Exercising Rights

IMG_2394“I used to be athletic,” I say to people who really don’t believe me and probably don’t care. “Seriously, I was like a cheerleader and everything.” They try to not look at my middle-aged-I-love-carbs-had-two-babies-now-have-RA-don’t-do-crap midriff and smile a gentle, albeit, patronizing smile. Then they offer me a donut.

When I fantasize about taking Daisy on the road, I fantasize about being athletic again, with trips that include national parks, hikes, vistas, and maybe even a zip line, depending upon the availability of margaritas. I realize that neither I, nor Daisy, am ready for adventures beyond the driveway. Daisy will have to wait until the weather improves. However, I could begin the process now. It’s just, well, experience…

I worked with a personal trainer for a couple of years after I turned 50. Loved the guy. Loved the strength I got from pushups, lunges, planks – so many planks – and weights. Then, I bought a 1959 camper to renovate and bought back Girl Child’s first pony because I was worried about her (pony, not child) and there went the budget for personal trainer.

So, I rejoined the YMCA. We would go as a family. Shiny happy people being fit. Family members looked at one another as I announced the good times we would have getting fit. It’s been more than a year. They haven’t even gone to get their identification cards made.

I went alone. I used weight machines. Rode stationary bikes. Lifted a couple of free weights. I did this a couple of times and then had a startling revelation. I don’t play well with others. “Silver Sneakers” in front of me, sitting on the weight machines, stalled my progress. Were they in between sets? Pushing Life Alert buttons? Stunned by Hoda and Kathi Lee’s day drinking? I would leapfrog to the machine in front of them, but felt out of kilter, like I was missing something. Y’know, like BICEP CURLS.

Meanwhile, whippersnappers with eight-pack abs and forearms the size of Girl Child’s horse would jump in front of me. There I would be, with an old fart on the machine behind me, the machine that I should have been on if there were order in the world, and a juiced whippersnapper on the machine in front of me, doing 12 sets of 35 and sending me patronizing, “It’s okay old lady. At least you’re here” smiles. I know those smiles. I was sending them to the S.O.B. on the machine behind me.

I moved onto exercising in the pool. My rheumatologist recommends that and besides, I used to be athletic. I was a lifeguard. The first class I tried was called ai chi. Or kimchee. Or cheech and chong. Not sure, but I took a deep breath, slipped out of my sweats to reveal the muumuu suit and slithered into the water where the class was underway. I thought that was unusual because I was five minutes early for the 9:45 class. Five minutes later, the ladies in their swim caps exited the pool. Oh. Okay. So some of this is out of the water. I’m cool with that. They toweled down. Smiled at me and trotted off to the locker room. The instructor wandered over to me. I’m sure instructors hate my kind. “Will you be back?” she asked.


“Class is from nine to 9:45 every Thursday morning.” She smiled a knowing, bless your heart smile. I love how southern ladies can call someone a dumbass without even trying.

I tried a different water class at a different YMCA. I knew the instructor from years ago and church. She’s from Eastern Europe and doesn’t mince words. “You might want to try an easier class,” she suggested after I gulped and gagged for an hour, the muumuu suit ballooning up around my chin. I showed up for the easier class. It was in session. Dammit to hell. How could I get the time wrong AGAIN? “You’re late!” she shouted across the natatorium. Words hurt. And echo in a natatorium.

“No I’m not!” I smiled and yelled back. “I’m coming to the next class!” I wondered what the next class was. Upon learning that it was lap swimming, I smiled to myself. After all, I used to be athletic. Back in the 70s, Joe Eddie Grass made us swim 50 laps a day when we were getting our lifeguard certification.

“Don’t you have goggles?” asked one kind woman. Nah. Goggles are for sissies. One hasn’t swum laps unless one’s eyes look like a stage hand’s at Bonnaroo. The instructor put me in the slow lane. We began to swim. It felt good, the water. It had been a long time. I swam a few laps. Stopped, panted a little bit, holding onto the wall and let a swimmer past. She’d already lapped me once. Her kids are my age.

I swam two more laps. The instructor shouted out what stroke we were supposed to do. Freestyle again? Are you freaking kidding me? What happened to the breaststroke? Or for God’s sakes a freaking dog paddle? Swim caps covering white hair continued to pass me. I lost orientation on the backstroke and swam into oncoming traffic, the instructor yelling at me to watch out. I couldn’t hear her. My ears were full of water and my eyes were bleeding. I was cramping and I could see the light. Finally, class ended.

Because I had to pretend that the lap class was the one I intended to attend, I returned several times. The second time, I brought goggles. “Those look like children’s goggles,” advised kind woman and proffered her own, donating her extra pair to me.

“I can pay for them,” I whimpered, wondering if Hello Kitty pink was what gave me away. She waved me off. Goggle guilt compelled me to go a few more times. It’s a great group of women. They e-mail. They get coffee. They celebrate things. I continued to pant, heave, backstroke into the wrong lane and get lapped by women who didn’t see the sixties through the lenses of elementary school, but through packing lunches for their elementary school-aged children.

The last lap class I attended, I had it all. Goggles. New swimsuit that didn’t balloon like a Navy Seal rescue craft. A Band-Aid over a pesky, painful, fungal toenail. The desire to lap, rather than be lapped. I slid into the water. Cracked my neck. This was my day.

About halfway through the tenth lap, my toe felt cold, free. Ew. The Band-Aid had fallen off. I didn’t look, but just knew it would be bobbing along the top of the water waiting for the unsuspecting swimmer behind me to suck it in with her next breath. She would choke and begin to drown. I would pull her from the water, give her mouth to mouth, (hiding the Band-Aid I had pulled out, along with her false teeth) and save the day. After all, I used to be athletic. I was a life guard.

