Photo by Chris Rogers
Mothers Brandi Moore (left) and Janneke Sobeck (right) stretched out before an early morning run with their friend Sarah Huerta (center). Moore gets exercise, time with friends, and a break from the kids on these morning jogs. “It makes me a better mom,” she said.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Fog obscured Lake Winona when Janneke Sobeck and Brandi Moore met up, hair in ponytails and neon green shoe laces double tied. It was 5:30 a.m. and back home, their children were still fast asleep. Or at least, for the next 45 minutes, they were somebody else’s responsibility.
Parents’ shirts might be stained with throw up. Their floors may be littered with Legos. They feed babies at three in the morning, pick up feverish children from the school nurse, and take their siblings to practice. How can they find time to exercise?
In the weeks after having her first child, Sobeck was in “survival mode.” Fitness is personally important to her, and her job at Livewell Winona revolves around promoting wellness, but in her first few sleep-deprived weeks of child-rearing, exercise fell to the back burner. “There are so many other things you are required to be dedicated to when you have a child,” she said.
“Looking back on it, pre-kids was so much easier,” Patrick Menton reflected. He and his wife, Sundra, are both working parents, who take turns watching their two kids while their spouse exercises. Patrick rides a bike trainer in the early mornings. Sundra runs and plays team sports in the evenings.
For many local parents, making time for exercise requires serious planning and time management, creativity, and commitment. It is worth it, Winona parents said, because it is crucial to their wellbeing.
It is just like airline safety presentations, Becky Wisted said: “You need to put your oxygen mask on before you take care of your family.” There are plenty of reasons for parents to exercise — long-term health, setting a good example for children — but maintaining their own sanity ranked pretty high for many Winona mothers and fathers.
“Mommy guilt” and “parent martyrdom” often makes parents feel like any time they take for themselves is time they ought to spend on their children, Patrick Menton and Andrea Northam said. “When you’re taking time away from your kids to take care of yourself, it can kind of feel like selfishness,” Northam said. “But it’s about taking care of oneself so you can be there for your kids … It’s investing in yourself, your mindset, and your ability to process.” For many parents, exercise gives them more energy for life’s other demands. “If [Sundra] doesn’t get her run in, she’s not a happy camper. So you have to respect that,” Patrick Menton explained. “And the same thing goes for me. Sundra tells me, 'Patrick, go get on your bike.’ I come back a different person.” Moore said simply, “It makes me a better mom.”
To fit in a workout, some local parents get up early — very, very early. Eric Barnard has a catchy name, at least, for his ante meridiem outings: dawn patrols. He and a couple other dads will wake up at 4:30 a.m. and go mountain biking, canoeing, or rock climbing. Sometimes, he acknowledged, those early mornings require going to bed by 8:30 p.m. Does Barnard’s energy level crash in the afternoon after a crack-of-dawn bike ride? “It’s actually counter to that. I’m more energized if I get up at four in the morning. I’m more energized by nine [a.m.] and throughout the day,” he said. “And I’m inspired. I feel like I’m beating the system a little bit. Everybody else is in bed, and I’m out climbing or paddling the backwaters.”
Northam hates running. She found more fun ways to exercise, though: yoga, paddleboarding, and Body Pump classes. “It’s just finding the things that you enjoy enough to keep coming back to,” she said. Last Thursday, her schedule looked like this: get off work from Winona State, take the kids to soccer at 5 p.m., pick them up at 6 p.m., and hand them off to her parents for supper while she rollerblades around Lake Park.
Exercising with friends helps, many parents said. It makes workouts more fun and allows parents to multi-task getting exercise and spending time with friends, they explained. The Mentons invite friends and friends’ children along on family bike rides. “It helps create a sort of support network between families,” Patrick Menton explained. He added that his own children are more excited — and whine less — about getting off the couch for a bike ride if they know other kids are coming. “The accountability piece is huge,” Sobeck said of exercising with friends. “It’s our therapy. We miss each other. We hold each other accountable,” Moore stated.
Pink Crocs, sun bonnet, and a bowlful of snacks — little Neko Reisetter was dressed for leisure. Her mom, Amblyn Reisetter, broke a sweat jogging behind her daughter all the way to Lake Winona last week. Amblyn Reisetter works as a teacher and on afternoons after school, she laces up her running shoes and settles her toddler into a stroller. Amblyn pushes; Neko relaxes. “I don’t know if I really got lucky in that I got a kid who’s content to just chill in the stroller or whether it was me starting her out in the stroller early,” Amblyn Reisetter said. Either way, being able to take Neko along makes it far easier for Amblyn to fit in a workout. “If she didn’t like the stroller, I don’t know how I would do it,” Reisetter said.
For parents with older children, Livewell Winona Operation Manager Deb McClellan advised fitting in exercise between children’s activities. Take a lap around the park or gym during the kids’ sports practice, she suggested.
Sometimes, parents do things that might seem odd in order to fit in some activity. Patrick Menton said that squeezing little bits of activity throughout the day helps him and that chasing his kids around the playground and hanging from the money bars with them was one way to do that. It might look silly, but doing dips or pull ups on the jungle gym is a great way to get some exercise, he said. “Get up there, be a child again,” he encouraged. One of McClellan’s friends would take her son to basketball practice and do ab workouts in the corner of the gym. McClellan teaches early morning fitness classes, and some of her participants asked her to literally give them wakeup calls if they do not show up. “Whatever it takes,” she said.
Northam and Sobeck acknowledged, it is harder to exercise with children. McClellan stressed that if fitness is really a priority for parents, they will make time for it. As a young parent, McClellan said she was overweight and unhealthy. She changed her life to make wellness a priority. “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. It’s how you use it,” McClellan stated. Asked if it was harder to exercise after having children, Moore responded, “No, because it’s such an important part of my life. I gave up other stuff.” Amblyn Reisetter said, “For me, it’s not the highest priority. There’s other things that have to come before my fitness, but I do try to find time and work things in.” Patrick Menton said he took for granted how much easier it was before having kids, but added, “Having children has actually put my wife and I in better fitness because we’ve been forced to adapt and be better planners.”
Amblyn Reisetter was a competitive runner before she had Neko. Now, for her, running is about being healthy, not setting personal records. Several local parents who were athletic before having children found that parenthood changed their expectations. “What was once a really good work out — maybe you’re at half that,” Sobeck said. Reisetter is pregnant with her second child. “I’m not anticipating that I’ll bounce back as quickly as the first one, but you can’t let that be frustrating because you signed up for having more kids and you can’t expect to be at the same level,” she said. Her expectations for herself are “hopeful but realistic,” Reisetter said. With Neko, nodding off in the stroller, Amblyn rounded the halfway point of her run and started heading back home.
Y offers free childcare for members
Wisted runs the Winona YMCA’s Kids Corner program, which offers two hours of free childcare each day, regardless of how many children families have. “That is such a blessing,” Sobeck said. The program is only available for Y members, but the Y offers memberships on a sliding scale, so lower income families can have an affordable option for getting a reprieve from their children and a chance to exercise.
Marcy Van Fossen has been taking her two children to Kids Corner for the past 10 years. “It has been an absolute blessing for my family because it is hard to get a workout when you have young children,” Van Fossen said. “Kids Corner gives me some much needed time to restore and take care of myself while my children have fun.” Parents do not necessarily have to use the program to workout. “I tell new moms, come in and take a shower,” Wisted said. More information is available at www.winonaymca.org.