The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Badass Not September 17, 2014

Back in the day, I kinda thought I was a badass. I wasn’t, of course, but I tried hard to convince myself – and many of the people around me – that I was. Inside I was full of self-doubt, but I was still together enough to pretend to the world that I was fine. More than fine. And truthfully, there were moments when did indeed feel strong and confident. Maybe there were some moments when I really was a badass. Good at something in my own way. I think I knew it on some level, yet still, a voice nagged at me… They’ll figure you out one day if you’re not careful…

But for a while, there was something I truly did have going for me. I was in shape. And for a few years there, fitness was my thing. Really my thing. Worked out six days a week, and worked out well, thoughtfully. I’d have women come up to me and ask me for tips, for help with their routines. Back then I hadn’t the life experience to know that a good measure of that fitness was, plain and simple, thanks to youth. And thanks also to a chronic sense that somehow I could just never measure up. And so I made up for it the best ways I could. Being a mini rock star in my small sub-culture, dressing fine, and being on stage – whether I actually was on stage or not. Always fundamentally insecure, always trying to appear that I wasn’t trying. And frankly, the only true barometer I had that showed me I was truly good at something was seeing my hard work paying off in the form of a fit body. So I kept at it.

Until, of course, life took over. My story is not unique, really. Nope. Woman has kid, becomes busy, hell, becomes divorced, poor, run-down by the duties of the post, and, well… Next thing you know a decade’s passed and thirty extra pounds have come to live on your frame. It does sneak up on you. I had no true understanding of how large I’d become until it became necessary, once again, to buy ‘fat clothes’. That, and the observations of my young son that “I really was getting big now”. One can only stall so long. Clearly action was needed. But when I stared down the solution in the face, I wondered how I would approach it. What motivated me then didn’t drive me now. I couldn’t just put on the 80s hair metal cassette and kick some ass… It wasn’t about any of that anymore. How was I going to do this? Sure vanity drives me still, I think all humans share that to some degree, but this time it was more about my quality of life. And the very length of it, too. I’d taken enough of those online tests that determine your ‘actual’ age vs. your ‘age in years’ to know that my prospects weren’t quite as good as I pretended they were. Bad enough I’d smoked all those years. Then there was this inactivity thing on top of it. Ich. Time to move.

At first, I did not want to go to the Y. For one, all I’d ever gone to were women’s gyms. There I was off the hook. Didn’t have to look good for anyone. (Keep in mind, the last time I spent a lot of time working out I was much younger, and my wiring was different than it is now.) And this time, some shadow of that adolescent concern still bothered me. It bothered me for or a day or two. Until I realized that, unlike the me at 25, it honestly wasn’t about my ego anymore. My fitness or lack thereof. And ironically, in some ways, being an overweight, middle-aged woman gave me a new feeling of freedom. Some of it due to the anonymity of my demographic, some of it due to the fact that I don’t care so much anymore how I appear because there are more important things in my life. Course I do care, but also, I don’t. You know, not in the way I once did.

The variety of ages and abilities of the people attending the Y blows my mind. I’ve never before been a part of such a diverse population. Not in my jobs, not in my small, personal world. Not really even on the street. But at the Y – there are ninety year olds and two year olds all doing something. Hell, there are mommies pushing infants in jogging strollers… It’s amazing. Kinda reminds me of the picture books for young children that show all the goings-on of the outside world. Like a Richard Scarry book, or like a Sesame Street short. People of all shapes and colors and ages are there, just doing their thing. Gives me a lot of latitude just to chill and concentrate on doing my own best – and not worrying about looking my best while I’m doing it. I’m still kinda acclimating to the idea of being really sweaty and gross looking in front of, well, everybody, but it is freeing. And while I may not be able to go as low into my squats as the women in my Zumba class (seriously, when did I become this friggin weak??) I know that it’s ok. I don’t have to be a badass anymore. I just have to be. Thank God.

As I’ve passed my first week of routine workouts, I’ve come to notice a couple of things. One, is that my long morning workouts have not served yet to raise my overall energy, instead, I feel like passing out on the drive home. ! This, I hope, will change before long. I remind myself that it’s hardest in the beginning. That I haven’t worked out like this in a decade. (At least one hopes these are sound arguments for hanging in there.) I’ve also come to observe something about the way I move through the world – about the way in which many, likely most folks move in this world: I used to move through this world in spite of my body, now I’m moving through the world because of my body. Simply walking has become a more thoughtful process. And crazy as it might sound, I feel less daunted by it. It feels more familiar. I don’t look for the closest parking space anymore cuz I don’t dread the walk. Ok, so maybe I might not love the walk, but still, it doesn’t feel like quite the burden it did just a week ago. Which is hopeful, because this time, I have a feeling this workout thing might have to become part of my life for the long haul.

And maybe, if I live long enough, and well enough, maybe that’ll give me enough street cred to finally make me a legitimate, card-carrying badass.

 

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Low Gear September 13, 2013

After awaking from a scant five hours of sleep this morning, I wondered how it was that I’d make it through the day. Elihu had a classmate coming home from school with him today, his bass needed to be picked up at the music store, and I desperately needed various necessities, from chicken feed to toilet paper. Plus I still had to put in my shift at school. Man, I didn’t see how I was going to get all of it done. We’d been plowing through our first full week of school and my new schedule in high-energy mode. And now, after last night’s outing at the school, it just seemed that there wasn’t anything left. Yet on came life, to-do lists and playdates, without pause. After putting the kettle on I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes, trying to glean some refreshment from twenty seconds of rest. I took a couple of breaths, then got up to resume the morning.

