Monday, November 10, 2008

Seeking Balance

Today was a rare day with the boys with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Swim lessons were cancelled, they were playing together happily and TV free, so we started baking, together and not, and then I was out of vanilla and the wheat germ smelled rancid (though I don't use enough wheat germ to know whether it smells any different when fresh), so I said, "Hey, wanna walk to town?"

"Sure!" the older one replied. "But can I ride my bike?" Why not? So out came his bike and his brother's big wheel and I prepared to stroll. Mistake. They are both quick quick quick on bikes now, which leads me to a bit of a quandary. Stay with me through the background.

Our town has started a "First Friday" program, which is great. While I pine for the First Fridays of yore, when my husband and I would pop down to Olde City to see the art galleries and take in art that ranged from excellent to either not-very-good or we-didn't-get-it, with some cheap wine in plastic cups and some sweaty cheese that had been plated too long leaving us wondering if it was part of an exhibit. This isn't that kind of thing, though there are lots of amateur artists, mostly musicians, and some fun little events happening at the various stores and businesses in our little town. Last week, we went to the new creative space that opened recently, where the boys take their Spanish singing class and their let's-not-call-it-dance-class-so-boys-will-come class, and which is now one of their favorite spaces on the planet. (And thanks to something...Sid the Science Kid? Sesame Street? Google Earth? that's now their question of the week: "Mommy? Are we on a part of the world?" often followed by "is it the part where the sun is shining?") They had a "bedtime story," pajamas optional, with a local artist who was reading and selling the books she had illustrated. (Daughter of Bossy was there too and I am hiring her pronto to be a Mother's Helper after seeing her with the little ones.) After that, we wandered in and out of some of the other shops, listening to the music, seeing the specials, finding friends and neighbors all over.

One of the first places the boys wanted to go was a bike shop, which was fine by me, as one of the bikes needs a bell. Little guy immediately sat down and started swinging the pedals around, watching the chain on the gears, completely engaged, as he always is by bike pedals. Fortunately, the owner was amenable to this and steered him to a bike "chaser" where he could backpedal to his heart's content. She kindly offered to show him how to take apart and reassemble a bike some slow afternoon in her shop, which would thrill him (and his father, who is quite an avid biker).

I was more interested in the bike stand that the adult part of the bike was attached to. It was one of those that is not only a stand, but also turns a road bike in to a stationary bike for indoor exercise. I'm interested in one for lots of reasons; it would be nice to have some equipment here as I'm too lazy to go to the gym, for instance (though I would exercise more in front of a tv, and there are none where I might have space for that); but also as practice for being on my bike without fear of injury.

Several years ago, I had a cold that ended with a nasty bout of vertigo that left me still for days out of fear of the spins. Later that spring, I started having numbness on my left side. An MRI led to the discovery of a brain lesion of undetermined origin, but it's likely it was just a nasty parting gift from the cold. Sometimes viruses just attack the brain--or in my case, the myelin sheaths--and no one knows why. I was fortunate--am fortunate--to have an amazing neurologist and great health care plan to cover the MRIs that were needed to get there.

The numbness is gone. The dizziness (thank God) is gone. But the lasting effect, still, is a lack of balance. It's not too bad, except in some specific circumstances. I went canoeing with the kids twice this summer; both times were nightmares, not because of the boys' behavior (though it was excruciating to be in front of the canoe and not be able to see what they were doing to rock the boat) but due to my own skewed sense of balance.

And the other place it's a problem is on a bike. This has been hard on my husband, who I know pines to take rides with me. I have missed it too as I used to be able to bike to town or the train quite easily. Now it feels like the handlebars and the front wheel aren't really connected, and that the ground beneath me is rocking. I know it isn't, but that doesn't stop it from feeling that way. It's unpleasant at best, scary at worst, and a stumbling block with my boys, who are learning to ride, and want to know why I can't.