Distracted, I hit the buoy rope with my toe. Yes. THAT toe. The thing about fungal toenails is that sometimes they fall off. After whacking it on the buoy, I could feel it trying to swing free from the constraints of my toe, like a hinged door in a saloon. I stopped kicking my feet, pulling only with my arms, which meant I started getting lapped. The water still pulled at the toenail, like a mermaid tugging a love-struck sailor.

Finally, I felt one last tug and the nail floated away. I was Lap Class Zombie, dropping body parts behind me like a cruise ship dumping waste. Behind me floated a Band-Aid and a toenail. I wondered what would follow. My hair had been thinning. Would I leave behind a nest of hair, looking like Donald Trump was just below the surface?

I haven’t gone back to lap class, although I did try basic yoga at a different Y. I wheezed my way through it and was pretty proud of myself. Wanting to be the teacher’s pet, I shamelessly sidled up to her afterwards, coolly mopping perspiration from my brow. “That was supposed to be basic? That was pretty tough.”

I expected her to fist bump me, toss her head and say, “Yeah, it’s tough one, but you were a total badass. You go girl.” Instead she said, “There is an easier class on Fridays.”

I used to be athletic.


Resolution Revolution

IMG_1568I quit making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. I can disappoint myself easily enough without actually making goals to do so. It’s not that I don’t want to be a better person, or a more palatable version of me, but it seems as soon as I resolve to do something, the rebel in me says, “Screw that. You aren’t telling ME what to do, Better Self. I am SO eating ALL the pizza.” I belch, look around me smugly because I ain’t part of no system and then realize that the only person who cares that I ate ALL the pizza is the offspring who was hoping for just one slice of pepperoni. I am literally a rebel without a cause.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s with fairly strict – okay, even though they read this – abnormally strict parents, my compass was opposition. I may not have been marching in Washington for Civil Rights, but I was getting a petition signed for the Right to Wear Tennis Shoes to School. Everybody else was wearing Chuckies and I was forced to wear Stride-Rite. I took it to the streets…or at least the junior high hallways. I ain’t parta your SYS-tem! I ended up grounded, fated to wear built-up saddle oxfords for my flat, pigeon-toed feet, with several sheets of paper with signatures on one side, and the other side on which I could doodle while I remained imprisoned in my room.

I rebelled in college. In my younger, half-of-my-current-self, prettier days, I was asked to be in a Greek swimsuit contest. I acquiesced, but with a plan. Under the borrowed faux fur coat, I would wear a 1900s version of a swimsuit. Think pantaloons. Word got out. The university feminists rallied, praising my courage. I still have the letter. I walked out onto the makeshift runway, took off the coat. I heard more boos than an Alabama player at an Auburn game. My resolve weakened and I removed the costume to reveal a 1980s swimsuit. I still didn’t win. Rebellion fail.

Rebelling runs in the family, whether or not it makes sense. When Boy Child turned 13, he announced proudly. “Now, I’m a teenager. I can REBEL.” Anyone who knew us had the same question, “Against WHAT?” Face it, we’re easy-going parents who have allowed him to build a go-kart from a futon, upgrade a potato cannon to something that probably shows up on NSA lists, and build a motorized bike after declaring “no motorcycles.” There is more, but I have time issues and high blood pressure. In his relatively short life, he’s commandeered a good portion of the basement, the entire garage and carport and much of the living space of the house. We let him be him. What is there to rebel against?

With Girl Child’s form of rebellion, I have to perform dances of diplomacy so intricate and choreographed that I’m often dizzy with the circling that ensues. “Will you please bring down your dirty clothes?”

She stomps with exasperation. “I was just getting ready to DO that!”

After a meal, I wait patiently while she prepares for takeoff. When it looks as if she’s going to make a run for it to her room, I tentatively suggest, “Take in your dishes, please.”

“Can’t you see that I was about to? Guh, Mom.”

She doesn’t want to be told what to do. I get that. I’m the same way. My mother would tell me to vacuum as I was plugging in the machine and it would make my blood curdle. Yet, when I patiently wait for Girl Child to bring down her laundry or take in her plate, her dirty clothes reach a height and contamination level that bring Hazmat suits to the scene and the vermin, cockroaches and flies circling the dirty dishes have grandchildren joining them. Rebel if you will, sweet child, but for God’s sakes consider the ramifications of the Health Department getting involved.

I suppose it’s human nature to rebel. It must be what keeps us from toddling off the edge of the cliff, in lemming fashion. The collective might believe that the emperor is clothed quite nicely, thank you, but the inkling of rebellion tells us that he’s buck freaking naked. A rebellious attitude can propel us forward. I never did get to wear sneakers to junior high, but I distinctly remember being able to step away from saddle oxfords.

When I get down to it, I realize that buying Daisy was a bit of a rebellion. I’m going to buy a vintage camper, have it hauled from Michigan, restore it and make it my writing studio. Then I’m taking it to Bonnaroo and horse shows and I’ll travel across the country in it. I’ll give away canned hams to people in need and I’ll write a blog. Take that!

Much like my offspring, though, I don’t have anything to rebel against. People love the idea of Daisy. ADORE the thought of her giving away canned hams. Yearn to see her restoration. And that’s where my rebellious nature needs to make way for resolve, nee resolution. A loose definition of resolution is to make a firm decision to do (or not do) something. How can even MY rebellious nature take offense at making a firm decision to finish Daisy’s restoration? It can’t. Therefore I declare my first New Year’s Resolution in a decade or more: I will complete Daisy’s restoration by spring.

As long as Boy Child doesn’t rebel when I ask for his help.