To the Gym

Here and on Instagram, people have asked that I talk about our resolve as a family to get to the gym. First let me give you a little bit of the backstory so you understand how I came to be standing in the gym in the first week of January when I'd promised msyelf all of December that I'd do nothing but sleep that week.

Last year, Christian struggled with depression all through the winter. Well, he always struggles with depression, but last year was particularly bad. And then, he joined a gym. Things began to improve. It wasn't a panacea, but they improved. He paid for his own membership and he went faithfully. Then, he ran out of money. His summer earnings split nearly evenly between Chipotle and the gym, he was running dry around mid-October. We supplemented. 

Before long, he suggested that a gym membership would be a good idea as a Christmas gift for the three boys remaining at home. Mike and I heartily agreed. We'd seen the benefit for Christian and even though both Stephen and Nick play highly competitive soccer year 'round, we could see how they'd benefit from the facilities, too. That was all before we visited. We didn't actually get the membership before Christmas. I wrapped some Muscle Mend and a note that promised the gym.

So, there we were, with everyone and their brothers, the first week of January. The gym was amazing, with so much to offer. Mike saw potential for all of us. I sat there numb while he registered us all. And suddenly, my lazy January disappeared and I now had to figure out what the gym offered for seven different kids and how to make sure we all got there. And I had to commit to something for myself, too.

So, I did. Because by golly if we were paying for it, we were doing it. Ours is a beautiful gym–truly amazing, really. And there is something for everyone. Someone commented on "gym culture." I'm not sure what she meant by the reference. I think our gym is multi-cultural. Swimmers, bike riders, rock climbers, weight lifters, yogis, marathon runners–they each seem to have their own culture. And we've all found our niche within those cultures–often being very cross-cultural.

Once I got started, it was very evident that this place was part of God's plan for my renewal. I'm ever so grateful

So, how do we get there? What are the logistics? I sit down with gym class schedules at the beginning of my week (there's an app for that) and see what's what for who. I look at other schedules (like soccer and ballet) and I just see where we can fit things. Sometimes, we hold dinner until late. Sometimes, we eat something light at home before the gym and eat again when we get home.

Last week, I discovered that there are some classes taught in the morning by a homeschooling mother of seven. And her kids are doing school in the "kids club" while she teaches moms upstairs. I think they're is some real potential there for me. I tried it once last week, then spent the rest of the week battling a stomach bug, so I have yet to see how that works with the rest of our schedule, but maybe a couple days a week…

As soccer season heads into full swing, our evenings aren't going to be as workable, so I've tentatively adapted my personal practice schedule to one that includes early morning time. While I've really benefited from group fitness classes that require quiet and concentration and the guidance of a teacher, that won't be available in the mornings. But I can use that quiet space in the gym (no classes there in the very early morning) and bring a podcast or even a video on my computer, if I want. And then I can go from there to the cardio machines (at least theoretically). I'll still hit the group classes when I can. I'm glad to have my every day habit well established before I have to go it alone a bit. I know it's trickier to do it on my own. I've logged years of off and on seasons with T-Tapp and P90X. The reality is that I always worked out until I was interrupted. By leaving the house when everyone is asleep and practicing in a separate space, I'm more likely to stay focused and get it done. 

I much prefer the times when we can all be there together and I can hardly wait until the summer! 

I remember when my big guys were babies. Someone offered some sage advice regarding getting out of the house. She told me to always keep a diaper bag packed. That way, you could get up and go much more readily. Great advice that I followed for 20-plus years. The same advice applies to gym bags.

Since Pinterest informs me that the absolute favorite post from this blog for pinners is one on packing for a Disney road trip, followed closely by packing for soccer, I'm guessing it's worth sharing my bag strategy. 


First off, everyone has a water bottle. And they know that they are not to leave home without it and they are to keep it with them and use it the whole time they're there. The first time we went to the gym, Mary Beth passed out. Dehydration played a role in this unfortunate beginning. Nothing like EMTs and ambulance lights to drive home the lesson for all of us. We're very serious about water.

