Why "Running with Bunions"?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Thanks, Janice

“…Physical exercise has particular benefits for children on the autism spectrum…”

Wonder Boy screams, hits himself, scripts, tosses his talker onto the floor.

“Let’s go outside,” I say.

The sky is blue. The sun is bright. There’s a gentle wind. Wonder Boy looks at me from the corner of his eye. “One…” he says.

“Two…” I whisper.

“Three, gooooo!” Half-way down the block, “ooooo’s” glitter in his wake.

Exercise works the proprioceptive and vestibular systems, strengthens hearts and lungs, stimulates appetites, clears minds, directs neurons. Exercise is a brain and body building activity with special benefits for individuals with brain injuries, illnesses and learning differences.

“…exercise…stimulate(s) the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells…”

But in this sedentary age of Netflix and YouTube, how do you get kids moving?

In our house? We lead by example. It’s Janice Huddleston’s fault.

Janice was my mom’s friend and get-up-and-go dealer. She lived at the end of Butterfield, a half-mile long road that coursed the distance between our homes.

Coffee dates with Janice began and ended with Mom panting along the sidewalk in her tennis shoes. “You can do it!” Janice sang.

Once Mom could field the distance between our homes, she expanded her repertoire to include sprints around the high school track.

“Look at my legs!” Mom said. Muscles defined her thighs and outlined her calves.

I splashed Hershey’s syrup on ice cream and shook my head. “Running makes me tired.”

Mom’s pony-tail bounced. “Running creates energy,” she gushed. “It clears your skin and makes your hair and fingernails grow. It gives you whiter teeth!”

Right, I didn’t believe that last one either. But I was the kid and she was the mom, so I rinsed my bowl, laced my shoes and…ran.

I’m naturally round and will never be light-on-my-feet. Hefting my body around a track was like lugging bags of sand through water.

But in the midst of all that red-faced huffing, puffing, grunting and complaining, I developed muscles. Strengthened lungs. Dissolved negative energy.

Exercise has…been linked to better brain health and emotional well-being.

Running never made me skinny. But it banished bad mojo, coordinated physical systems, helped me think. And when I was a mom?

“Run around the tree ten times!” I instructed Super Daddy and his sisters during homeschool PE.

Sure, they huffed, puffed, moaned and complained. Until they were hooked on activity too.

Now, this moment, Wonder Boy detours to the backyard. He climbs a ladder and slips through the trampoline’s netting. He jumps, rolls, tumbles, flips. For hours.

Later, he lays on his back and stares through leaf covered branches at the dappled sky. He listens to the wind and watches trees move.

Autism is complex and moods can seem unpredictable. But in moments following joy-filled physical activity? Wonder Boy’s body and mind are at peace.

Thanks, Janice.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

If Only You Could Tell Me

Wonder Boy is a 7-year old child with autism.
I am his grandma. My name is Nonnie.

Dear darling, adored child, what’s your favorite color?

If only you could tell me.

What did you learn in school today? Did you raise your hand, ask a question, answer one? What’s your favorite subject? Music, art, PE? Science, math? English? Speech? Occupational Therapy?

Did you run? Jump rope? Slide? Did you pump yourself high into the sky on a swing? Did you bask in the sun, run with the wind? Did your imagination soar?

Were you a friend today?

Do you like your teachers? Therapists? Classmates? Who do you like the best? Why is he/she your favorite? Do you have a buddy?

I’m here. I’m listening. I want to know everything.

What did you eat for lunch? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you want a snack?

Who did you sit next to in Morning Meeting? Laugh with on the playground?

How do you feel inside right now? Do you think in colors, pictures, symbols, letters, words? Tell me. Show me. Help me understand.

What does it mean when you repeat sounds over and over and shield your eyes with flat palms? What are you thinking? Where are you? Take me there too.

What I know:

You like sandals on bare feet. Hugs. Squeezes, massage.

You need to run, jump, bounce, touch and be touched.

You adore your daddy, Stuart Little, Woody from Toy Story.

You’re excellent at matching, sorting, repetition. You thrive on schedule and routine. You do not like to be wrong and prefer to “do it myself.”

You like privacy in the bathroom, alone-time in your room, “close the door please.”

Very slowly, you’re learning to play piano. You can write letters and numbers. You eat almost everything as long as the textures are separated. You seem to prefer red food. Except in popsicles.

Sometimes you need space and quiet to look at books (are you reading?), roll your cars, race your trains.

And sometimes you prefer company, a hand to hold, a friend to jump with on the trampoline. You like your sister close by. You need your daddy to throw you around, toss balls, race…and snuggle. You like hats, Thomas the Train, playing in sand and water.

What did you say? You want a popsicle? Yes, I’ll get you a popsicle! Thank you for asking! Which color do you want? Red, blue, green?

Orange! Thank you for telling me! I’ll get you an orange popsicle.

You’re welcome, Sweetheart. Take it outside please.

How much do I love you? More than there are numbers. Higher than there is sky. Wider than any ocean. Beyond the place birds fly.

