Wha? After Forty Years, I Don’t Hate the Gym

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I recently joined the gym after years of avoiding it. I’ve joined gyms before. In years past, joining meant signing up and going four times and then paying my membership until they finally let me off the hook. I have always hated the gym. It didn’t matter how shiny the equipment, how big the pool, or how fantastic the juice bar—the gym was scary.

I always thought everybody was so perfect and fit. Where were the people who were working to get into shape? They already were in shape. All of them. Or so it seemed.

But now that I have joined the gym and have kept on going, I wonder if it was all my perception because there has been something so glorious that has come with age:

I don’t care what I look like working out.

And I look ridiculous. Really, really ridiculous.

Today I (mistakenly) went to an advanced step class where I spent 90% of the time going in the wrong direction, which is actually quite an accomplishment considering the statistical probability of that happening.

Instead of being horrified, disheartened, and humiliated, I laughed.

In my younger years, I would’ve been terribly self-conscious. I would not have laughed, and I would not have gone back. But as I tried to mambo on and off a step to gangnam style, I could not stop smiling.

There are beautiful people at the gym, in the classic use of the word. But there are many beautiful people there, in the inspiring sense of the word. I have exercised with my great aunt (she’s 87 and says she “loves this music!”), a man wearing breathe-right strips, and a nurse straight off of the night shift. These people motivate me to come back and mambo-salsa-gangnam myself in all the wrong (and maybe even someday the right!) directions again.

 

 

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This Year’s Grace

This year’s grace is brought to you by JJ’s preschool. He just told me this week that he says this before every meal at school.

In its simplicity, I think it speaks volumes.

HELP US TO BE KIND AND GOOD

HELP US DO THE THINGS WE SHOULD

IN OUR WORK AND IN OUR PLAY

TO BE MORE LOVING EVERY DAY

BON APPETIT

NOW WE MAY EAT

THANK YOU

Happy Thanksgiving!

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‘Splainin’ My Restaurant Behavior

 

As those of you who’ve eaten out with me know, I’m not always the most relaxed at a restaurant.

(For those of you who haven’t eaten out with me, maybe we should get together sometime! I love new friends.) For those who haven’t been privy to my behavior, here’s how it goes:

“Oooo, I hope we haven’t kept the table too long. There are people waiting. Should we see if we can pay? And just talk outside? Standing? In the rain?”

“I know. I know she didn’t give us our drinks ’til after dinner, but I could see that the bar was backed up. It wasn’t her fault. 25% tip? Everybody in?”

“Well yes, your hamburger was raw. And your salad was burnt. I know. I didn’t know they could burn salad either. But again, not the waitress’s fault. That would be the kitchen. I’m just gonna leave her a little extra.”

I have this compassion for waitresses, the way some people (well me, too) have a compassion for puppies in shelters. Look at their eyes. They need love. People have mistreated them. (The puppies and the waitresses.)

I’m now back living in my hometown, which is bringing back all sorts of memories. Newburyport is full of restaurants where I bused tables, scooped ice crew, served 5:00 a.m. coffees, and yes, waitressed. Recently, my family and I went out to eat at the restaurant where my two most traumatic waitressing episodes went down. As we sat on the patio overlooking the water, the memories came rushing back. PWSD. Post-Waitressing-Stress-Disorder.

“Oh my God!” I nearly shouted. “This is where I was when that band of drunken hooligans threw rocks at me!”

“Wha?” asked Dave.

“Remember? Remember I told you about those people throwing rocks at me when I had to shut them off?”

“This is IT?” said Dave.

“Yes! Yes! Picture me, a 17-year-old girl having to tell this table full of people who came in drunk that they couldn’t have any more drinks while my middle-aged manager hid in the kitchen? And he made me do it. And then he hid. Then they chewed up their rolls and spit them on the table. I walked away, and they left. When I came back on the patio, they were behind those bushes over there, and they threw rocks at me!”

Mia and JJ together, “What?”

