Family Sundays off to a running start

Hitting the road together is my family's way of weaving exercise into our routine

It is 8.30am on a Sunday and my husband is pushing a double jogging stroller - containing two toddlers and a bunch of baby supplies - up what feels like a near-vertical path on Mount Faber.

I trail behind, praying that he does not ask me to take over. The stroller load is close to 40kg.

These Sunday morning runs have become a regular occurrence as a way of making exercise part of our family routine.

My husband plans the routes - from our Braddell home to a popular joint for brunch in Kampong Bahru Road; a friend's house in Neil Road to Coastes on Sentosa's Siloso Beach; from the Serangoon stadium to Circuit Road Food Centre - around one rule (mine): It must culminate in food.

We attract quite a lot of attention along the way.

Drivers wind down their windows to give us the thumbs-up, fellow runners salute us and, once, an old uncle waved a rolled-up newspaper in our direction and said: "Siao ah."

It is true that what we're doing looks pretty nuts, especially when it starts to rain and we keep running.

Our Sunday runs are a microcosm of the journey of contradiction that is parenthood - one that is exhausting and exhilarating, unpredictable yet routine and an uphill climb with moments that go by feverishly fast.

It gets even crazier when our two kids lose it, usually near the end of particularly long runs of about two hours.

When this happens, they start to throw things overboard in protest - milk bottles, water bottles, snack boxes, toys and hair clips - and we pick them up from the ground, repeatedly.

Occasionally, they throw tantrums as well. These happen for various reasons, such as when we run past yet another playground without stopping or they squabble over a box of raisins, pinching each other and yelling their heads off as we trundle down park connectors.

They are usually quiet, though, mesmerised by the scenery, and entertained, especially when we stop to pick up an interesting seed that has fallen to the ground or point out a squirrel on a tree or a lizard basking in the sun.

Still, these runs are always a gamble and children have their good and bad days.

It is way easier to exercise on my own, I know that. But the truth is, I am immensely reluctant to tear myself away from the children - aged three and one - to do so.

I tried hitting the gym in my office after work hours, but it was painful. I simply could not bring myself to stretch my work day even longer, when I knew the kids were waiting for me to go home.

Last year, I signed up for a six-month membership at a 24-hour gym at a nearby mall. Twice a week, I diligently worked up a sweat on the fancy gym apparatus after the kids had gone to bed.

This ground to a halt after two months. I found it a real hard sell to spend the only hour of the day I had to myself at the gym, after a long work day sandwiched by child-rearing responsibilities.

I am aware that it sounds ridiculous, and a tad sad (okay, very sad), that I am unwilling and unable to carve out an hour in a day for exercise, which is a legitimate reason to leave one's kids at home for.

But as a working mother, whose young children are looked after mainly by a helper for up to nine hours daily, additional time away from them is hard to justify.

Every minute I have with my children is precious - the few hours we spend reading or rolling in bed tickling each other before I head to work in the mornings; the time we have pretending to be fire engines or examining the seeds and stones collected throughout the day before their 9pm bedtime.

The weekends are just as sacred, during which I ask my helper (who is wonderful) to leave the child-caring solely to my husband and me.

Rooted in my actions is the unshakeable belief that the bulk of child-rearing should lie on the shoulders of the parents. If not, why have children at all, I've wondered.

This has meant that it is not just exercise I find impossible to set time aside for. There is, in fact, a growing list of things being sidelined.

My husband and I would like to spend more time together, for one thing. We schedule three hours every other Saturday for date night, during which my parents take the kids. But to be frank, this isn't quite working out.

Our dates often feel contrived, a bit like speed-dating, where both of us feel the pressure to connect within a short time frame. And, in all honesty, given that my one-year-old is still waking up twice a night, we'd both rather be sleeping.

I also crave the time I had to myself pre-kids, sitting at cafes reading for hours, not minding the ticking of the clock.

And for months, my husband and I have discussed travelling without the kids, but we don't feel it is the right time.

The good thing is that we're slowly tweaking our routines, adding little pieces of ourselves back into the mix, successfully.

Several months ago, I signed up for a package of 10 Pilates classes at the gym at work. Held once a week during the lunch hour, it is perfect for me and, more importantly, sustainable. I haven't missed a lesson yet.

And now that the children are a bit older, my husband and I have started carving out more time to socialise with friends.

Then, there are our Sunday runs, a microcosm of the journey of contradiction that is parenthood - one that is exhausting and exhilarating, unpredictable yet routine and an uphill climb with moments that go by feverishly fast.

A journey from which you somehow emerge, whole and happy, find yourself wondering how you got through it all, and yet, not wanting to change a thing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Family Sundays off to a running start'. Print Edition | Subscribe