But dear, darling, adored child, what do you think, feel, dream? What niggles at your heart? Tickles your mind?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What’s your favorite color?

If only you could tell me.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

In My Small House

The following is an edited version of an essay first published in 2010. It’s particularly meaningful today as we adapt our home to meet the needs of our large, loving multi-generational family.

In my small house, elbows bump. The tv and radio are too loud. There is clutter and a line for the bathroom. There is straightening hair in the hallway, a crowd at the mirror and chairs wrapped like ribbon around the dinner table. There is teasing over passed gas, stinky bathrooms, everyone-sick-at-the-same-time.

Like a tiny town, there are no secrets in my small house. No sneaking out when you're grounded or cheating-on-your-diet-no-one-will-know. No hiding Reese's Cups or saving the last bit of cheesecake for a solitary midnight snack.

There is noise and chatter and laughter in my small house. There is talking after lights out in shared bedrooms. There is arguing and there is making up.

Tinkling piano keys stream music into every corner of my small house. Flour footprints trail into the hallway and the sweet aroma of warm sugar cookies tickles my nose.

In the spacious back garden my tow-headed 4-year old learns to swing. Her legs catch the wind as she sails into the sky. For two exhilarating hours. Without stopping.

On the street in front of my small house, my competitive 7-year old meets his 6-year old sister's challenge to ride his bike "no hands!" He does her one better, propping his feet on the handlebars: "No feet either!" He hits a curb, tumbles, snaps his collar bone. Three cozy days at home later, he returns to school with half his math book completed.

My Kidz
Early attempts to teach homeschool PE involve giggling circles around a fat, white bark tree. (Later, we use the space to train for competitive team sports.) We watch a mother butterfly lay eggs on a milkweed plant placed at our kitchen table. We chart the progress of her babies from pupa to wet-winged Monarch.

In the living room of my small house I braid wire into my 10-year old's long hair for her lead role in the homeschool musical. Her endearing, high cee voice sings light into the shadows.

We "do school" all over my small house until one by one my babies leave for high school, college and life.

Now, this very minute, wheels rattle across the hardwood floor in my small house. A pony tailed cherub pushes Big Bird into my kitchen office using a little red stroller. Her soft pillow cheeks puff into a smile. "Nonnie!" she sings.

I swoop my grandbaby into the air and kiss her perfect little face.
So. Much. Love.
 Concrete or wood, tile or carpet; barrier walls or open gardens; a house is just a shell for living. It's what's inside that matters.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Happy Anniversary, Hubby

Married in Paris
A comedian compared marriage to buying a car:

"Owning this car is going to be really hard. It'll either run perfectly forever or leave you stranded without bus fare. It will need more time and attention than you have and maintenance will be expensive! The transmission will go out, bumpers will rust, paint will chip and it will run rough, even as it promises not to. Sometimes it will refuse to start. The only guarantee is…owning this car is going to be really hard."

“What’s it like to stay married for a long time?” my friend said.

Professionally he was a successful globe-trotting, storytelling author. Personally, he was a twice divorced dad, single in his 50’s. Was it too late to experience a long marriage? What’s it like to kiss the same face every day for 20-30-60 years, the rest of your life?

Was it worth the effort?

I hesitated. There’s comfort in companionship over the long-haul. There’s familiarity in shared history. But every relationship is different.

In ours, there is kissing. Hugging, holding, smiling. Talking. Listening. Hearing. There’s “Good night,” “Good morning,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry” and “I love you.”

“We still hug the first thing in the a.m. and the last thing before turning the lights off at night.”
-my mom, married 63 years to my dad

Love ebbs, flows, withers and grows. Love is hungry, demanding and changes over time. Nurturing looks different within each union, but there is nurturing. Or there is relationship death.

For us, marital nourishment means words. Patience. Kindness. Togetherness. And space.

“…we’ll go, together, to the gym, where we each go our separate way for thirty minutes of exercise…”
-my mom, who likes my dad around, but not too close

Hubby and I also feed our relationship by embracing one another’s annoying idiosyncrasies. For example:

I fart. A lot.
He eats loud.
I require time alone in a quiet house.
He likes the tv on, people around, noise.
I like things done my way.
He’s (always) right. (Very annoying!)

We don’t tell one another everything, especially when a truth is (pre-marriage or) unnecessarily hurtful.

When I gained 67 pounds (first pregnancy), he never once called me “fat.” He bought half gallons of Blue Bunny Chunky Chocolate Chip ice cream and (lied) that I was beautiful.

When Hubby’s employment ended without warning in the middle of an economic downturn, we (fearlessly) celebrated a future of (unknown) opportunities with joy and chocolate.

We share a private language.

“I’ll just do it wrong”: A nod to the childrearing years when I’d complain Hubby never helped out - even as I sabotaged his efforts. Reminder to give others space and time.

“I need $500.” Throwback to the days when, it seemed, we were always ($500) over budget. Today it’s a reminder to be grateful for hard-won rewards and enduring the toughest times…together.

My friend waited.

“Is it worth the effort to stay married?” I smiled. “Yes.”

Happy 33rd Wedding Anniversary, Hubby. I love you.