Monday, March 21, 2016

What Seeing Looks Like

Today the two older girls started slings over at Canopy. H and I decided to turn it into a family event and walk over. As we crossed the tracks, Jude's feet started kicking and she yelled in joy. She recognizes the warehouse where one of her favorite places resides. When we walked through the doors, she squirmed in her dad's arms to be put down and immediately ran to Ann. Ann simply put is amazing. I love her. My kids love her. I don't anyone who doesn't love her. She's been working privately with Camille and Jude for nearly a year now on trapeze. She picks Jude up and kisses her. Jude hugs her tight making her special cooing sound reserved for those she adores usually just H and I. But Ann gets a coo while daddy gets a goodbye wave.

I could go on about how amazing trapeze has been for the girls. Someday soon I will write that post. Today what's been playing in my mind is the relationships between Ann and the girls. To me that holds equal weight with the physical/emotional rewards reaped from trapeze. 

Let me rewind. I didn't know Ann well when we began attending classes at Canopy. I saw her around of course but I didn't really talk to her. I can't even remember how we first started talking but I remember the first time she met Jude. She fussed over her and asked to hold her. For some reason it came up that Jude had Down syndrome. Ann responded "Oh my best friend has Down syndrome." I hear this sometimes. Or the other variation of my "insert distance relative relation here" has Down syndrome. But when Ann said it it was different. She meant it. She really did have a best friend with Down syndrome and it was no big deal. I liked that a lot. 

And that's how Ann is with both Camille and Jude. She's working with them as a kind of awesome therapy but she's also working with them because they all love to fly. Ann doesn't see either of them as a list of things to check through. There are no evaluations in this therapy. Instead Ann works with them based on their individual strengths and weakness. But she also works with them like they're people. This is an unusual thing to happen to children anyway but I am learning it's even more so when the child has a disability. Ann doesn't erase their disability either. She sees them and she works with them but she doesn't let it be the sole definer of the child before her.

I'm pretty picky about who gets to work with Camille and Jude. I won't tolerate disrespect for any of the kids but with Camille and Jude I am even more fierce. Camille for example is never required to look people in the eye. I also ask her teachers to allow her to have other means of communication for those days when verbal language is hard. Not many adults are willing to do this and thus they don't get to work with my kid. It's a pretty simple decision for me. You have to respect their nuerodiversity. 

Camille right now works with two adults. Ann and her art teacher and amazing artist Hope. They both love Camille not in spite of her Autism but because of it. They nurture, encourage her to grow, and often push her out of her comfort zones (although gently never forcefully). I am thankful everyday for these two amazing people. They've accepted Camie and I know that this simple thing will follow her throughout her life. Those early moments of acceptance shape us and set the map for how we allow ourselves to be treated. I remember clearly those adults who loved my quirky self and nurtured my weird spirit. I also remember the ones who stomped on me and tried to push into rigid molds. 

The other day I asked the owner of Treehouse Kid and Craft if Jude could take a class that was for older kids. "Of course," she said, "We love Jude." 

Once at Barnes and Noble as I ordered our treats and coffees, the barista exclaimed "Oh it's Jude! She's like a rock star around here."

We don't want to leave Athens because of these people. They don't love Jude or see her as a rock star because she's the "special" kid. They just like her because she's funny and pretty damn cute. Athens has become a place where my quirky children just fit in with everyone else.

"There's something about the kids here in Athens," Hope's boyfriend told me once while we watched Hope teach some young children about modern art. 

There's something about the kids because there's something about the adults. 

There's a video circulating around, and I won't get into it here. There's been enough excellent criticism already. I don't need to add. But I do want to say that being in Athens has shown me what real acceptance looks like. Acceptance looks like just another kid but also a recognition of that kid's disability. Maybe it's because Ann and Hope and others honor that difference instead of pretending it doesn't exist. Neither women has ever said "I don't see Autism in Camille" or "Jude doesn't look like she has Down syndrome." None of the awesome adults in my kids life from teachers to our friends have said anything like this either. They don't pity us or glorify what some see as our sacrifice. Our kids are valued as simply adding to the diversity and richness of this community's life.

What it all comes down to is that erasure of difference doesn't make us better people. It doesn't make us more accepting. Dangerously it can lead to us not seeing how prejudice operates. After all if we're all the same how can we point to  disparities in how we're treated? What I want for Jude is people who honor her difference and value her humanity. Because we don't get to treat people decently based on their similarities to us. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Fat Girl On A Bar: Getting Strong

The Sisterhood met up again for the new session on Thursday. We were down one which was sad. But we did have a new member who I hope felt welcomed into our fold. The atmosphere felt happier, more relaxed than last week. I'm not sure why but everyone just seemed at ease. We laughed a lot during our warm up which I think always sets us up for a good class.