I go to the gym wearing workout clothes, eliminating the need to change before class because we are often cutting it close, timewise. I pack my big gym bag according to the way items will be used. So, I think backwards. My blow dryer is last, so it goes in first, with my street shoes (socks tucked in) on top. Then, my clothes, a bag for the shower, and on and on until I'm totally packed.






On the very top: shower shoes ( really need to get my own pair of cute flip-flops instead of teenage boy castoffs). Then, a ziploc bag holds earbuds, a bandana, and a little pot of coconut oil. Eucalyptus steam room. After the workout and before the shower, ten minutes in the steam room is why I even do any of this at all very beneficial. I slip my phone into the bag, plug in the earbuds, and listen to a book. The coconut oil is for rubbing all over so it seeps into my skin. All good. Then to the shower.


I pack shower items in a TOMs bag all together and apart from every thing else. That way, I can grab the bag with the shampoo and the conditioner and the razor and those things are all together and they stay together. I hang that bag outside the shower and put everything back in when I'm finished. This might all sound a little obsessive, but it all adds up when I'm trying to shave the time the whole excursion takes and espeically to shave the time the little ones are away from me.

After the shower, all that's left in the bag is what I need to get ready to leave.

Taking a few moments to think this all through saves several moments of standing in front of a locker, trying to keep my towel from slipping off, while digging through the bag. Also, making my shower routine efficient cuts down on the time I'm away from the little ones.



My mat and my gym card are in a separate bag. That way, on days I'm running super late, I can just take that bag, skip the whole locker routine, and dash into class on time. The card, a headband and my phone fit in the little pocket. So, if time is really short, I can still do the essential thing and work out.

What are the little ones doing? There's a space in the gym especially for them. They play on a kid-sized basketball course, and climb through a huge indoor play structure. There are classes for them in rock climbing and zumba and gym games and other interests. The space is for everyone under 12. The over 12 crowd has full run of thegym. Anything I can do, they do (better). After my workout, I go get the little ones and they can go to the rock climbing wall or the pool with me.





The bigger kids pack their own gym bags and we've walked through what to put in them. This is really a great exercise in organization and personal responsibility. We have long had a rule that holds here: if you're old enough to play, your'e old enough to be in charge of your stuff. That goes for ballet bags, soccer bags, and gym bags. Even the little ones have bags.They need to change after their classes or for swimming. After swimming, they spin wet bathing suits in a spinner to get them nearly dry and put them in the plastic bags provided at the gym. They know that those suits come out of the bags and hang to dry as soon as we get home. If we are going to the gym late, after dinner, their pajamas go in their bags and I shower them and do pjs in the locker room. They get  home and roll into bed for stories.

At the end of the day, I sort through the bag, pull out the clothes to be laundered and re-pack right away. That way, if I'm waffling about whether or not to go the next day, I know that I'm ready to walk out that door.

If I'm ready already, I'm more likely to just do it.


  1. Kathleen says

    Wow, Elizabeth, this is great and very inspiring. How wonderful that you are teaching your kids to be responsible for their own “stuff”. In so many families, mom has to “think” for everyone. At our Y they are now giving out mini-membership cards that fit on your keyring (like store savings cards). My son found this helpful because gym pants often don’t have pockets and he now needs to carry just his key ring (he showers at home). Thanks again!

  2. says

    Great post, Elizabeth. So, so glad you are enjoying the gym. I pack my pool bag sort of like your gym bag, but also have a plastic bag for a wet suit and damp towels. Wish we had a steam room at the pool. That sounds delightful!

