On the sixth day of Summer(mas), my middle schooler gave to me: respite from my complaining
It’s a crappy irony, this business of having “been on a journey” with my body and spending four decades figuring out a kind of acceptance, and then, once I get to a point of feeling like I can lift a car and leap a small playhouse in a single bound–admittedly with fluctuating success because there were those couple of times I caught my toe on a shingle–I’m old.
And everything I’ve processed and cried over and moaned about and rejoiced in suddenly starts to break down. I hate contributing to the validity of that cliche.
Woefully, though: it’s seeming that my hard-won triceps and long-enduring quadriceps are a house of cards where the cards are crafted from those Sardinia parchment crackers you can get at Trader Joe’s, andIdareyoutomixametaphorharderthanthatmydude. The slightest crunch, and they crumble.
With all the hubris of the relative youth known as middle age, I’ve been telling myself that if I’m careful and diligent, I can hold my body together for a few more decades–through devoted physical effort, taking it slow, and a few rolls of artfully applied duct tape, especially a two-inch strip running down my back-melon crack just for sheer laughs.
Put another way: I have been trying.
If I told you how much I exercise, it would put you in a diplomatically difficult spot. I’ve watched good friends struggle for kind words when they hear how much I work out as they simultaneously behold my physique; their best attempts end up along the lines of “Wow. It’s kind of reassuring to know that you can be super fit and still be, you know, how you are. Like, not thin.”
Encouragingly, I offer up, “Like, lumpy?”
Relieved, they quickly agree: “Yea, like, lumpy. It’s so great that you’re all that at once. It’s inspirational.”
As much as I’m about to whine about encroaching decrepitude, I can say this: being 48 means I can take the compliment my friends struggle to find instead of going fetal under my bed, as I might have 25 years ago. That’s right, Bitches. I’m fit as fuck and lumpy for bonus.
Mostly, all my slow-and-steady-with-high-intensity-intervals-too-plus-weights-plus-walking-plus-running has made me feel strong. Truly, emotionally, that’s been the win. Nearing fifty, the mother of a teenage daughter and therefore highly conscious of the language I use about my body, I have only loosely corralled the Lumpy Demons, but I have wholly harnessed Strong. One time, my Strong knocked down two Clydesdales and pulled that beer wagon for them. Straight to my house.
And now this unfortunate thing is happening.
In recent months, stuff hurts.
I even tried two inches of duct tape down my back-melon crack. For distraction.
Stuff still hurts. But at least I am stunningly free of fine back-melon crack hairs. Hell if that wasn’t a painful riiiiip when the tape came off.
Anyhow, first there was some business of a varicose vein and a deep ache in my leg that would wake me up at night.
Initially, I wasn’t completely sure what was causing the ache in my right thigh. Then, one day, in the bathroom before the hardcore jump-roping followed by kick boxing followed by jumping jacks followed by lunging squats class I like to do, I met up with the muscle-bound fitness instructor as we both reached for the soap dispenser at the same time.
In case you’re wondering, I pulled my hand back at the last second, yielding to her superior yoke-age. If she’d taken a territorial notion for that handful of foamy lather, she could’ve snapped me in half. And I’m strong like a Clydesdale.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with this specimen of maximal oxygen consumption, I ventured, veering into upspeak because her veiny forearms always intimidate the assurance right out of me, “Hey, so can I ask you? About compression sleeves? Like, do they actually help with recovery time? I’ve noticed you wear them a lot; do they help your legs rebound between workouts?”
Turns out she wears compression sleeves because she suffers from varicose veins that ache so much in the night they wake her up.
Turns out intimidating specimens of maximal oxygen consumption are, like, just regular people? Like us massive Clydesdales?
So I got some compression sleeves that I wore on my calves during classes where we do a zillion burpees alternating with high kicks. After a few compression sessions, the ache in my thigh went away. It’s a temporary reprieve, I realize, but at least I now can have these unused compression sleeves that, instead of wearing on my legs, I can jam into my mouth and bite down on during the zillion burpees alternating with high kicks.
Then my heels started up–not kicking up, which would be very giddy and leprechaun-like of me. ‘La, but this Clydesdale does love a whizzy jig.
Nae, my heels started up with the deep ache business, too. On the back, outside of them, not the underneath. It took me a few weeks of complaining and late-night googling to self-diagnose plantar fasciitis, which then resulted in late-night ordering of compression socks and a few inconsistent rounds of icing. Since the pain changes hourly, some days disappearing entirely, I am happy to repay the ailment in kind and pay it erratic attention. It’s just another child, really: out of sight, out of mind, amiright?
So I got the thigh. I got the heels. I got a funky toenail that I will not tell you about because you be barfing. And now, the past few months, I got this shoulder.
It’s a whole new kind of ache, like burning splinters plus fire ants in the bone marrow plus arthritis. It’s not only the shoulder, either; the pain also runs down the upper half of my arm, never going below the elbow. It wakes me up, keeps me up, has me only sleeping on one side. It has me unhinged more than usual during the daytime hours. You’d like to know what late-night googling tells me, don’t you? Rotator cuff tendinitis.*
You know what my husband tells me? “Go to the doctor.”
You know what I tell him? “I did. Mr. Web has an MD.”