I also came armed with a better attitude. One of my many gurus, Debbie told me that morning "Girl you need to go easier on yourself." She's right of course. I do. I thought about it as I drove home. I'd never ever shame my girls for not being able to do a trick. Why did I feel like it was okay to do it to myself? And I also thought a lot about the anger at my body for not being strong enough even with all the work. Seemed like a pretty shitty thing to feel about this old body that has done some pretty amazing shit. You know like giving birth to five children.

For the last year or so, I've struggled with how to feel about my body. A lot has gone wrong. First, the gallbladder went wonky and oh the pain. So.bad. Then I had the miscarriage. I think that is the one that really screwed with my sense of self. I didn't want to be pregnant. We were good with five feeling like Jude was the perfect conclusion to our childbearing days. But then there was that test with the big positive result. Just as we came to terms and started to feel tentatively excited, we lost the pregnancy. I wasn't very far along, I know, but the pain was devastating. I really fell into a pit during that time even with the antidepressants. And of course my body didn't miscarriage naturally and I had to have the D & C. At this time, my knees gave out while I was  just getting back into running and the sciatica problems started. I felt like my body was just falling apart, and I was resentful about it. Combined with the emotional pain, I just really retreated from caring for my body in the way it deserved.

But trapeze made me remember that my body is very much a part of me. Hating it wasn't going to get me far. Trapeze thrusts you into having to deal with your body. There's no "When I get thinner" or "When I get stronger." Those things are happening but the reality is that they happen as I'm doing shit on the bar. I don't get to lift a lighter weight or only use a machine for thirty minutes instead of an hour. And the thing is that most of the time my body does this stuff. Oh it protests sometimes but it doesn't quit on me. Ever. And I'll be damned if I'm going to belittle a body that works so hard. It's shifted my entire focus of how I see myself from how I eat to the language I use.

I walked onto the mat feeling good. And then Ashley said "Lower your bars shoulder or chin height." And I thought 'Well damn we're going to be doing bar stuff. Again." I started to kind of moan a bit but I didn't let myself fall into thinking that I couldn't do whatever it was we were going to do.

Jo showed us the first new trick for the night. It was a variation of shoehorn called candlestick I felt my heart sink. Not only could I not do shoehorn; candlestick was a move that I'd watched my girls recently master. Girls who have been doing trapeze for two years.

I put my hands on the bar and tried the proper way. No dice. So I did the "easier" method of grabbing the ropes. I gto on the bar, and got my foot on the rope (Holy rope burn batman!) and there I was spinning in a lazy circle, upside down with my hands off the bar. Let me make this clear: I WAS ONLY HANGING ONTO THAT BAR WITH MY FOOT AND MY KNEE. It was uneffing real. I couldn't believe I was doing this, and I couldn't believe how easily I was doing this.

The whole night went like this. I struggled with a few moves but also really pushed passed some of the restrictions I placed on myself. We learned a move called angel which required me to thread my top leg between my stomach and the bar. I tried once, and felt like my leg got caught.  I took a deep breath and said "I think this is another one where my weight is going to hurt me." But Ashley showed me that I was starting in the wrong position (let's just say my body must really like candlestick). I took a deep breath, hopped on the bar, got down horizontally, and threaded my leg.

Perhaps even more amazing was that I hung on that bar for a good number of minutes while Ashley tried to figure out if I could get from there to there. Seriously I hung there, and TALKED to her. I wouldn't have been able to do this back in January. I am stronger but the problem has been that I've limited myself because of what I believed about my body. Even though I'd been learning to love it again, I forgot that even in love one has to examine one's stereotypes and preconceived notions. I believed I wasn't strong, and I am convinced that this belief held me back.

Tomorrow, I'm going to my first open studio (Two days of trapeze in one week! What a treat!). I am determined to do a hip pullover because I am certain I can do it. I know I'm strong enough, and I know what my body feels like in that space. And you know if I don't do it that's okay too. It's going to come.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fat Girl On A Bar: Body Knowledge

The other day I reached behind me, and for whatever reason I found myself acutely aware of the way  my muscles stretched and moved. It was fucking profound. I kind of lost myself thinking about my body and the way it can move. It's miraculous really.

