The Playroom: Sink or … sink

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA


I am a stay-at-home mother of three children, in my early 40s, and last year I decided I wanted something which involved goals and a feeling that I was accomplishing something other than matching socks and making jelly sandwiches the right way. Something I could try to do to push myself outside the sippy-cup envelope.

So I decided to do a triathlon. Not a great big one, just a little one, the ones where you swim, bike and run distances any 20-year old with a decent pair of shoes could manage with a hangover.

My first triathlon swim class is at 7 on a Saturday morning. Arriving at the gym at 6:45 a.m., I walk in the entrance, onto the elevator and out to the locker room.

Selecting my locker in an empty locker room, enjoying the silence and feeling rather proud of myself for being at the gym at 6:45 on Saturday morning, thinking about how great it was going to be when I finished this thing. My mind creating a sunny day, and me 10 pounds lighter with those really cool triathlon numbers written on my calves, crossing the finish line with my arms raised in victory, until my fantasy is shattered by a booming male voice, “Hello, hello?”

“Someone’s in here,” I respond timidly. Despite my smugness about being here this early and my visions of crossing the finish line in triumph, I am not confident of my ability to handle a triathlon swim class and I don’t have my clothes on.

“Well, why are you here?” the man demands.

I answer a bit less timidly, “Because I have a 7 o’clock class and it’s 6:50 and I need to change.”

“Well, you are not supposed to be in here! The club doesn’t open until 7! Who let you in?”

The answer, I think to myself, is your idiot staff that wasn’t at the front desk while 17 rapists and I walked into the club at 6:45. Instead I respond, “Nobody let me in because nobody is working the front desk.”

After hearing this, the man starts yelling, “Where the hell is everybody?” and “Somebody is going to pay for this.” I’m thinking, I’m a middle-age housewife in my underwear, really, no one needs to pay for this.

Although I manage to get dressed without any further male audience, class doesn’t go much better than the locker room experience. When we get to the one-arm butterfly drill I get out of the water and tell Ted, the 20-year old coach, that there is no way I am doing the one-arm butterfly.

“Uh, why?”

“Ted, I’m 42 years old.”

“Really?” he asks in amazement.

I know he isn’t amazed because of how I look in a Speedo and goggles; he’s amazed because he’s only 20. When you are 20, 42 is a number you don’t even think about, an age you can’t even get one arm around; you don’t think 20 years into the future.

Yet now, at 42, I do think about 20 years from now, about how I want to be fit and strong and able to walk into my kid’s college graduation ceremony without wearing orthotics in my comfortable shoes and that for some reason I thought swimming at 7 on a Saturday morning would get me there.

“Yup, I’m 42 years old, and I’ve hurt myself. I’m done.”

And I know as my right shoulder burns that I have torn something and it’s not good, that it will take at least a couple months to recover, and I’m not going to be swimming for a while. I’m not going to be doing any triathlons in the summer.

Visiting with a friend, accepting my age, lamenting my defeat and my sore shoulder, discouraged by my failed attempt to accomplish this goal, this thing I wanted to do, she asks me about the man in the locker room, asks what he looked like.

“Tall, with dark hair,” I say.

She tells me, “That sounds like Dave.”

“Who’s Dave?”

“The club manager. All the moms are hot for him.”

“I’m not hot for Dave.”

“It’s okay if you are, all the moms are.”

“I’m not hot for Dave.”

“You know he’s gay?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well, I’m just trying to make you feel better about being in your underwear.”

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at