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Empty nest but no rest


WHEN I was an overwrought housewife and young mother, working part time and feeling a bit like a squirrel in a cage, I looked ahead, sort of, to when the kids would be launched and the days would yawn before me, full of stimulating occupation and discerning entertainment.

I did not envision that soon after the kids became adults I would become -- almost, anyway -- old.

I did not envision the expensive and time-consuming work that nature would demand of me -- physical maintenance.

Instead of taking my children to the pediatrician, I now go to various specialists for checkups and procedures to check body parts that aren't as reliable as when I was young.

Instead of taking my teen-agers to the dentist for orthodontia, I take me in for crowns or inlays. (Dentists must see people my age coming with glee; we're pre-fluoride and have a mouthful of fillings that are cracking and must be replaced.) I've also learned what long-in-the-tooth really means.

In my attempt to ward off even more middle-age spread as well as osteoporosis and to rev up my cardiovascular system, I've begun going to the fitness center.

These centers, which are big business and all over town (and the country), are full of people of my vintage, at least in the middle of the day.

Early in the morning or late in the afternoon and evening is too depressing. That's when the young, trim and tireless come in, before or after work, set the weight machines at Herculean levels, race on the treadmill, exercise bike and cross-trainer (which involves moving your arms back and forth as well as your feet and sends your heart rate soaring).

My older, pudgier cohorts and I have a slower and more careful routine, something like the turtle racing the hare.

We doggedly walk or trot on the treadmill, and most of us confer with the young personal trainers to help us set the weights to strengthen our backs, legs, chests, arms and stomachs without injury to our creaky bones, joints and muscles.

A blood-pressure machine is nearby; I guess that's a comfort.

Here's a tip from one of the trainers: The way to stay out of a nursing home is to build up your thighs. So I climb into the leg press, set the weights and repeatedly lift my legs, all the while feeling a burning sensation in my thighs. No pain, no gain, right?

This being 21st century America, we are entertained while we sweat. Television sets hover in front of us, and we can choose the sound from international news, sports news, the stock market, sitcoms and talk shows -- from Osama to the Orioles to Oracle, and on.

My mother recently died at 97. She avoided the nursing home until she was 86 and never did a lick of this stuff.

But I grimly walk on the treadmill (again feeling like a squirrel in a cage); I guess I'm afraid not to. Remember, thighs.

Ann Egerton is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore.

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