I've never been really aware of my body. I don't think about it much to be honest. Even in the midst of being in the best physical health I've been in, I sculpted my body and ran without thinking a lot about the way my body moved. I mean there was a cursory awareness but I didn't find myself really pondering the way my body looked when I ran. I'd think about technique only long enough to keep myself from injury. With running it was even more removed than weights because running was my escape. I ran to not think about my body.

And it's deeper than just exercise. I don't think most of us really spend much time thinking about our insides so to speak. Even when pregnant and going through my natural childbirth phrase, I just didn't think about the mechanics of how my body birthed. It's not something I needed to think about unless of course something went wrong. I became quite aware of important a big toe could be when I broke it twice in a six month period. When my gallbladder went wonky, I definitely felt in tune with the pain that comes from something going dreadfully bad.

End result of this kind of body unawareness is that I often felt disconnected from my body in space. I was always the "clumsy" kid constantly falling downstairs and bumping into things (the aforementioned toe break happened because I kept stubbing my toe on our dining room bench). Even as adult I am not often aware of my body in relationship. And most of the time it's just not a big deal. Until I fall in love with the bar.

Watching our instructor do a hip pullover was the first time, I started to realized that my body unawareness might be a problem. Even with Ashley giving me a boost, I couldn't get my body positioned right on the bar. I ended up on the floor every time.

"I just can't see my body," I told her laughing at how ridiculous that sounded.

With weights I've become reliant on mirrors to check my position. I've never had to check my position through feeling. For the first time, I had to move my body in relation to space and an object. A thin object hanging on two ropes. Which means that not only did I have to figure out the way my body looked on the bar, I had to do it on something that is always moving.

I went home from the hip pullover class determined to see myself in the dolphin position. I visualized myself over and over again. This worked for things like shooting star, and later would work for spear and bird's nest. But with hip pullover, it was no good. I could see myself in my head in that position but when I got on the bar, I couldn't see it anymore. It took almost the entire session for me to realize that I needed to feel myself.

A couple of classes ago, I struggled with all the moves but at some point I realized that I could get into dolphin from hip pullover. I'd been able to get into Catcher's Hang without too much trouble because my body just kind of flipped into that move. Ashley pointed out while watching me that I kept moving my leg to the outside of the rope instead of the inside. I focused the next time I went over, and I felt my leg starting to swing out which I quickly corrected and bam I was in position. A very uncomfortable position.

Last night sucked so much. I worked my ass off and my hands were raw and blistered by the end of the night. And I didn't do one fucking new move. It was a hard hit. I was used to my bad class good class routine so having another bad night really threw me. I didn't cry this time. No I was pissed. I've been working my ass off. I spend every night of the week doing some kind of exercise including very intense cardio sessions at the Y three days a week. I do planks and other ab work at home. I've been doing assisted pull ups. And last night I felt like I had zero strength.

"You don't have the strength to do these things," I thought bitterly watching everyone else do the moves as I sat on the mat feeling pissed off at my body.

We ended the class again with standing moves, and I tried to find solace that I could do those with relative ease. But as I sulked on my way home, I told H, "Those don't take any strength. I'm good at them because I can be weak and still be good at them."

But I thought about that a bit more today. I remembered the way my shoulder shifted as I put my arm around me to reach. And I thought about the best moment I had last evening. See I sometimes get to watch a Beginner II class while the big girls' do a conditioning class. Yesterday they did a routine where they moved on the bar with their eyes closed. Improv style. I found myself intrigued and a little scared as some of the women got so dizzy they were almost sick. But as I moved into skater, I leaned back, threw my arms, and....closed my eyes. As I spun softly in the air, I just lost myself in something new: my own body. I could feel the robe pushed against my butt along my leg and up my neck, and the way my heel drove into the bar's elbow and pushed the bar away. I could place myself in space with a sense much different than anything I've ever used before.

Why do the stand moves do this for me when the other ones don't is something I've been thinking about for the last few hours. Perhaps it's that the standing moves do appeal to my strengths: legs, balance, and a likely unhealthy love of the robe. I think some of it is that I feel like I have more steps to get into the moves. There seems like there is more prep. Regardless, I realized that yes strength plays into this but there's also the need for me to slow down just a bit and place myself in space. I thought I was good to go because I can see my body in my head doing the tricks but the problem is that is not enough. I have to get to that other place of seeing.

