I scan the leader board and read through the profile names. CyclesforCarbs, ibikeforIPAs, SpinsforVino. All the usual Peloton names that imply exercise is currency for food or alcohol, that we have to suffer for pleasure. I stop when I read your profile name, MoreThanAMum.
At first your screen name makes me sad. It’s like someone told you—or maybe you believed?—that you were only a mum. That other parts of you did not matter. Or perhaps someone said to you, you were just a mum, “mum” as a pejorative term. Screw them.
I crank the resistance knob to the right and cycle faster. I begin to feel the blood pumping into my quadriceps causing them to burn slightly. I remember learning that the burning sensation is lactic acid building up in the muscle. I picture a cloudy white substance pooling on top of the thigh muscles just below my skin.
You’re gone for a minute. With a quick brush of my finger on the monitor I wind and stop the list of profile names like a slot machine ribbon and you come back on the screen. You’re in 49th place.
Your name reminds me of the time I was told I was more than a poem. I’d entered a poetry contest my first year of college and lost. I was an English major and aspiring writer. When my boyfriend won, I lamented to my dad about it. You’re more than poetry, he said. I think he said it to make me feel better. But everything was poetry to me then.
I consider changing my profile to MoreThanAPoem. I’m curious how many MoreThans there are. As I ride, I peck out the letters on the touch screen search bar: m-o-r-e-t-h-a-n-a- Dozens of names appear. There are about ten variations of MoreThanAMum. Most of them with the American “mom” or “mama.”
A couple years ago, a picture popped up in my Instagram feed: a woman on a Peloton bike enclosed by a baby gate to keep her children from bothering her while she exercised. She looked transfixed. Her jaw clenched, her forehead creased, she blocked out everything as she rode. The children, the dog, the looming chores that revealed themselves in the picture as piles of laundry and dishes. Maybe it was you? How old are your kids?
My son is 24 now. I was a teen mom. There’s a difference when you’re a teen mom; your legacy is written. What you do or don’t accomplish in life is always cast under the shadow of teen motherhood—but not real motherhood. I’m young to be the mom of a 24-year-old. A mom by accident, but a mom nonetheless.
I imagine my son as a boy on the other side of a baby gate. I used to have to “sneak in” a run while he napped. Exercise was a luxury and I always felt guilty doing it.
By now we are halfway through the ride. I picture you on your bike somewhere in the UK. Maybe you’re in London.
I was in London once. I went with my husband (the boyfriend who won the poetry contest). We were there for the publication of his poetry book by an English press. We met up with his friend Jonathan who lives in London now with his wife and infant daughter in a berth in Talavera Moorings. Can you believe they live with a baby on a boat? Maybe you live there, too. Do they deliver Peloton bikes to moorings?
We stayed at The Strand Palace Hotel. It was October. Perhaps you walked by when I was reading in our room. In fact, looking at your profile picture, I think I saw you walking through Covent Garden in the rain. One of those unexpected/expected London cloudbursts that has umbrellas springing from canvas bags and hotel lobby tins. You’d forgotten your Brigg umbrella when you left that day, and you scurried beneath a portico in that tourist courtyard. Yes! It was you. Your black hair was even blacker then when it was wet.
The instructor shouts, What you feel as pain today, reveals itself as strength tomorrow! I pick up speed. I manage to stay in the top ten behind Pizza2Pedal and Poemans_dream.
If I ever visit again, maybe we could go to the Savoy for drinks and you could tell me the story behind your profile name? And after two gin martinis (with pearl onions, not olives) I will read you my old poems. Because the sad truth is I haven’t written poems in years. I once published a chapbook titled Mother Tongue. The front cover had a mermaid torso on it. I will read you my favorite poem, “Relics:” The small square of moon / unleavened / is the only thing in the room / that resembled promise.
When we meet for drinks at the Savoy, I hope the same piano player is there. He played the best version of “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” that I have ever heard. You know, that 80s song from the movie Arthur? When you get caught between the moon and New York City…
Anyway, I will request it for us. We can laugh about the time I was stuck between being more than a poem and less than a mom. And later we can belt it out on our way back through the Strand before you drop me off at my hotel.
The ride is almost over and we are both in descending recovery now. The instructor leads us through some stretching. When I go to give you a virtual high five, you have already signed off.
I consider messaging you a poem.
Instead I close my eyes and see you pedaling your heart out, singing “Arthur’s Theme” at the top of your lungs, your bike blowing right through the baby gate, through the cuddy cabin door, through the canals of the Thames into the London streets where you ride to the edge of night but not back.
Sarah Pazur holds a PhD in Educational Leadership. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Exacting Clam, Connotation Press, EdSurge, English Leadership Quarterly, and elsewhere. She lives in Michigan.