Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 679: On Joy

“Things won are done, joy's soul lies in the doing." William Shakespeare

Yesterday, I did something typical of me, one of those things that probably makes me ineligible for motherhood awards, if they made those.

I stole my daughter’s jump rope.

Here we are, in the ides of March (oh how different life is than at this time last year), and yesterday it was 80 degrees. In Chicago. I left work early because I was too restless in my windowless office, found the only pair of shorts that hadn’t been put away for the winter (some workout shorts that barely cover my behind) and a tshirt and took a walk. Then I picked up the kids and they played in the backyard; Lenny was excited to show me her newly-learned jump rope moves. And I just couldn’t help myself. I told her to help Augie blow bubbles, and I took the rope to use myself.

It’s been at least 25 years since I’ve jumped rope. I do not have anything approaching an addictive personality, and yet I think I was addicted to jumping rope as a child. I couldn’t do double dutch—well, I never really tried—but I could literally jump rope for three or four hours without stopping. I mean, my mom would have to call me in to remind me to eat or go to the bathroom. I didn’t see the point in taking a break. I weighed 45 pounds in the 4th grade, so you can imagine how little I was at age 6 or 7 at the height of my jump roping prowess. Why, you might ask, did I do this?

I just loved it, with an irrational love that could’ve probably physically injured me considering the intensity with which I loved it.

That’s a love I thought I had lost. When I first started going to the gym regularly, back in late 2007, we would jump rope sometimes during strength training classes and doing it for 30 seconds would kick my ass. Instead of just feeling frustrated or weak, this made me feel like I had lost a part of myself. So yesterday when I stole the rope, I didn’t know if I could do it at all. I have issues with high-intensity workouts due to my hips (probably the reason I don’t remember jumping rope at all after my car accident), and this rope was made for a child, not someone like me with 5-foot long legs, so there were two more problems. Oh well, I just kind of literally took candy from my own baby so I guess I’d better eat it, right?

And I started by jumping, then skipping, only stopping when I got tripped up by the too-short rope. The kids counted for me. Lenny realized what I was doing and declared a jump rope contest was in order. I said fine, you’re on, thinking to myself, it’s been like 28 years but I’ve totally got this. I didn’t want to give the rope back to her when it was her turn. I realized I could actually teach her correct jump rope form and I started trying to remember all the rhymes we used back in the day. I told Gabe later that I wanted to find a correctly-sized rope, since it was such good exercise, even if I only did it for a few minutes a day. I imagined myself stealing away to the back patio or even jumping on our front porch in the spring. I mentioned the cardiovascular benefits, how I must be able to do it easily now because of spinning, I sat there and heard this stuff spewing out of my mouth about how great jumping rope is for you.

What a load of crap. Jumping rope might be healthy, sure. But mostly it is so much damn fun you don’t even care how idiotic you look using a pink glittered rope when you are 36 years old and you don’t even realize you’re hungry or that you only got three hours of sleep the night before. It’s fun to count, and hear the slap of the rope or the whir in the air as you go faster.

So that’s when I had this jumping rope epiphany.

You know how everyone talks about the magic of childhood, the way that you feel things so intensely when you’re young, the way the small things are such a marvel the first time you experience them, the way teenagers just want to live, dance, fuck, experience their bodies? You know how we all lament how that gets lost and think we can only experience these joys again vicariously, through our children?

Well not me. That focus on the small things, that childish joy, that’s me, and it’s always been me to some extent, and maybe that is one of the only things that makes me who I am. Cancer did not give that to me. Maybe epilepsy did, or near-paralysis, or something else. Who knows?

You might think I’m nuts or that I’m just saying this to make myself sound somehow more positive than I am. Don’t get me wrong—this not so sunny personality hasn’t changed. I’m a cynical person. I’ve been a grown-up, all responsible and working hard, since I was about 11. Someone once told me I was “ultra-sane,” and I really didn’t know how to take that, but I knew it meant that logic and reason are defining aspects of my sense of self, for better or worse.

