morning swim.
Now I realise this isn’t exactly revolutionary or glamorous – a passion for capeoira or a daily date with a flotation tank would be a more dramatic revelation, but I think the simplicity is part of the attraction. And I’ll be honest, the first morning I arrived at the pool I had my doubts, and suspect my only reason for being there was to give my new swimsuit an airing. After all, moving about quickly isn’t my forte – I’m happiest with my nose in a book – and the last time I ran in a race I came last (although mercifully, with it being three laps of the school sports-field, hardly anyone spotted that I was completing my first lap while everyone else were finishing their third!).
So it was a pleasant surprise to reach five laps without requiring medical assistance. Emboldened by this success, I reasoned I may as well round it up to ten. Ten laps came and went, then fifteen, and suddenly I had reached twenty, which seemed like a nice, round, sane figure to finish on.
As I clambered out of the pool, I suddenly realised my legs had developed the wobbles while I was in there, and it took all my strength to make a dignified exit to the dressing room before I buckled onto a bench, trembling. But I felt exhilarated!
The next morning I woke to aching muscles and a barrel of resolve. I shall do it again, I vowed to myself, I’ve finally found my ‘THING’!
And I have, although it’s not all plain sailing. The water is unheated, and when I first dip my toe into the cool blueness below, I’m overwhelmed by the urge to turn on my heel and go for a latte instead. Sternly I point my mind towards my wardrobe – which is filled with beautiful, size 10 clothes, hanging forlornly, unloved and unworn, like shedded skins – and I’m suddenly flinging myself into the icy water, SPLASH, with renewed purpose.
Swimming wasn’t my first choice in my quest for slenderness; I tried Zumba classes, but since there was no accompanying crèche, I was obliged to bring the two-year-old in with me, reasoning he could sit in his buggy at the back. It took ten minutes for him to decide to join in. A room full of sweating, frenetic women is no place for a wandering two year old, and after my shimmying bottom sent him hurling to the ground for the second time, he decided to make his exit, as did I.
He also put an end to my cycling ambitions, since cycling anywhere other than downhill is virtually impossible with the heft of a plump toddler sitting behind you.
It wasn’t always so hard to keep in shape. In my twenties, a student diet of coffee, Ryvita and marmalade, and a devotion to night-clubbing kept me slim.
But motherhood put an end to those nocturnal activities, and a more structured approach was required. And thrashing up and down, like a drowning dog (my technique needs work), seems to have become my saviour, both physically and mentally.
Motherhood is a merry-go-round, and I know it sounds clichéd, but we do need to remember to jump off every now and then, and do something for ourselves. It’s taken a long time for me to realise this. And although Matthew from Downton certainly has his charms, for real satisfaction, you’ll find me down at the pool.