  3. Danielle M. says

    From your past comments about your gym, I just knew that was the one. When I lived in VA, we were there just about every day. I even kept our membership here in NJ, but the closest one was just a little too far, so we switched. Luckily we found a similar club, where the kid club will even shuttle the little ones back and forth to their own gym, tae kwon do, or dance classes, while I work out. This saves me so much time since I would just be sitting waiting for them to take their class otherwise, and I don’t feel guilty about the time away from them, since they love the classes. Thank you for the pre-packed bag plan, I need to implement that one. You are going to love that place in the Summer, I miss the opportunity to interact with other moms at the pool. We have our own pool here. The kids like it better, but I liked going to the club for the socialization. Thanks for the inspiration this morning.

  4. Teresa says

    Wow, you are amazing! When do the kids do school? When do they wake up and go to bed? Seriously, I might get school done and everybody fed before we need to be out the door at 3 for afternoon activities. And that is a big maybe, most days someone doesn’t finish his school work and somedays we skip lunch. I don’t see how I could get to the gym, let alone a walk around the block. Wish I could figure this out because the exercise might make a huge difference.

  5. says

    Sorry for the confusion, with the exception of one morning last week, our gym time has been early morning (well before traditional school hours–and I’m mostly alone, only Nick goes early in the morning) or after school hours. I drop off at dance and we go or I pick up after dance and we go. On the weekends, we often all meet at the gym before or after some game or rehearsal. Obviously, if a child is at dance at that time, they aren’t at the gym with us. We aim for the majority. If the boys have soccer or basketball, we go without them or before or after. I can’t get more specific than that, I’m afraid, because every day is different around here and it will change again next week. Being able to go to the gym is a huge motivation for not dawdling and getting school work done. For the most part though, the hours between 8:30 and 3:00 are school hours and we get it done then. It works for us and it’s really fluid. I’m afraid I can’t be of any more help than that.
    One more exception: Christian really dislikes crowds. He rarely goes when we go. He goes at 10 PM or later and he has the place to himself. He’s 20 years old and able to do that and he knows what his body and spirit need. He gets himself there and back and he’s usually pretty quiet about it.

  6. Nicole says

    Ha ha! I saw your gym card! :) I work a few hours a week at the facility near my house in the kids club. It’s a great gym and the kids always have fun running around in the child center. I’m with Christian, though, I always have to go early or late to avoid the crowds. Partly because I’m self-conscious, and partly because since I work there, I know everyone, and I’d never get a workout in if I had to stop and chat with everyone!

  7. says

    That sounds so fantastic! Can you pm me the link to the actual gym? Our rec facilities are AMAZING here, but not to this level! I think our city council would be VERY interested to get something like that going. They know we have a HUGE homeschool community, and they are eager to accommodate. I’d like to show them this idea.
    And, to answer Teresa for you (if I may be so bold) Working in these activities are just a matter of arranging priorities. Not that working out suddenly takes precedence over Math, say… but for me, maybe I streamline other activities to be that much more productive. And, in my little experience, kiddos who otherwise may drag their feet will pick up the pace if a fun outing is on the horizon!! :)

  8. Loretta S. says

    Wow – great post! We live in a small town in a far away place with super poor gym facilities, but your post is inspiration for many things besides the gym. Just wonderful!

  9. says

    I first joined the gym as a mother when I was pregnant with my 3rd and it was getting much harder to exercise with 2 toddlers at home. I used to bring them in the morning at 8:30 (that’s when the child’s playroom opened) and workout for 45 minutes and go home. Mon, Wed, Fri was our schedule back then. I have been a member of the same gym for 7 years now and I use it 5 to 6 days a week. We have 5 kids now, and only try to bring them with us on the weekend, otherwise they start to complain about always being there. During the week my hubby and I take turns going after work. I can’t imagine my life without exercise now. It has provided me with so many physical and MENTAL health benefits to ever give up. Congrats to you for finding your groove :)
    P.S. To save time, I go to the gym already ready to work out and shower when I get home. No gym bag necessary at all. Packing it was the worst part of my whole gym experience. I prefer to shower and dress at home when I have everything I need, plus it cuts down on the minutes the kids are in the childcare room.