But that joy, that marvel, that wonder, has always been with me. A teenager I know who is a freshman in college laughed at me the other day when I said “you know what, I don’t GO to the park,” explaining why Gabe always takes the kids over there. My mom was the same way—I swear we only went to the park with our friends and their parents, because she just looked at us like we’d lost our minds if we made the suggestion that she come along. I can’t vouch for her, but I’ll tell you why I hate going to the park:

It’s boring. As a parent, I am supposed to watch my kids while they play. I push Augie on the swing because his stubborn ass refuses to learn how to pump his legs (a skill Lenny mastered remarkably early, by 2 and a half). Augie doesn’t even try—he knows some older girl will think he’s cute and take pity on him when I walk away after five minutes, and he will get pushed. The thing is, it’s boring to me, because I WANT TO BE THE ONE SWINGING. And I can’t—because it’s rude of me to take up a swing when there are so many kids around. Because then I can’t keep an eye on my own children, especially the younger one who is crazy and always trying to escape. I want to play, and I can’t, so it pisses me off and I feel bored so I stay home and listen to music really loud and dance around the house (apparently Gabe and the kids sometimes spy on me while I do this). Now, Gabe does play at the park. He throws five kids on his back and swings them around, and they jump all over him and he plays shark attack and does cartwheels and pull-ups on the monkey bars. I don’t actually have any desire to do any of those things. I want to do what I did as a kid:

I want to play by myself.

What a shitty thing for a mom to say! I am supposed to just marvel at my children’s joy. Every time one of them gleefully yells “look mom! Look what I can do!” and I see one of them figuring out how to jump rope, or throwing a balloon in the air, or jumping for no reason, or swimming on their own, or pulling on their own pants, I am happy for them, of course. But a little part of me is also thinking “me too! Look at me! look at what my body can do!” I just don’t have anyone to say that to, and if I did say it, I would sound insane. When Augie joyfully looks at his round belly or barges into the bathroom when I’m in the shower, opens the curtain and says “mom! You have a booty!,” I alternately laugh or tell him to get the hell out of here. But somewhere inside I think me too! Look at this! The last time I went into Victoria’s Secret and a saleslady asked me if I wanted something with “lots of support” (is that the way to politely ask a small-breasted grown woman if she wants a padded bra?), I answered without thinking: “no, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got left,” and that answer was so honest and true that I didn’t realize why she looked at me funny.

So what I’ve learned, rather than how to not feel the newness of everything and the strangeness, the mystery, of my own body, is how to lie about it. How much easier it is, in the end, to pretend that I can’t go to the park because there’s housework to do (with Ke$ha on the radio), how much simpler it is to say that I go to the gym because I would like to survive cancer, or because it’s healthy, or even because I’m vain. How much easier it is to say that I lift weights because it is good for my metabolism.

Let’s break down why Katy loves the workouts she loves. I love spinning, and I love strength training or pilates in the gym or studio. There are two reasons I love these things that other workouts don’t necessarily provide: loud music, and a mirror.

I’ve tried to explain the music part. I could literally be happy for days with nothing but myself and some loud fun songs to jam to; I’m like a teenager that way. It’s never lost its appeal. It’s even better when the music’s so loud you can’t hear yourself think, because honestly, I think so much, thoughts are flying in my brain in such rapid succession, that I just want to scream shut the fuck up to my own gray matter, but I can’t, so I just find a good playlist and TURN IT UP. Or they can do that for me at the gym. The mirror is just as important to me. I only wear short shorts and tank tops at the gym now. The reason could be the equivalent of trying to squeeze into jeans that are too small: if I see myself I will figure out what I need to improve on this body. Or, the reason could be that I am narcissistic and I like to look at myself. Or it could be because I have finally, after almost two years, regained all of the sweat glands that chemo killed in me, and I actually get hot and drippy in the gym, so I try not to wear much. Or…

I could admit that it’s because I have this lifelong complicated relationship with my body, wherein I feel somewhat separated from myself. I have warred with my body so much, and every day I wake up and am surprised. Surprised about what? Well, the waking up part, for one. The way I can tell my feet to go one in front of the other and they comply. The way my crazy-thinking brain works. It hasn’t, after all, always been thus. I like to see my muscles in the mirror, my kind of borderline too-big biceps and my strong legs and even my somewhat sculpted shoulders. And I don’t give a rat’s ass how that sounds. I just think to myself, look, that works, that’s strong even, look how fast and crazy you are when you sprint on the bike.

Seeing your body work is another kind of joy, especially when you never really get used to it or expect it. Perhaps this is the reason I’m no good at competitive sports. I am just not at all goal-oriented with fitness. For me, it’s all about my relationship with my body, not in trying to accomplish something or win. For me, the accomplishment is in my working body itself. Seeing health where there was once sickness, seeing strength where there was once atrophy, or hell, just keeping going when a lot of people can’t do that anymore—that’s it, that’s what I’m trying to do.

