How TikTok Helped Me Rediscover Myself After Being Burned Out From Parenting

A mom of two young kids explains how letting loose with a friend to record a TikTok video helped her feel good in her skin again.

An image of a phone with TikTok on it.
Photo: Getty Images.

"What? Because I'm 40 I'm not allowed to move my hips?!" I yell from the middle of the hot tub, the neon blue water bubbling around my dimpled thighs.

My best friend is laughing, only her head above the water. I laugh too, but beneath the laughter, I'm indignant. Moments earlier I received a text from my 23-year-old sister of a vomit emoji, repulsed by the TikTok video my friend and I recorded. My sister's response to her older sister letting loose, swaying her body, trying to be—dare I say it—sexy, is innocent enough, but it lit a fire within my flabby belly.

My friend and I hadn't seen each other in three years, and now we were finally reunited in a small pondside house in Connecticut. I was escaping my life as a mom of two small kids, hungry for mental and physical space from motherhood. The day before I left, I went to Whole Foods for snacks and the oat milk I preferred in my morning coffee. I went to the bookstore. I went to the dispensary only a mile from my house, the one that was picketed before its opening because of fears the neighborhood kids would become addicted to drugs. I packed the important things—a white noise machine, my weighted blanket, and Advil for my bad back.

The trip was my chance to not only be away from the daily grind of motherhood, but to also remember who I was when my friend and I lived together 10 years before. The time when I was just me—one person, one solitary body that I groomed and took out to bars to see if another human would notice me or even want to kiss me. I was searching for another body to hold me, make me feel wanted. Now I was a mother with two other bodies that often relied on me, hung on me, sometimes threw things at me. The weight of my daughters sometimes felt unrelenting and on my worst days I would run out to my car the moment my husband got home from work, drive to the local park, and sit in the silence.

Within an hour of arriving at the rental house—after exploring the rooms inside and the outside that boasted a large, soggy yard that led down to the water—we lounged on the couch under soft blankets. Nina pulled up old photos of us on her phone.

"Remember that night?" she asked. There were so many nights. We were filled with want, eagerness, and laughter. We often brought home guys just so we could test our power, only kissing them, and then calling it a night. We made sure we were wanted, and once our fears of being undesirable were calmed, we craved the spaciousness of our empty beds. The more we rehashed memories of our gallivanting, the lighter I felt and the further I got from the heaviness of motherhood. Later I made us an easy pasta dinner and when we sat down to eat Nina smiled at her plate and exclaimed, "Thanks, mom!" I felt a tug in my chest at the reminder of my new self, the one I was trying to forget for a weekend. I thought of my kids who were probably in the bath right now, took a sip of red wine, and brought my attention back to the freedom in front of me.

"I'm going to smoke," I said after we digested dinner and Nina had eaten her weed gummy. The sun had disappeared by then, the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the pond were now dark and reflecting our movements and lights within the house. I stepped outside with bare feet onto the damp deck and lit my one-hitter. It had been long enough since I smoked weed that all I needed were two hits to feel the heavy blanket of being stoned. Back in the house, Nina was watching reels on Instagram of people dancing. "I wish I could dance like that," I said.

"I know," she whined. "None of my friends in California will do one of these with me!"

"I will!"

"Oh my god, yes!" she squealed. Between the high and the childless house, I felt like we had traveled back in time.

After scrolling through the different TikTok videos we landed on a dance that seemed simple enough for us. Nina placed her phone on the fireplace mantle and we started practicing. We were jerky and self-conscious. I stood in front of one of the large windows, using it as a mirror, watching myself dressed in my favorite pocketed romper, trying to piece together the quick movements. Even with my years of ballet and modern dance lessons, it felt impossible. The girls in the video were young, their bodies smooth, tight, moving easily. My hips felt stiff and in need of an oil can. I laughed, exhilarated but also to hide the hint of sorrow I was starting to feel at the obvious loss of my younger body and its capabilities.

"You have great birthing hips," an OB-GYN once told me in my twenties. The comment threw me off guard, but as the years went on, I kept this fact as a source of power. Later in my mid- and late-thirties those great hips birthed my two daughters. Now I was trying to find their fluidity, their youth.

And then it clicked. My brain caught up with the rest of my body and everything began to piece together, one wave of movement crashing seamlessly into the next. "I'm getting it!" I yelled to Nina over the song that screamed from her phone over and over. Before we recorded, we tried to spruce ourselves up a bit, and I pulled the drawstring of my romper a little tighter to make sure people knew I still had a waist line. We recorded it between bits of hysteria, exuberant with the taste of days gone by, replaying the video to make sure we looked OK.

We sent it to friends, my husband, her boyfriend, my sister, and then headed for the hot tub outside. I stepped into the water wearing my bikini, the bulge of my lower abdomen, the angled crease below it peeking over the top of my bikini bottom. "I've had two kids!" I yelled to the stars above our heads as explanation for my body—although I shouldn't need one. That's when I got the vomit emoji text from my sister. I knew it wasn't about my body, it was about her older sister acting sexual in even the slightest way. It was about my age—I was 17 years older than her and I was a mom.

"This is bullshit!" I informed the frogs hiding in the damp grass. I was convinced I had every right to record the video, to dance like the twenty-somethings we copied the moves from, but as my high began to lift I wasn't so sure. The next morning, as the light came through the bedroom blinds, I rolled over and rewatched the video. I pretended I was a stranger watching it, trying to figure out if I should be embarrassed. But while it felt a little silly, it also left me with a new kind of high, as if I found the missing piece of myself. I couldn't stop smiling on my drive home, even with a flat tire on the side of the highway.

My kids clung to me when I walked through the door—my 6-year-old was gripping my knee, and my 2-year-old wrapped her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck. Again, my body was no longer mine, but, thanks to my TikTok weekend, it felt whole again.

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