By Marti Zuckrowv
I watch my ten-month old niece in awe. Minute by minute,
she discovers new ways to move. She is becoming more.
She is moving forward toward the rest of her life. She
is a pioneer exploring new territories; almost
crawling, she scoots backward on her belly and finds a
wall behind her. She is delighted to throw anything
she can get her tiny hands around, and to watch it
sail through the air and land beyond her reach.
She splashes in the tub, entertained by the whoosh of
water her sturdy little self creates each time she
slaps the surface with her rubber ducky. On her back,
on the changing table, her feet easily reach her
mouth, her body stretches and contracts like elastic.
Astounding, this degree of suppleness. So much ahead
of her, so many, many physical skills her 10-month-old
body will master.
Ah, the gift of witnessing this miracle.
I missed out on treasuring each moment with
both of my own daughters. I was too busy surviving.
There was no luxury to bask in the glory of each new
life. I was lucky to get through the day. Living with
their Dad, a severely mentally ill man, took it out of
me. I lost touch with myself. I let my body go. I held
on to my own mind, as tightly as I could.
Interesting how being with my niece brings back memories. Many
I've buried so far down I've almost managed to forget
they were MY memories. I feel cheated of the pure,
feeling that a baby in your arms can bring. All is right
with the world and if time stopped, that would be
Of course, cradling my two babies, nursing
them and seeing them grow healthy from the milk in my
breasts, this was an unequaled joy. Hearing their
first words, seeing them take their first steps,
utterly amazing. Looking into their little trusting
faces and seeing a smile replace a frown was magical.
But through it all, there was the man in the other
room, losing his mind, pacing the hall, hallucinating
the horrors that eventually landed him in a padded
cell. I felt his pain; perhaps my daughters did, too.
I wish it had been different, for ALL of us.
It has been different for my niece. She
was adopted at birth. My nephew and his wife were
there when her tiny head crowned and her birth mother's
final push brought her into the world. I met her when
she was 6 days old. Spending time with her is
precious, and I make sure I am around her a few times
Each day she makes new discoveries; yesterday
she discovered electrical outlets (instantly
childproofed), the day before she learned how to open
a drawer. Simple everyday things we take for granted.
Or do we.
I am a personal trainer and work with the elderly. (I
just turned 63 myself). For many of my clients, basic
motor skills are being threatened. There are so many
challenges that make simple tasks and pleasures
difficult and sometimes impossible to manage. One
client is losing the ability to walk due to severe
neuropathy. Another client fears falling because of
inner ear disturbances. One man's cancer has returned
for the third time, guaranteeing yet another
debilitating round of chemo and radiation. "I'm ready
to kick ass again," he told me yesterday. And I know
he will give it his best shot. One woman is getting
ready for her second knee replacement so that she can
hopefully live a pain-free life. Another had a
triple bypass and hopes to dance at her
granddaughter's wedding this summer.
It's amazing and a great privilege to witness this spectrum,
from the beginning of life with the miraculous development of
the mind/body connection, and the winding down of
life, the losses we face and how we cherish our
abilities and independence for as long as we can.
In my ex-husband's case, mental illness devastated his
life when he was a young man. Today, at 66, a
ventilator breathes for him, his lungs ravaged by the
cigarettes he smoked in an attempt to cope. Losing
your mind, losing your body, not a pretty picture and
yet, our bodies do decline with age, and sometimes,
Ah the question, how to age gracefully. As a friend of mine
says, we need to age gratefully, and treasure our time
here. We need to live in the moment and be present.
Really, when it comes down to it, that's all we've got-
what is right right RIGHT now.
My 10-month-old niece knows this. Babies have much to
teach us. Let's learn from them. As we move closer to
our endings, lets celebrate their beginnings.
Marti Zuckrowv is a writer living in California. Her "Dance on Paper" column appears at the start of each month.