I am so pleased to share a piece by my friend and fellow writer Deborah Blicher today. Her reflections on weight-lifting are a wonderful reminder that we all need to find our own style of self-care in this crazy work of parenting.
I’ve been lifting freeweights off and on since my twenties, when I faced the fact that I am not fast or graceful, but strong. I learned in a tiny, drafty women’s gym under the guidance of kind and merciless trainers. Take, for example, the weeks I spent learning back squats. My trainer would lay a broomstick across my shoulders instead of a barbell, then place a small weight plate on the floor in front of me and say, “Stare at that. No bending your neck. We don’t want you hurt.” Watching me wobble through a set of squats, she’d shake her head and say, “I’m not going to let you use real weights today. Practice that form.”
It was a month before she let me trade in the broomstick for a barbell. But I developed perfect form and never got hurt. Kind and merciless.
My husband and I adopted our kids when they were three and four and I was 42. I liked being able to carry them like babies. At age five, my son told me, “When I grow up, I want to be strong like Mommy.” Now nine, he jumps into my arms at every opportunity, knowing I can catch him. My 10-year-old daughter, meanwhile, takes great pride in carrying her bag of hockey gear, which is almost as heavy as she is. I enjoy knowing that, when she looks at me, she sees a woman who doesn’t need a man to get a physical job done.
Weight lifting, unlike parenting, reinforces my belief that, if I work consistently, I can make progress. I tend to get my best insights about my children right before they outgrow them, but I improve steadily at lifting, becoming aware of muscles I didn’t know about, becoming able to move fluidly in ways I couldn’t before. Now that my kids are entering the long tunnel of adolescence, I need something at which I can feel steady success.
I wear shorts and a tee shirt for lifting, as does everyone at my gym, male and female, who lifts the really big weights. No spandex tights for us. I bring a water bottle and a recovery smoothie of whey protein and fruit. I use my phone as a timer with the ringer set to “Do Not Disturb.”
Before starting, I go over my lifting chart. Like a yoga asana, it keeps me from having to decide what to do next. I check in with my body and make a few changes: How are my knees? My back? How much time will I have to stretch afterwards? I make adjustments, then grab a clipboard and get going.
A martial artist for years, I lift best when I relax and feel my strength coming from the ground. Preparing for the back squat, I sense my feet, the bend in my knees, the muscles poised in my lower back and abdomen. My awareness moves upwards from the floor. As I settle the barbell onto my shoulders in preparation, I scan back down and relax my toes. I exhale, folding at the knees the way I learned so long ago with the broomstick, squatting as low as I can while keeping my heels on the floor. I inhale at the bottom, then come up exhaling, pushing the barbell with my entire body. I repeat as many times as I’m able or until I achieve my planned maximum. Then I replace the barbell on the rack feeling my body’s relative lightness and my beating heart.
But what about a bad lifting day? What if I lose attention, move incorrectly, and injure myself? That’s where the real strength comes in, just like in parenting. My son forgot his homework again? I sympathize but gently refuse to pick it up for him at school. My daughter won’t brush her hair? I don’t bully her; I’m strong enough to wait for the hairdresser to cut it short because of the split ends. I twisted my right knee warming up? I’ll reduce my weights, apply ice, and perhaps even stop lifting temporarily. Like my trainers, I, too, can be kind and merciless.
Deborah L, Blicher writes, edits, and teaches when she’s not in the weight room. Her writing has appeared most recently in The Boston Globe and on PsychologyToday.com. She blogs about becoming a mother by adoption at Two Adopt Two. Her website is http://www.deborahblicher.