When I was sixteen a Jazzercise studio opened in a strip mall ten minutes from my house. My mother let me join with my two friends. I have always been grateful to her for this. I had expected her to say no. My parents said no to things that were sketchy. In Chicopee, Massachusetts in the 1970s women doing fitness was sketchy.
Kids did little league and ballet. Men went to gyms like the Y. Some of the moms had watched Jack LaLanne on TV in the 60s. (the ballet shoes, the music, oh my, must watch). Jazzercise was new, though, and Jane Fonda was controversial. We didn’t know any other families that had heard of it, much less joined. The name of the studio was “Figures and Fitness.” I imagined my mom would think it was inappropriate for me to be thinking about my figure.
Usually it went like this. I would ask to do something new and weird like join a gym in the 70s. She would say no. I would say my friends were doing it. She would ask if my friends were jumping off a bridge if I would want to do that, too. Alternatively, she would say, “I don’t care what the other mothers let their kids do. The answer is no.”
“Because I said.”
When she added the “because I said” you knew the conversation was over. You might as well head directly to your room and lick your wounds with your Partridge Family albums. (It was my favorite TV show, but I don’t ask me why they’re dressed like that or in the operating room!)
This time, though, she said it would be ok as long as I paid for it with my own money from my job at IHOP. This was unbelievable. I was going to be the first person at school to get to do something new. I was going to get to wear leg warmers, leotards, and Reebok high-top aerobic shoes. I was going to go to Figures and Fitness three times a week. I was going to get primed to someday own this official Jane Fonda Jazzercise video.
Because of my visionary mom, I have been health-aware since I was 16. I am so grateful that I learned my way around grapevines and free weights early. As an adult I have never been nervous or a beginner at the gym. I have had times where I’ve had to buckle down and get back to it. As a result of early fitness, though, I feel I have a certain reset point. When I’m getting too far away from that point, I get back to some physical activity if I’ve been slacking.
I’m not skinny and I never have been. Middle age is tough. It’s messing with my set point. That’s ok, though, thanks to Mom. Maybe I’ll take up belly dancing in my 50s like she did with her rebel friend, Irene, who lived across the street in our quiet neighborhood just a few years ahead of the Cleavers.