Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I find myself in a compromising position with a near-stranger. It's usually a man, and we're locked in a strange sort of embrace. My fingers might be laced together on the back of his head, pulling his face close to my neck. His hand might be gripping the back of my shirt, one elbow pressed against my cheekbone. We shuffle around awkwardly as if slow-dancing in a school cafeteria to "Lady in Red," softly kneeing each other in the groin.

Later I drive home, battered from head to toe, a giant bruise already blooming down my arm like a long winter shadow. I can see in the rearview mirror that my hair has pulled loose from my headband in unflattering sweat-slick tufts, and the majority of my makeup has probably been smeared down someone's shirt. Every part of my body aches. I turn up my radio and lustily sing along, butchering the lyrics and caring not a whit. "Clap along if you feel like a broom without a hoof!"

I'm completely and utterly exuberant.

This unfamiliar territory comes thanks to the self-defense classes I've been taking over the last few weeks. Specifically, Haganah combat training, a system developed by Israel's Special Forces, which is fairly similar to Krav Maga. It's physically and mentally challenging, wildly difficult from a coordination/memory standpoint, and way way WAY outside my comfort zone.

Had I known just how much physical contact would be involved in these classes, I never would have summoned the courage to walk in the gym's front door. I can't even manage a quick hug without having to life-coach my way through the actions ("Okay, now extend your arms ... turn your head to the side ... be cool, be cool ..."), which is to say I'm more of a nervous flincher than a touchy-feeler. I like to have a niiiiiiiice wide barrier of personal space around me at all times, you know what I mean? But there is no concept of personal space in self-defense classes. Or rather, the concept is this: someone else is invading it, and it's your job to make it stop. Possibly by shattering their kneecap, or concocting a kick-induced testicle frappé.

The contact is intimidating, but attempting the various moves is even more so. Many of the techniques used to disarm or deflect an attacker require memorizing a series of steps -- fall back THEN right jab WHILE pivoting THEN secure the head WHILE pinning the arm THEN kick -- which sends frantic *TILT* signals to my uncoordinated brain until I'm convinced everyone else in the classes is moving as smoothly and stealthily as Cirque du Soleil ninjas while I look like this:

Or this:

Orrrrrrrrr this:

You get the picture.

These classes light up a large number of my neuroses in a surprisingly specific manner. Basically, if there is such a thing as a diagnosable Fear of Being Really Embarrassingly Terrible at Something in Front of Other People While Also Getting Really Super Close to Said People and Touching Them in Fake-Aggressive Yet Somehow Weirdly Intimate Ways (Shameapproachgropophobia), my weekly training sessions are definitely my exposure therapy.

Self-deprecating jokes aside, I do actually feel like the classes are doing something more than teaching me how to throw a punch and deflect a kick. Every time I show up, I'm conquering some pretty big mental obstacles. Every time I show up, I'm choosing to engage with people and experience things that are brand new to me. Every time I show up, I feel like I've broken free of some of the muffled sameness of my daily life.

More importantly, it's something I do that has absolutely nothing to do with parenthood. I mean, I do sometimes imagine that I'm defending my children when I'm in these situations, because that's helpful in terms of getting past the whole "pretend-fighting with a perfectly nice stranger" thing, but for the most part, when I walk in the door, I'm not Riley and Dylan's mom. I'm just ... Linda. For that hour, I'm fully present, rooted in the moment, not thinking of the laundry I need to do or the lunches I need to pack or the homework I need to sign off on. And I have to say, that feels really, really good -- even if it does come with a heaping side serving of bruises.

What do you do for yourself that helps break you out of your mom-routine?

Image via fontina/Flickr