I told a shortened version of that story to the woman at the bike shop, and explained that I was hoping that some stationary time on my bike would help my brain remember what it's like to really ride. She looked at me seriously and said, "If you can walk, you can ride." She said if my balance was good enough for walking, that I could ride too and just needed to get used to it again, and the only way to do that was to get out there. Happy as she would have been to make the sale, she didn't think it would help.

Her words brought me back to the time right after the vertigo. I did feel like I was learning to walk again. It was hard to get my feet under me. But I did it. I needed to. I had a pretty heavy walking lifestyle at that time (well, by US standards, anyway) and I had to get my feet back under me. Besides, I felt better about the consequences if I had another attack while walking rather than driving.

It's been a wet weekend here, with lots of slippery leaves, so I've had a weekend to think about what she said with all chances of actually getting on a bike removed. The parallels to other parts of my life are pretty obvious. My husband and I have rather different levels of need of social lives, and we tend to overcorrect and swing wildly from weekends with nothing but chores in the same house but not together, to weekends with way too many social events crammed in. I tend to attract feast-or-famine worklife situations, with periods of downtime followed by completely frantic activity. (Which is balance of a different sort, in some ways--at least it's not all frantic activity all the time.) I want to be with my kids all the time, until I am with them all the time, at which point I start trying to find sitters for them.

After my brain lesion, I was really disappointed in yoga class. Before the lesion, while I was clearly one of the least flexible students in class, the balance exercises were very easy for me. I felt rooted and calm and could hold the poses indefinitely, which was comforting after watching other students' Eagles or other poses look very different from mine. But after, I was one of the ones wobbling with my foot on my knee, unable to achieve the balance needed to feel rooted.

Giving birth twice did that to me in other ways. My whole adult life changed. What I valued, who I thought I was, what I thought I was capable of--all were challenged, and many were changed. And just as I got used to feeling wobbly in yoga class, I got used to feeling wobbly within myself as well.

But if I can walk, I can ride. Unbelievably, I'm right back to Dr. Seligman's class, and learned helplessness. It's depressing, literally, to keep trying things and failing. And there were lots of things I just accepted as part of my post-lesion or post-childbirth life. I tried a few times and gave up, thinking that in the scheme of things you can lose after a brain issue, canoeing and biking and sun salutations were small sacrifices. But what if I'm back to a point where I can do them, with practice?

We had a big weekend around here of readjusting the house for our growing kids. We removed some of the gates on the stairs. We took the safety covers off most of the doorknobs. We moved the older boy back in to a big boy bed (and this time he was thrilled). All of these really were temporary adjustments, as it turned out, though they felt eternal in the moment. Maybe it's time to see if some of these other adjustments are too.


Domestic Goddess said...

It's amazing, isn't it? The way childbirth changes your priorities? Before kids I wanted to be a perpetual student (and was after nine years of college). Now, I am learning every single day, but mostly about who I am as a person. I, too, get tired of failing. But I am finding that it is my PERSPECTIVE that needs the most work. Another load of laundry or dishes is not achieving anything other than one less chore. The real accomplishment is in your children. They are happy, well-adjusted, polite, sweet and full of hugs and smiles. THAT is quite an accomplishment!
I can identify with your feeling of wanting to be with your children all of the time, until you are with them all of the time. I think that is why I like watching other people's children. It gives me a glimpse of what my life would be like, were it "normal" like everyone else's. And I appreciate people like you for giving me that opporunity!

only me said...

I just want you to know that I have a bike and I would be happy to ride with you when your dh isn't available.

When you're ready. And again if you have any time...

Kathleen said...

I've had vertigo, too -- although not from anything as scary as viruses attacking the brain. It does mess you up for a while.

Not unlike having kids! That's a nice post.

One thing I'll say is that although you do have more time when your kids get older and a lot more physical freedom, the kinds of demands they put on you are just as intense. At least in my experience. The demands become more emotional, the problems harder to solve as quickly.