“Yes! Rocks!” (I couldn’t stop talking. It was very therapeutic.) “And then the cops came, and the people took off in their boat. See? See why I say to be nice to waitresses?”

All three of my family members sat wide-eyed and nodding.

But there was more.

“Oh my God! And the front patio was where the lady smushed a meatball in my hand!”

Dave, “Wait, I never heard that one.”

“Seriously? Probably because I was too traumatized. Same summer. A woman was with her daughter, who was probably eight. The woman called me over in front of everyoone and said, ‘Put out your hand.’

“Excuse me?”

“Put out your hand.”

“I don’t know why I did, but I did, and she grabbed a meatball off of her daughter’s plate and smushed it in my hand. ‘Would you eat that?’ she said.

Apparently, she had found some gristle in the meatball.

At this point, Mia was looking at me with total sympathy, JJ was looking like it might be fun to smush a meatball if he could only get ahold of one, and Dave was stroking my hair, saying, “Baby, I’m so sorry,”

“I know. I know you are,” I said. “See. See why I’m so crazy about tipping?”

I hope these vignettes explain my neurotic restaurant behavior to all of my dining companions (I’m so sorry I’m such a pain in the a$%).

May we all remember that our waitress might have just dodged a rock or wiped a meatball off of her hand.

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My Mantra from 9/11

Eleven years ago, I got my class of sixth-grade girls ready to go to music.

“Tuck in your shirts, girls.

Line up.

Shhhh, keep the giggles down. People are working.”

Ten minutes later, as I sat alone in the teachers’ room correcting papers, the school secretary came to tell me about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. As we were talking, the headmaster came to tell us about the second plane hitting the Center. He went into command mode, telling us to act normal in front of the girls until he had figured out a plan.

How was I going to act normal in front of these beautiful, innocent girls when I wasn’t sure if we were at war, if we were under attack, if we, in our little school, were in danger.

What did I do?

I called my dad. Yes, at 29-years-old, I called my dad.

As soon as I heard him say hello, I started to cry.

“Dad, I’m at school, and I have to be strong for the kids. What am I going to do? Who could do this? How could anyone do this?” I had become a little girl again.

And in my dad’s calming manner, he said, “Amy, there will always people who do bad things. Horrible things. But there will always be far more people who do good things–great things, people who will help, people who will keep one another safe. In times like this, all we can do is remember that there IS more good than bad.”

“I love you, Dad. Thank you. I couldn’t make it through this day without you.”

“I love you, too, Aim.”

We had no more time to talk. I had to go pick up my girls from music and act like the world was a safe place. But-although I no longer believed in its safety, I kept my dad’s words as a mantra for that day and for all of these years. Now I’m forty-years-old, with children of my own. I can’t explain a lot of things, but I can always say…

There IS more good than bad.

 

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The Worst Punishment Ever

 

We’re approaching the end of the summer here in the Northeast, and the kids have been together for approximately seventy days straight. They have swum, rode bikes, looked for starfish, played tag, and jumped on the trampoline…together. They have explored, hiked, and gone out for ice cream together.

And they have had enough of together. They really can’t bear to be in the same room. Or house. or preferably city, but what am I supposed to do?

Yesterday, they had an epic battle over their positions on the couch. Very emotional stuff. Screaming stuff. Howling, apocalyptic stuff.

I went outside and took some deep breaths.

When I came back inside, I calmly told them that they could have dinner (pasta–their favorite) as soon as they sat on the couch and held hands.

JJ dropped to the floor. “Noooooooooo! Why, Mama? Why?”

Mia howled, “Noooooo! Nooooooooo!”

Once again, I calmly stated that they were not even being punished for their terrible behavior. All I was asking was for them to hold hands.

JJ began writhing around on the floor, “Mama, please! Please, no! Make me do something else. What else can I dooooooo?”

Mia sobbed even more hysterically, “How could you do this to me? You are so mean! This is the meanest thing EVER!”

“You know what you have to do,” I said and went outside.

Five minutes later, Mia came outside. “We’d like to hug instead,” she said. “Is that ok?” Her mouth twitched in a little smile.