  10. says

    It is SO wonderful you discovered this benefit early in your mothering. You’re right, it’s afforded you many, many good things, physical and mental.
    Thanks for the PS. You’re right and that makes sense if I’m not going anywhere but straight home. everyday is different. If those morning classes work, then just running in and doing the class and then dashing home to the shower would definitely cut down on child care time and time away from home. (but then there’d be no steam room;-)

  11. teresa says

    Thanks for responding Elizabeth! That does put things in a different perspective but I still have to hand it to you for getting yourself out of bed and back home before school starts :-)

  12. says

    Great post Elizabeth. We live just about an hour away from your gym (confirmed with the pic of the card) and one of my neighbors drives there a few times a week. He often brings some of my girls with his daughter and the LOVE the rock climbing wall. Wish it wasnt so far away.
    Glad that Christian is doing better.

  13. Jen says

    This is absolutely fantastic. We’ve been with our club for…well, 8 years now I think. Mainly at first, it was for me. I have struggled with depression as a teenager, then bad postpartum depression after each of my kids. When my first three came in three years, it was very, very bad post partum. No antidepressants worked (the psych actually wanted to add more while I was nursing my 6 month old. I said no). Long story short, three more kids later (number 6 on the way in April), the gym is very important to us. Our mental health, as, like your Christian, I’ve seen the same depression creep up in my 12 year old daughter. She just started her cycle this past December, and I see how being home, no sun, and no exercise, has it’s impact on her. On all of us. So, I run (did a half marathon after my 5th), my oldest swims soon to be competitively, and my second and third swim now more in lessons. The logistics end up working out…it takes some time. I’m sure it will be crazy once this new baby comes and I’m nursing, etc. However, the staff down in the kids area are a life saver. One woman is actually a babysitter for us because she works so well with our son with autism. We were able to bring him there and it was a respite for me, and him. I can’t say enough. If it’s in the budget, a gym membership can be such a huge benefit for a family.

  14. says

    I joined a really kid friendly gym today, inspired by this post. In the past, we’ve gone to the Y, which is budget friendly, but the child care was really limited hours and my kids did not like going there. At this gym, I get 2 hours of childcare anytime between 9 am and 9 pm, and in addition to lots of machines they have really nice showers and a spa/salon, so if I start getting my haircut there instead of paying a sitter and getting it cut somewhere else, that will make up the difference in the cost for the Y.
    I also like that they have great kids fitness options. I am trying just for myself, now, but if I get into a good routine, I might add memberships for my big kids. In the meantime, the childcare includes a large gym room where they can run around, play ball, etc. The director also told me that my bigger kids could sit in the nice lounge and do school work instead of trying to do it in the little kid play area.
    Honestly, I might go there sometimes and just shower!

  15. Judy says

    Just a thought that might be helpful re Christian’s winter time depression. My son, now nineteen, first struggled with it when he was in about grade 5 or 6. So, in addition, to daily exercise, he took daily Vitamin B12 during the winter months through upper elementary/high school and found it very helpful in overcoming S.A.D. during Vancouver’s long, grey, wet winters. He’s not needing it so much since going off to university, though he did take some through the fall. He is now living in a city with far more winter blue skies, and freezing temperatures which keep the snow on the ground for many weeks and all that extra light has proved to be a real mood booster.(Not so sure having him so far away is a mood booster for his mum – smile.)

  16. says

    Hooray! This makes me so happy. My gym has a hair salon, too, and the haircut there is considerably less expensive than my previous place. And I like the girl SO much more. The difference doesn’t pay for the membership, but between convenience and cost and just general happiness, I’m likely to get my haircut in a more timely manner.

  17. Greg Hessel says

    Well just keep it in mind because the internship would be paid and would be full-time. We had interns last summer who went to college locally extend their internship past summer as well. So if it is $$$ that he needs the internship would definitely cover.

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