by Judy Gruen
Last night my husband came home, sweating the honest sweat of a man who had just torched at least 2,000 calories at the gym. “Great workout!” he announced, before I could even ask. “I rode 10 miles on the bicycle, did 125 push-ups, and lifted weights for 25 minutes. I feel like a new man.”
I found this unutterably depressing. While the man was toning his muscles to the consistency of marble, my exercise had consisted of hefting groceries into the house and trying to scrub down a bath-resistant beagle in the tub. I might have burned 87 calories, if I was lucky.
It’s been like this ever since my 40-something husband had an epiphany that would change both our lives: “Hey!” he announced. “I forgot to exercise in my 30s!” From that instant, he was determined to compensate for more than a decade of tepid exercise, involving haphazard jogging and changing air duct filters in the attic. Even our kids had grown too big to use as free weights.
Now my husband is a man possessed, literally: with a new set of hand weights, workout gloves, and moisture-wicking workout clothes. I know, I shouldn’t complain. Legions of middle-aged men have mid-life crises far more threatening to their wives, such as shopping for younger replacement wives (sometimes online), or waking up one morning and feeling an urgent need to buy a boat and navigate around the Horn of Africa.
Usually, the only maritime experience these men have ever had involved steering rubber duckies in the tub at age 5. And since they will refuse to ask for directions as they search for the Horn, they will never be seen or heard from again. Still, I keep finding excuses not to join my husband at the gym.
First, I learned years ago that as a couple we could survive many things, but competitive athletic endeavors were not among them. I learned this the day he tried to teach me to ski. He could not understand why I kept falling down, and I couldn’t understand why any sane person would strap their feet tightly into two wooden sticks and then try to zoom vertically down a mountain. In my opinion, any sport that requires ambulances on-site is sheer madness.
For a while, my excuses were remotely plausible: “I wish I could go with you,” I said, faking wistfulness, “but I’m waiting for the washing machine repair man. He said he’d be here by Thursday.” This worked until all of our household appliances were unambiguously in working order, so I had no choice but to claim suspicious emergencies, such as a collagen treatment or palm reading. In desperation, I even claimed a flare-up of post-post-post-childbirth-stress disorder, a rare syndrome that strikes women as much as 15 years after the birth of their children and requires them to lay down and reread “Pride and Prejudice” until the episode passes.
But the fitness fever is contagious, and the kids got it bad. Twice, I’ve been kneed in the midsection while walking down the hall by a kid hoisting himself up with a new chin-up bar. I now tread carefully in the family room to avoid tripping over the huge medicine ball, used for sit-ups by everyone but me.
Eventually, I realized that I had to get with the pedometer program or risk having my husband start winning triathlons as I watched from the sidelines, with contours more balabusta than bellisima. So I summoned my courage and joined the gym, determined to match my husband sinew for sinew.
As I walked into my first aerobics class in years, I gave my body a pep talk as if it were The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!” Thanks to the infectious music of Bruce Springsteen’s “Rosalita,” and industrial-strength infusions of high-octane coffee, I danced myself into the sort of frenzied energy I didn’t even know I still possessed. After class, the instructor high-fived me, gushing, “You did an amazing job!” in a tone so startled it was no longer a compliment.
Now, with a sense of purpose as hard-boiled as I hope my muscles will become, my husband and I are heading out for a hike. He once described the path we’re taking as having “a slight incline,” which is like describing the Dead Sea as “slightly high-sodium.” So here I go, athletic shoes tied, water bottle at the ready, wearing my new t-shirt that says, “My husband had his mid-life crisis and all I got was this lousy pedometer.”
Judy Gruen exercises with her family in Los Angeles. Her latest book is The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com.