My 4-Year-Old Is Basically My Personal Trainer And It Works

Alone time is not a thing for me. So I had to adapt.

Written by Samantha Darby

Lizzo’s “2 Be Loved” comes on in the car and as soon as I hear it, I glance in the rear-view mirror. My 4-year-old Lucy has her arms up in the air. “Mommy? You hear dat? Let’s do our exercise!” She immediately launches into the arm movements from The Fitness Marshall’s dance workout routine, which includes “playing our panic piano.” It is pure joy on her face. She knows the moves. She knows this is our “thing.” And she also knows it’s important. “Mommy!” she shouts when the song ends. “Look at my muscles!”

The Fitness Marshall is a self-styled “modern day Richard Simmons meets Britney Spears,” and Lucy and I do his YouTube videos together about four times a week. She stands in front of me, not even flinching when I clock her in the head with my elbows as I attempt to stay on beat. “Faster!” she yells as the music changes, running in circles around me, occasionally dropping a toy right behind me so I almost kill myself when Britney comes on. She loves to shout that I’m doing it wrong, and then she also loves to say “One more song!” when I’m barely breathing. For that final one, she usually opts for something very hard (almost always Dua Lipa) and then retires to the couch. “I’m going to just watch you now,” she says.

It’s maddening, but it’s also the best part of my day. I work up an epic sweat, and it totally counts as quality time with my kid while I do something for me. I don’t have to worry about her grabbing heavy weights that I’m trying to lift or interrupting my rep count to ask for a snack. She isn’t begging for me to turn it off or whining about how she wants to watch Cocomelon instead as I stream the workouts on our TV. Instead, she shouts things like, “Here it comes! Here it comes, Mommy!” when the music is about to shift. When Fitness Marshall opens a dance with “Hey there, booties,” she turns around and shakes her own booty at the TV. When she gets bored and sits on the couch to watch me, she claps at the end of every song and says, “Yay! You’re doing it, Mommy! You’re doing it! Go Mommy! Look at your MUSCLES!”

She gets to see me happy, strong, persevering. She gets to see me get better at something every day and she gets to see an inclusive workout led by people who are having the absolute most fun.

After becoming a parent I had to change my expectations around working out. Alone time is… not a thing for me. I have three kids, a full-time job, a husband — the idea of carving out a portion of my day where I am not needed by anyone is so stressful that I give up. It’s like wanting to cook dinner alone while I listen to a podcast. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes I have three kids asking me questions and hanging on my legs and demanding to be allowed to “help.” And the thing I hate most in the world is feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and taking those frustrations out on my kids. So I adapt. Exercise has to work the same way.

And because I have adapted, I’ve been able to keep up a consistent workout routine. Lucy, you see, has become my personal trainer. Because if I’m not feeling a workout or the day gets too busy and then Ed Sheeran comes on the radio, my 4-year-old asks me if we’re going to do a video. “You hear dat?” she asks, pointing at the speakers. “Double time!” she shouts, doing an uncanny impression of the choreography to Sheeran’s “Shivers.” She will not let up. Even if I tell her there’s no time or I’m too busy or maybe later, she’ll keep saying it. “Mommy, let’s do our exercise.”

And so, we do our exercise. Dancing around with my 4-year-old is like reading to my 8-year-old or snuggling my 8-month-old — one of those parenting things that kids request and all I can say is yes because it’s just so joyful.

It’s maddening, but it’s also the best part of my day.

I chose the workout I’m excited to do every single day — and the one that my 4-year-old can do next to me. I don’t have to wait for nap time, I don’t have to beg her to stay in another room with her tablet. She gets to exercise, too. She gets to see me happy, strong, persevering. She gets to see me get better at something every day and she gets to see an inclusive workout with encouraging messages led by people who are having the absolute most fun every time they’re on our TV — all while shaking her little booty to Lizzo and shouting things like, “I have a feeling that you slayed that just now.”

She encourages me, claps her hands, yells, “One more song, Mommy!” And on the days when I worry I haven’t done enough — for her, for our family, for myself — she’ll ask me, “Mommy? We do exercise?” And we let Ariana Grande help us sweat it out.