This intimate relationship with my body and how it moves gives me so much more than just some funkadelic moments. I find that knowing where I am in space also gives me a new appreciation for my body. Combined with that patience I talked about last week, I feel like I'm just getting to know myself for the first time. I pay more attention to the way I twist and the way I reach not just in exercise but also in the simple action of doing dishes or writing a grocer list. I'm suddenly curious about how the muscles work  to do what they do. But mostly I am just in awe that flying lead to me feeling so very grounded.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Fat Girl On A Bar: Patience

I am not a patient person. I've always had a hard time with waiting. I rush through things: books, writing, parenting.

But exercise always brings me up short and trapeze even more so because I'm not good at it. I'm not a natural. I have to work damn hard for every single move from the simplest to the hardest. But any exercise I think is a lesson in waiting.

When I first realized I loved being physically fit and that I was strong, I was also smack in the middle of the Weight Watcher's world. I lose weight so slow. It was a crawl to the finish line: .2. 5. oh wow one whole pound! I'd lie in bed and fantasize about what I might look like thin or fit or whatever and it felt so far away. It was hard going to meetings where people would consistently lose 2lbs per week or to watch others at the gym looking ribbed while I plodded along with my wee weights. I never watched (or watch) The Big Loser but I do admit that sometimes I'd long for things to be that fast.

But of course it's dangerous to lose weight that fast or to exercise that much with no experience. Too many stories from former contestants bear witness to that fact. Getting fit is a slow process. Shaping the body's muscles is an act of mediation. And ultimately I think of love. Watching my body shift and change made me see my body like I'd never seen it before. It made me see my body the way a lover sees my body. I knew every line, every definition, every indentation. I knew my body's limits and just when I could push further without everything falling apart. It was an experience that I think began to fuel my path to radical self acceptance. The fat body I have now is the same body I carefully crafted so many years ago. Unfortunately, I lost sight of this fact as I struggled with years of depression.

Trapeze made me fall in love with my body again. It hasn't been easy because of that pesky patience thing. I want to be good right away. I want to be strong immediately. But it doesn't work like that for me. Somedays I work so damn hard and do nothing right. I miss every move. And then I go home and spend a week thinking through all the moves, pinpointing when I went wrong. I have to push through a lot of things during that week: self loathing (see last week's post), frustration, physical pain and of course impatience. I go back and do many of the moves I missed, and totally fail on new moves. The cycle repeats itself.

As the days push through, I am watching those lines in my body become more defined. I am getting stronger. I feel it. I see it.

Tonight was not my personal best. I only did one move even marginally correct. I also felt weak tonight. Tired. I knew coming in that it was going to be hard for me. But I tried, and I tried hard. I could have left discouraged but I didn't because I made some shifts in how I think.

First, I ended on a high note. I've made it a point to not wear myself out on all the things I can't do. I leave enough energy to go through the moves I'm good at. Tonight I practiced all my standing moves which I think are my personal best.

Second, I remind myself that I do trapeze for love. I'm not doing it to compete or to be the best. I have all the time in the world to get intimate with this thing I love. I think it's like when you meet someone who makes your stomach turn inside out. Part of you wants to rush through all the feelings. But another part of you savors every touch, every word, every kiss. And then you wake up sixteen years later and realize you're still learning the curves of your lover's body.

Third, no self loathing talk allowed. After the picture crisis, I faced a bit moment. Did I let my self loathing define my entire experience? Or was I going to look at those pictures and see myself as my daughter saw me? As my friends saw me? They saw me as strong and beautiful in it's strength. I put the pictures up and over a few hours started to see them as others saw them. I realized if I was going to keep at this thing, I had to learn to love the body doing trapeze now as much as I loved the that would come. Thus when moves prove too hard due to my weight instead of berating myself for being fat, I think "You will get stronger, you will get there." I don't bemoan my lack of skill and instead remind myself of what I can do.

Fourth, there is no end product. I think what intrigues me about trapeze is that there are always new possibilities. I can't imagine being bored with this movement. Ever. And the thing is that there is no end to what I can train my body to do as well. I think that one thing that sunk me when I was so fit years ago was the idea of an end. That was partly a weight loss mentality at work. When you're focused on losing weight, there is always this end goal. When you hit it there is a sense of disappointment. It's not nearly what you imagined in your head aka the heaven's don't open and shine light upon you. It's also a kind of dead end feeling. What's next? Nothing. But with focusing on fitness, there is no end product. My body needs to be worked, loved and shaped throughout the years not just as an end goal that translates as a number on the scale. There are still planes to my flesh that I have yet to learn. My body moves already in ways that surprise me and I suspect I have a lot more to learn. In other words, the end goal is the process. It's an act of patience to sculpt the human body. Each trapeze class doesn't bring me closer to the end, it just introduces me to new roads to explore.