I was talking to the gym manager at work about the gyms where the goal is to beat your previous score, to see if you can beat the person next to you at the workout. She said that wasn’t her style and I had to agree. She was cracking up when I said, yeah, if I wasn’t able to do something as well as someone else, I’d be all punching their arm and saying “good job! Good for you,” not giving a shit about my own performance. I guess that’s the reason I won the sportsmanship award for every sport I ever played, but also why I gave up competitive sports early. I loved basketball almost as much as jumping rope, but I quit playing on teams when I was around 12. I saw how much it mattered to the other girls (and boys, when I played on co-ed teams—a terrible idea in the 80s, one that I believe ruined many aspiring female athletes’ self-esteem, as we were taller and better and sat on the bench anyway), how they were practically killing themselves over losing, how much anger and drive they had. And all I would think was, isn’t it something that I’m an 11 year old girl and I can make a half court shot? Isn’t it cool to shoot fifty free throws in a row and only miss five? Isn’t dribbling just fun? I had to admit I could do those things at home, and save the winning and losing for someone who cared.

The things I love about fitness are the same things I love as a sports spectator. I love football when I can see some guy ducking and sparring and running faster than anyone else. I was so pissed at Priest Holmes when he bulked up and couldn’t fly down the field anymore. I would root against my own team to watch him work that short, crazy body. During baseball season, I could watch the same replay of a triple over and over. I love to catch the balk before the ump does. I can’t stand professional basketball because everyone travels and everyone is freakishly tall and no one kills themselves flying into the bench to save a ball the way they do in college or high school.

I like to see bodies work, even on tv. So, after going out for a quick dinner last night, Gabe and I rented Footloose from the Redbox. He fell asleep about halfway through, but I actually watched the whole thing and found it surprisingly entertaining, except for the fact that the lead characters seemed CRAZY old to be in high school. I love to watch people who can dance, since I’m not good at it myself (living room antics disregarded). But then something weird happened. I found myself getting really emotional. Don’t laugh—remember, Ren’s mother is dead, done in by leukemia. I swear to God every movie over the last year has featured a dead mother, and cancer is usually the culprit. Also remember that I still have issues with teenagers, particularly teenage boys, because it’s hard for me to think I might not be there to see my kids reach that age. When Ren made the big speech about how one day, the teenagers would be like the adults in the room, full of worry, but now was their time to live, to dance and act like idiots, I thought damn.

I never grew up, did I?.

I have always worried, even as a child. That didn’t change with age or parenthood. I’ve always been pretty self-composed as well, able to fit into most situations, able to keep my cool most of the time. But I have also been almost selfish in my desire to still act like it’s my time. As I said, even while reveling in my kids’ joy over some activity that is new to them, I always think “me too.” This affects our family in substantive ways, this admittedly self-centered characteristic of mine. When we go to the lake house, I swim, and Gabe makes sand castles with the kids. I float and ignore everyone else. When I eat, it’s like there’s never been food before this meal. My interest in sex is in the pleasure, not the spiritual connection, though I get that too.

I don’t know what to make of this. I really don’t know what this says about me, but it doesn’t seem good. I don’t know that it can be helped either, not after so many years. Last night, after the movie ended, I was teary-eyed, a sensation I still hate and that feels alien to me, and I woke Gabe up and told him we should go to bed. It was 12:30 and I normally get up a little after 5. In bed I told him why I had been emotional, and I started crying again. I said I wanted to live to see the kids be teenagers. He said of course you will. I said, well, if not, I know they will still enjoy themselves. That made me cry more, and it made Gabe cry too. So we were crying and feeling sad and I wanted to feel better.

So that’s what we did, we made each other feel better, and then it was 2 in the morning, and I set the alarm for 6:30 because I knew I’d be unable to get up 3 hours later. Sometimes you just want to feel your body working, the closeness of another person’s body, the joy and wonder that is at the essence of your life. Sometimes it works, and life seems closer than death, your flesh seems more real than the dust of your bones. And for some people, it’s like that all the time, and our little restless bodies can’t stay still, or sleep, and we can’t remember when it wasn’t this way. It wasn’t cancer that brought me this, in fact it was cancer that tried to take this away, and succeeded for a time.

But I’m back. And Lenny found another jump rope in the house—one that’s just my size. I’m telling you, I’ve got this. Maybe someone should teach me how to double-dutch.

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