He’s right, of course. My husband. Not Mr. Web, MD. I need to go see a real person. It’s just that I’ve been in to see our doctor a few times in recent weeks when the kids were getting physicals. It’s also–and prepare yourself for a revelation of Crazy here–
that I’d like to lose five pounds before the weigh-in at any appointment I’d schedule.
I exhaust myself, too.
Remember my opening, though? I’m “on a journey,” Gentle Reader. I’m IN PROCESS.
Here’s what I know: I will call the doctor. I hate seeing my Clydesdale dejectedly nibbling on hay in her stall when she’s got wagons to pull. For now, as I motivate myself to schedule that appointment, I’m icing, trying to switch up how I sit at the computer, not going to fitness classes that tax the upper body, and drinking away the pain. At one point, I even booked an expensive deep tissue massage (no weigh-in!), an experience that resulted in the worst pain yet a day later as my shoulder recoiled in shock.
I’m also being careful not to carry bags on the feeble shoulder. My current doctor, Mr. Web, MD, also tells me I shouldn’t push or carry weight in front of my body.
That’s the hardest recommendation, in fact.
See, we have this going on outside, and it all needs to be mowed:
Byron’s working full-time away from home now, so he’s useless.
Let me rephrase that: he’s doing good work, but he’s of no use to me.
Trying again: he’s very busy, and he still makes dinner every night, and he does pitch in with the mowing when he can, but he’s got 12 minutes a day to feed his soul lately, and I’d hate to guilt him into putting those precious minutes into mowing.
Allegra’s home, hmmm, less than her dad even. She’s got a job as a dishwasher, and she’s babysitting–on a mission to earn the money she needs for a school trip to Europe next summer. Additionally, she meets with a daily training group (Clydesdales-to-be) and, what’s more, she responded to our challenge of, “You want your room painted, girl? So do it” by, um, doing it. Like her pa, she has very little sit-down time.
That leaves me.
Oh, plus the other guy.
The one all these posts are about.
To say that Paco is low energy is a kindness. I like to think he just hasn’t found his energy yet, and maybe he’ll stumble across it on the closet floor when he’s thirty. There is also a suspicion I harbor that the bizarre genetic blip that runs through some of my family members, Thalassemia, is in his blood. The biggest consequence of this disorder is lack of energy and a tendency towards fatigue. I like to think both Paco and I have Thalassemia; this thinking works best if we never actually have the blood test for it. Thalassemia primarily affects persons of Mediterranean origin and, to a lesser extent, Chinese, other Asians, and African Americans. We fit all those categories except none of them. However, when I think of our Viking ancestors and their penchant for violent exploration, it seems very possible that somewhere, an unwilling great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma was Greek.
So the kid doesn’t exactly greet sweat-inducing activity with joyful clapping.
One day last month when I was moaning about the grass and my shoulder, walking around the house with a bag of frozen peas balanced on my collarbone, working up a good head of steam about my tragic lot of being an old lady with a stupid lawn, a quiet voice interrupted me.
“I CAN HARDLY HEAR YOU BECAUSE I’M PISSING ON OVER HERE, KID, AND MY WOE IS CAPABLE OF MANY DECIBELS.”
“I just wanted to tell you that I can help you mow. I can do it.”
I stopped pacing. Suddenly, my ears worked.
“Wait. That’s right. You can help me. I keep forgetting: you’re big now. You’re able to push the mower. Oh, gad, this makes me feel so much better. Punky, my shoulder hurts so much, but if the grass gets much longer, it’ll be impossible to cut.”
“So let’s go cut it, Mom. I can do the big side yard, okay?”
And he did. A few weeks later, when I had randomly grabbed one of our mowers and was attacking the front yard, I looked up and saw his pajama-clad body walking down the stairs, heading into the walk-out. A minute later, he appeared, pushing the other mower. Giving him a quick thumbs-up, I kept at my task. He set himself to his. As I shoved the grass eater under the apple tree, I remembered something my pal Justine said to me when I was pregnant the second time and had been worrying about it being a boy–because boys jump off stuff and break stuff and hit stuff and as it turns out I knew nothing at all–and she told me, in response to my litany of concerns, “Joce. Look at any eighteen-year-old boy and his relationship with his mother, and tell me you don’t want that.”
She was right. And I didn’t have to wait eighteen years. My boy, age twelve, takes care of me. It’s not chivalry exactly; it’s more that he likes to be there for me. When we pull up after an afternoon of shopping, he gets out of the car and asks, “What can I carry?” Then he chastises his sister–who has grabbed her own bag and raced for the house–“Allegra, how can you not help with all this? You need to come back and help.”
In truth, his actions have nothing to do with gender. They are part of the individual.
Thus, when he grabs the mower and does the hated business of moving his body, I can’t look at him, over there in the side yard wearing his Sesame Street pajama pants, frustratedly trying to pry a jammed stick out of the mower blades.
This kid, this young man, will be with me as I age, as my body continues to fail me. He will notice my need, register my pain. When my knees ache, he will give me his hand. When I fall, he will pull me up. When I am short of breath, he will stop and wait with me.
Indeed. I can’t look at him over there mowing even though Cookie Monster is grinning at me from his pants.
I can’t look at my bubby over there, for the gift of his kind thoughtfulness makes me cry.
And it hurts my shoulder to raise my hand and wipe my eyes.
*Tendinitis and tendonitis are both accepted spellings, in case you’re of a mind to correct my usage.