My kiddo sits in the grocery cart. He’s really too big, but containing him removes one variable from the shopping experience. Getting him in is akin to a choreographed 50s swing dance move – jump up, arms around my neck, lift hips, shimmy down. We both grunt and groan good-naturedly with the effort, usually prompting my teasing exclamation – Stop growing!!! And his grinning response, No! I’m supposed to grow! or You’re kidding Mama. You want me to grow.
This is true. And not. But that’s a topic for another day.
The tension comes when it’s time to get out of the cart. The swing dance in reverse just never quite works. A foot, knee, or some combo always gets caught. He squeals in pain, sitting back down, tearful.
One particularly tender parking lot afternoon, I stop. Repeating the same movement will have the same effect. We need a different approach. Limbs and carts don’t change easily. Minds can.
Here’s the thing, bud. You’re body has gotten too big for that seat. It’s gonna hurt to get out. I don’t see a way around it.
So calmly, we lift, twist, turn in an awkward embrace, cart wedged against the corral. And it does hurt. I lift him, crying, free.
Still crying, he climbs in and buckles as I load the hatch. As I settle into the driver’s seat, he throws the zinger. Tears in amber eyes, cheeks pink. Why did you hurt me on purpose, Mama?
Luckily, on this particular day, we’d eaten lunch just before shopping. (I do learn, I do!) so I wasn’t in the yellow zone. I could answer, not react.
I didn’t hurt you on purpose, hon. I never would. But sometimes life hurts. Sometimes there’s no way for it not to. You’re too big for the cart now. So think now for next time – do you want to ride, knowing it’ll hurt to get out? Or do you want to walk?
The women in the upper generations of my family have all aged with a pronounced hump on their backs. My grandmother was rounded forward in the hunchback position by her mid-sixties. My mother has followed suit.
I saw this as a child. And I remember my 4th grade self, bending forward as the school nurse assessed the curvature of my spine for scoliosis. Each year I got called back for a second look, but thankfully not for an orthopedic referral. My classmate Laura got one of those. She was the pretty girl, with long waves of Jacqueline Smith hair – I always had to play Kate Jackson – and bright blue eyes. She could sing and was nice enough that everybody liked her, even if we were jealous of her.
That was 4th grade. By 5th grade, Laura was the girl in the brace. I did not want to be the next girl in the brace. I did not want to be the hunchback old lady.
Thirty-five years later, people are surprised to learn I have back and neck pain. But you have such beautiful posture, they say, you always stand so straight! Yes, but our spines are supposed to have curves. In my willing myself upright, I’ve reversed the natural curve in my upper back. Which brings its own problems.
A martial arts master introduced me to a different approach to pain. Pain wants your attention. Give it. Learn what pain is trying to tell you about what needs to change. Avoid pain and it stays, gets more insistent. So for the last 18 months or so, with my yoga teacher’s guidance, I’ve turned my professional knowledge of healing movement and mindful attention inward, working to restore the natural curve of my spine. I am learning to relax the muscles holding my spine in an unnatural position.
I wake in the night, notice I’m tense. I breathe, releasing the holding deep within. And find – pain. When I hold my neck spine tense, I hold myself away from the pain. I can pull away from that pain and continue to hold the line. Or I can take a deep breath and let go. Let the pain be there. Let it be OK. And let it pass through.
Experiencing painlessness in my upper back has physically and emotionally freed my heart, especially in my relationship with mother. But that’s a topic for another day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ginny is a yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, gardener, activist, and middle aged Mama. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. She believes our natural state is to be balanced in body and mind so spirit can flow freely. Because modern life gets in the way, she offers self-healing bodywork to unravel imbalances and restore energy flow. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.