“Of course!”

I returned to the house and told the kids to start hugging. I started the timer for thirty seconds. They fell to the floor in a big pile of snuggling. They started laughing and couldn’t stop. They rolled around. When the timer went off, they were still hugging and laughing.

Love always wins. (Usually.)

 

 

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My Superhero, Sensory Boy

 

 

My boy is happy, happier than I’ve ever seen him, and my heart could burst.

From the moment he was born, JJ seemed to be uncomfortable in his own skin. For the first year of his life, he screeched with the wail of a dying animal. Doctors diagnosed him with colic and reflux. When he cried, he screamed as if her were being stabbed. For all I know, that’s how he felt. We gave him omeprazole and special formula. We brought him to specialists, but nobody could really help. He only seemed at peace was when he was burrowed at the bottom of a sling around my husband’s or my neck or when we lulled him with hundreds of deep (deep) knee-bends.

Once the reflux stopped, the ear infections began. One after another. After another. Antibiotics helped, but the infections always came back. JJ got tubes when he was two.

My husband and I then waited for JJ’s happiness to set in. His medical issues had passed, so we waited to see a happy boy.

Although JJ did have fun and loved to play outdoors, he seemed frustrated and inconsolable a lot of the time. Therapists determined that he qualified for Early Intervention since he exhibited sensory-seeking behavior, meaning he needed frequent stimuli to feel relaxed. Whereas many of us feel overwhelmed by too much movement/texture/noise, these are the things that relax JJ. With the therapists’ recommendations, we began a sensory program for him. We gave him things to suck on and bins of beans to run his hands through. We had him push big weights across the floor and lean and against the wall. When he got upset, we wrapped him in a yoga mat and squeezed him. Compression calmed him down. We lived in an urban environment without a lot of space. He craved physical activity, so we brought him to the park most every day where, like a puppy, he bounded endlessly across the fields. But we couldn’t always be outside; we had dinner to cook and chores to do. When we left the park and returned to our house with its tiny yard, he was once again, out of sorts.

What could we do to help our boy feel happy? We were running out of ideas, and he was getting more and more fidgety and agitated with his time in the house.

As time passed, my husband and I decided it was time for us to move to more of a country setting. We wanted to be closer to the ocean, and we wanted to have more land. We wanted these things for ourselves, but we thought, maybe by a long shot, that these might be good for JJ, too. We moved two months ago, and here is what we have seen:

 

. .

JJ spends his days jumping on the trampoline in our yard, running around our yard and through the neighboring soccer field. He swims almost every day, either at a neighbor or babysitter’s pool or in the ocean. He digs for hours in the sand. He looks for bugs. Basically, he is performing his own “sensory program” on his own, every day. He’s in an environment where he can find what he needs to make himself happy and to calm himself down.

I’ve always thought of JJ as my own little misunderstood superhero, wearing an invisible cape with a big S for Sensory Boy. He’s spent the past years whirling through rooms, jumping, bouncing, spinning, splashing in the water and then covering himself with sand. I’ve prayed that he’d be able to channel these superhero energies (and, believe me, they are superhuman) into something positive. Now that I see him smiling so often in the sand or water or through some plants, I know he’s found his niche.

I know we’ll have challenges ahead, but for now I’m rejoicing in these moments.

 

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I’m Not a Psycho

The kids and I were about to get off the Maine turnpike after driving three hours in the pouring rain. When I got off at the toll, I realized I was in the wrong lane, so I put my arrow on and waited to get to the left. The woman on the left then yelled, “Get out of the way, you psycho!” (As an aside, I was in the way of the people on the right, and they were not yelling at me.)

The kids to one another:

JJ to Mia: What’s a psycho?

Mia: A crazy person.

JJ: Mommy’s not crazy.

Mia: I know, I mean sometime’s she’s a little bit crazy but not like psycho crazy.

 

Mia to me: Mommy, that lady’s the psycho.

JJ: Yeh, she’s the psycho. You’re not the psycho.

 

Sometimes it helps to get a little confirmation.