Elihu had awakened on his own – a surprise to me after all that late-night rabble rousing. (He’d even jumped on the trampoline for another ten minutes after we got home last night in order to ‘get out the last of his energy’. Seems all my energy stays on in whirling eddies of endless thought… Wish I had a mental trampoline to expend all of that before bedtime. Might help with my chronic difficulty sleeping.) This morning he was cheerful and our breakfast was a lovely start to the day. We let the chickens out, got in the car and headed off to school. On the way we passed several neighbors out jogging. We waved to each other as we usually do. A few minutes passed, then Elihu said from the back seat “Mama, I’d like you to be in as good shape as Mr. Stewart.” The sixth grade teacher was known to all the younger kids as being the only grownup who joined the kids in their play – making Thursdays extra special by playing tag with them. I thought about the quick movements, the sprinting involved and did a quick assessment of my current condition. I remembered as a kid, hell, as a young adult even, thinking that only wimps – people who’d lazily given in to age – lost their speed and agility. While I’d never been a particularly fast or agile kid, I was able to move in certain ways that I just don’t think I’m able to right now. “No one’s in as good shape as Mr. Stewart” I retorted, trying to dodge the real issue. I thought about it for a minute. “But I know what you mean. I do. I know, sweetie, I need to move.” A bit more quiet passed, then Elihu suggested “Just walk up to the Brown’s. That’s not far. It won’t seem like a big deal at all. Just do that today.” I did a little scan of my body, of my mental fortitude, and felt I could easily do that to get things going. I agreed. He had his homework each day – not a bad idea that I might have a little challenge on my plate too.

These past few years I’ve been feeling just too overwhelmed and busy to find time to move. I tell myself that my situation is exceptional, that I have every reason not to exercise. And maybe I do. But so too do the other folks that I see jogging down Braim Road. Yeah, in fact they’ve likely got more responsibilities than I do; work loads involving people and paper and rules – stuff that I’ve spent a lifetime deftly avoiding – and they’ve likely got more stress in their lives than I do. Ok, so maybe they’re not single-parenting a young child, but they’ve got other work, other issues. And somehow they make time. Every time I see one of them passing on the road, I have to ignore a tiny voice deep inside that scolds me for not at least trying. So today, as soon as I got home from driving Elihu to school, I went for a walk.

I was grateful for my new hiking boots – they’d give me some needed stability. (I had bought them in anticipation of a long-awaited trek we’d planned for this fall that would involve steep grades and would wind its way to an off-the-trail site deep in the woods known locally as Devil’s Den. Maybe not a big deal to the me of twenty years ago, these days I felt I needed correct footwear before endeavoring to make the hike.) Thankfully, the annoying bugs of summer were mostly gone – in spite of recent tropical heat. It was finally cool out, and sunny too. I simply could not have hoped for a better day. The conditions had stripped me of every excuse. It was time.

I set out, crunching my way down the new driveway. The scent of the woods hit me. I could smell the ferns, the damp of the forest floor, the turning leaves, the cool, ancient stones. The road is always different when you’re moving slow, and I marveled at the things I could see now that I was moving at a walking pace. I found several dead frogs, a few different species of em (and I told them each I was sorry for their tragic end and said a little blessing for them as I passed). I saw a mourning dove on the wire above me. Frightened at my approach, she would fly to a spot only a few feet further down the line to escape. Silly bird, she continued thusly for a good part of my walk. While I sometimes see the crimson males swooping over the road as I drive (strangely, we don’t get cardinals at our feeders) I was happily surprised to see a female cardinal above my head on the wire, flicking her tail. Came upon the now decomposed remains of a porcupine and a raccoon that had both been hit sometime mid summer. They were now mostly skeletons – only quills, whiskers and rubbery noses remained. I gathered up the jawbone and some teeth of the raccoon and put it in my shirt pocket to bring home for Elihu.

While I slowed to notice the creatures in my path, I was always mindful of keeping my pace. And on the way back I began to feel it; the grade in our area is deceptive – hills are gradual and hardly noticeable – especially when you’re going down. But the way back was all a slow increase in grade, and I began to feel it in my body. I felt my muscles warm up, my feet grip the road, my whole body engage to support my progress. I hadn’t felt my body in a long time, and I was surprised to find I was glad of it. The brief walk down the hill to the garden and back up again was the extent to my workout routine these days. This slight increase in grade wasn’t terribly hard, so therefore I was able to give myself to it. To push into it and become aware of my body. It felt good. But would I manage to do this again? Every day even? I decided not to worry about it, but rather be glad that I’d finally done it at all. The driveway was still going uphill. I felt my butt muscles working, my thighs, my arms swung to assist and I swear that even my back got in on the act. Clearly, I was starting all over with this moving thing. Years ago I regularly participated in races – 5Ks and 10Ks – up and down hills far steeper than this… I felt a bit wimpy about celebrating such a thing as walking up my driveway.

But hey, everything has to start small. And to get into high gear, you gotta put in low gear first. So wish me luck.