Watch Out!

9.03.07: Boo-hoo to those omnipresent TVs at the gym


I'm working hard to get more cardio into my life, and—since it's 98 degrees every day right now—that means logging lots of time on the equipment at the gym. I can stay relatively cool this way, but it's hard for me to stay focused. I'm not a natural cardio-phile (I love weightlifting and yoga, and gravitate more toward those pursuits), and it's hard for me to NOT watch the clock and count off each second, which makes the workout seem even longer. I need constant distraction to stay motivated.

So I read magazines and books. I take my iPod shuffle, and skip madly through it looking for tunes I love. I talk to friends and acquaintances. But mostly, I stare at the wall of TV monitors silently and constantly playing in closed-caption mode at the front of the room. The cardio equipment is arranged in a semi-circle around these screens, creating a captive audience. And, Gen-Xer that I am, it's hard for me to look away, even when I really do have something better to do. Even when I desperately want to stop watching.

To wit: A few days ago, the monitor in front of me was tuned to TLC's "A Baby Story," a show that details a family's journey through labor, delivery, and the first days with a new baby. I usually watch this, and think vague thoughts, like "awwww, cute" or "thank goodness I'm done with breastfeeding."

But this day, they were showing a Cesarean delivery, and as they wheeled the birthing mother into the operating room, I was transfixed and transported back to the time and place of my own delivery (a C-section, too). As the show vividly related the details, I relived my experience, and when the camera showed the surgeon pulling the baby boy out of the incision, I began to cry—quietly, but insistently. I watched some more, continuing to cry, then figured I'd better look away lest I work up so many tears that they could no longer be confused with the sweat dripping down in buckets from my forehead.

So I turned to the next monitor over, which was broadcasting CNN. Bad choice. There, the news was relaying the death sentence of a child murderer, as well as the gruesome details of the case. The crawling news update at the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, was ticked off the growing body count in Iraq. Death, death, death.

It proved to be too much, somehow, for my hormone-addled system to take, that juxtaposition of life and death, and I began to boo-hoo in earnest. I gave up any pretense of being cool about it, and just let it rip. I knew how Truman must feel when he cries so hard that he must bend over and lay his poor little head on the ground. It was like that.

Lucky for me, it was by then about 2:30 in the afternoon, and the gym was practically empty. I got a few sidelong glances, but everyone pretty much went about their business as usual. I unglued my eyeballs from the tube, hopped off the elliptical, and took a stroll down a quiet corridor so that I could cool down, physically and emotionally.

It seemed to me that someone should create a mom-friendly video space, a workout-environment where nothing could set off a hormonal response like the one I'd just had. When I related my tale to my trainer Rebecca (also a mom), she agreed whole-heartedly.

Charged with the remote, though, we couldn't quite settle on what appropriately "safe" viewing fare would be. Practically everything, it seemed to us, has the potential to make you feel weepy, fat, hungry, old, or left out of the exciting life the rest of the world seems to be living. [insert your own hormonal fluctuation here]

When it came right down to it, the only safe viewing we could agree on was "Grease" reruns (fun and familiar), The Game Show Network (innocuous), and Baby Einstein videos (perfectly unchallenging—for grown-ups, anyway). And even those are bound to inflame someone.

Until it cools down outside, my strategy will be keeping my eyeballs focused on reading magazines (inspiring titles like Fit Preg, naturally) and novels. And on getting off those cardio machines the very second I can!

Hillari Dowdle and her 17-month-old son Truman—who has inherited mommy's penchant for staring at the screen—spend a whole lot of time watching Baby Einstein videos in Knoxville, Tennesee.