 

 

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What Our Kids Can Learn from Phineas and Ferb

 

Like most everything with parenting, the reality of my summer has been proven dramatically different than my (splendid) expectations. Summer has always been my favorite season. I have fond memories of my own childhood: reading books under our backyard tree, riding my Schwinn bike (with the banana seat) through the neighborhood with my friends until dark, and building forts out of sheets hung over branches. My mom sometimes brought us lemonade popsicles frozen in those Tupperware makers. She did not shuttle us around, organize massive play dates, or send me to violin/math/robot-making camp.

How, then, has summer with my kids become some sort of uber-busy, hyperactive, rushing, entertaining extravaganza of activities? Even though I have purposefully kept my children’s structured activities to a minimum, the kids seem to have an ingrained need for every day to be a bonanza of fun. Although we go on adventures to the beach, the park, or the playground most every day, they immediately complain of boredom upon returning home.

They follow me, nipping at my heels, asking, “What’s next? Can I have a snack? What are we doing? Where are we going? Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack now?”

I’ve told them, “Figure it out, run along, use your imagination” to no avail.

What can a mom do but turn to Phineas and Ferb, an example of kids who know how to rock their summer. Here’s what we can learn from some of their best songs:

 

“It’s so much fun not knowing where you’re going”

At any point, do Phineas and Ferb ask where they’re going, never mind when they are going to be there? No. They know that it’s the journey, not the destination

“Summer belongs to you”

“The sun is shinin’, there’s a lot that you can do

There’s a world of possibilities outside your door

Why settle for a little, you can get much more

Don’t need an invitation, every day is new

Yes, it’s true”

 You don’t need an invitation. Stop waiting around. Go out and do something.

 

“Summer, where do we begin”

“Summer is runnin’ through the sprinklers in your T-shirt, shoes and jeans

Rolling down a grassy hill, yeah, that’s what summer means to me

It’s true

There’s so much more to do

 Summer, it’s crickets and cicadas and a glass of lemonade

Summer, it’s sitting with your brother in the backyard under the shade of a

Big tree

That’s what it means to me

 It’s summer, man, where do we begin?”

Phineas and Ferb are happy with the good old-fashioned sprinkler.

They do not need their mom to tell them what to do. They do not need crafts set up for them. They do not ask for snacks every five minutes.

They NEVER say they’re bored. Ever.

 They use their imagination.

 

 “Do nothing day”

“Slow down and look around you

Throw your to-do-list away!

The clouds look like sheep and vice versa,

Let’s have a do nothing day.”

 They are happy looking at the clouds.

Sometimes it’s ok to do nothing.

 

In my children’s defense, we do not have a platypus, which does seem to make everything a lot more fun.

“We consider every day a plus


To spend it with a platypus


We’re always so ecstatic


’Cause he’s semi-aquatic


Our Ornithorhynchus anatinus


Brings smiles to the both of us


Life’s never fuddy-duddy


With our web-footed buddy”

 

While we’re waiting for our platypus, may our kids all find plenty to do to entertain themselves in these final days of summer.

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Innocence

I’ve been trying to keep my spirits up with the move and the rain and the end of the school year by posting funny things, but here’s what’s really on my mind. Mia and her friend, Connor, have walked to school together every day all year. They have helped each other when they were nervous. They have made each other laugh by running into mailboxes and rolling in the grass. They have somehow overcome the division of boy humor and girl humor. And they simply looked away when friends said they were in love. Both of our families move at the end of the year, but I will always remember these walks and this beautiful innocence. May they always be friends, and may Mia always rock the leg warmers with rain boots.

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The Smile Says it All

Last year, Mia did no extra-curricular activities because she was too nervous. She wouldn’t even go to Sunday school unless I sat in the hallway. Nothing could make me prouder than to say that she started dance mid-way through the year, and yesterday performed with all the girls who’d been dancing for years. For anyone who has anxiety or who has a child with anxiety, things CAN get better.She’s the super-smiley one second from left. When I get my act together, there’ll be an essay about this transformation.

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