Every Tuesday night (except for when I have a good excuse not to) I drag myself over to the YMCA for cycle class. It’s not an ideal time, but it’s a rare hour after dinner, and after one kid is in bed, that I can squeeze in a workout thanks to my supportive husband. Not only is it not an ideal time, but I don’t exactly love the instructor’s style. The music isn’t that great and he yells a LOT during class. Yelling is not particularly motivating to me. At least it never used to be.
He screams out things like:
“Your body, your fault!”
“Your legs. Don’t use ’em and someone else will take care of you when you’re old!”
“Be an example for your kids. Don’t ask them to do something you can’t do yourself!”
“You’re all lazy!”
And then the one that inspired this post, “Why are you here!?”
Just picture a very in-shape, fast pedaling, middle-aged man spitting these things to you as you’re trying to maximize your hour away from your own child’s screaming. I’m a music girl when I work-out. Great music makes for a great escape into a dream world for me. This is not possible for me when this man is yelling at me. And especially because if you hear the things he’s saying through the grid of having a child with disabilities. They take on an incredibly different meaning. Allow me.
Your body, your fault.
Actually no. That’s not true for my son. I don’t believe it’s his fault or mine or anyone else’s that he is missing genetic material. I don’t think it’s his fault that he may not walk without an assistive device. And if he does, you’ll notice his staggering gait. I don’t think it’s his fault that his learning disabilities may prevent him from being employable one day. And I don’t think it’s his fault that he cannot swallow well and therefore cannot eat by mouth.
Your legs. Don’t use ’em and someone else will take care of you when you’re old.
Your legs may not work when you’re two, ten, twenty. Someone (your momma) may have to take care of you (as in lift your 50 lb body and your gait trainer or wheelchair or whatever) when you are young. You don’t have to be old for your legs not to work. They may not work when you are young and should be running and jumping and playing.
Don’t ask your kids to do something you can’t do yourself.
I can’t take on Nafe’s challenges and disabilities and physical pain myself. As much as I would like to take it from him, that’s not even a possibility.
Also I ask him to do therapy. Lots of it. I don’t do therapy but I push him to do it multiple times a week, even when he’s in pain, even when it’s cold and rainy and most kids his age are snuggled up or playing at home, and even though it requires a lot of effort for us to get there. I will continue to challenge him to do all sorts of things beyond what the doctors told us he would accomplish. This is our one shot at early intervention. This is the only time his brain this malleable and open to learning things. It’s a rigorous schedule. Therapy is probably way more work for him, than it is for me to work out.
You’re all lazy.
Sometimes I am. I’m human. But generally no. I will let my schedule speak for itself on this one. After we brought Nafe home from the NICU at two months old I tried to make my way over to the Y and get some version of a workout in, but was quickly forced to admit that it was not working. my husband couldn’t get there either. We were simply at capacity. We canceled our membership. It was another thing for me to grieve because I really enjoyed having it as an outlet. I took a whole year off from working out. Though it was necessary, I feel its effects. So you could call me lazy for that but really I think it was more about fighting for survival. While I wasn’t working out, I was working out something else entirely.
Why are you here?
This question is such a personal question for each person in that cycle class, even though I think the general answer is the same: to work-out. And that’s true for me too. I go to work-out, get in shape, lose a couple of pounds, relieve stress, escape the house. But I’m also there because of my son. I’m there because I will one day have to take care of him when he should be taking care of me. I need to be making an investment in my body. Because it would be my fault if I didn’t steward it well and couldn’t care take care of him longer. I better be using my legs and be grateful for it because God chose to bless me with the gift to be able to easily walk, and run, and play with my kids now.
The other day I sat in my car watching kids from the rehab center and their parents make their way out to the parking lot. It was an inspiring sight. I watched two kids in particular who couldn’t walk all that well struggle to get to the car. Their moms were patient, yet determined that they do the hard work of walking themselves. There were tears (lots of them), whining, yelling (both parties), and seemingly long treks for what should have been a short distance. It was the handicap parking section after all.
If you need to develop a little dose of compassion, gratitude, and inspiration in yourself or your kids, go sit in the waiting room of that building for an hour one afternoon. You will see things so hard and so beautiful all in one sitting. Those little bodies are uncooperative and need to be trained into obedience every minute, everyday. Every step isn’t merely walking, it’s a grueling workout. Every little movement forward is a big victory.
Why are some kids chosen to bear such painful, hard circumstances? I have no good answer. I only know with all my heart that it’s not their fault the way their body works or doesn’t.
Coming face-to-face with disability–as in I cuddle my kiddo’s nose every morning, every night, and moments in between–has made me aware of a whole different kind of physical and mental exertion. Nafe is doing some amazing things gross motor wise like inching along the floor like a worm, sitting up and barely wobbling anymore, he’s even starting to reach to pull up. He’s doing a lot, but you can see by the way his body moves that it does not come easily for him. Every toy he goes after or attempt to get big brother’s attention requires intense focus of his mind to get his body to physically cooperate. He is determined and working hard. I do not take that for granted.
Unfortunately my greater awareness of disability has made me a little bit more sensitive at times then I would like to be. It is personal now. Many people do not have the framework of thinking through things as I just shared. And that’s okay. It’s not their life. But it does cause me to take things out of context. Then I have to go back and think it through from their perspective and offer lots of forgiveness and grace. I understand this instructor’s intent is to inspire me to have a better work-out, even though his blanket statements are not universally true.
Now that I’m a couple months into this cycle class, I’m actually starting to enjoy it. (I also found another class with far better music and much less screaming.) After a year of taking a break from working-out I’m trying to get back on the saddle (pun intended). I’ve clearly thought through why I’m there, thanks to this screaming instructor. I have a secret motivating me to work hard. And his name is Nafe and he’s everything worth peddling, faster, harder, longer for because I know to the depths of my being that his body is not his fault.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. -2 Cor 5:4
My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!
Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!