Am I Really Too Old to do Cartwheels?

When I was about 3, my mom enrolled me in dance class.  At ballet, I was graceless. At tap, I was rhythm challenged. But at acrobatics, I excelled.  It wasn’t long until I was doing handstands, somersaults, back bends and cartwheels all over the place.

By age 8, I had a routine down pat. One hundred cartwheels a day – no matter what. In winter, I did them next to the washer and dryer in our dank, dark basement. (I was banned from the living room after crashing into the cocktail table and breaking a lamp.)  In spring, summer and fall, I cartwheeled up and down our blacktop driveway.

Though I try, I can’t remember when I stopped doing my 100 cartwheels a day. Somewhere around the time I discovered boys, make-up and the telephone, I suppose. But even with the passing of years, I continued to counter my self-dramatizing mood swings with a modified routine of cartwheel capering.

Shortly after each one of my sons mastered walking without tottering, I would demonstrate my cartwheel prowess. They were not the least bit enthralled.  But my bowling team thought it was a pretty cool move for someone in their 30’s. And so did the elementary school board moms when I hopped up one day and shot off a few at the age of 42. I fantasized that they clambered to shed their yuppie shackles and follow me down the yellow brick road – all the while doing cartwheels.

I turn 54  – the age when time meets reality – and it’s been a long time since I’ve done a cartwheel.

Can I still do it?

The thought makes me heady – like working without a net. As singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette says, “If I’m scared of something, that’s a pretty good indication that I should do it – except for heroin and sky-diving.”

One morning after finishing my exercise routine by walking around the track – with little forethought – I fling my body forward, lean in, lift off – and to my utter amazement – execute a cartwheel. I automatically take another few steps, gain momentum, and do one more.

I am ecstatic. Tomorrow I will increase the number. And the next day after that, do even more. Soon I will be up to my old faithful 100 – beguiling myself with the passionate adage that more is better and most is best. No cool restraint for me.

I pay for my spontaneity the following morning.  The bursitis in my hip acts up and my persistent shoulder problems show definite signs of re-emerging. I recognize the close alliance between boundless enthusiasm and self-destruction.

Cartwheel anxiety sets in. What separates challenge from foolishness? What idiot tests their body in such a ridiculous way at age 54? Isn’t there enough misery in the world? Why add to my own personal domain?

Cartwheel anxiety has debilitated my vision. I know there are plenty of things in this world to get stressed about and doing 100 cartwheels in a row shouldn’t be one of them. But the icky feeling of no longer having that option as a viable goal at age 54 hovers over me. I wince as the bridge between make-believe and possibility dissolves. There will be no legend-building here.

Meanwhile, I read that while in Barbados, Luciano Pavarotti does water aerobics to fight the flab. His publisher says his girlfriend, Nicoletta Mantovani, would like him to be fitter, but he doesn’t imagine Luciano will ever be doing cartwheels down the street.

I feel slightly mollified. Not so terrible to be in the same category as Pavarotti.

And now I’m 68.

I watch my granddaughters fling their springy little bodies down the halls of their houses – doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel – in a dizzying display of motion.

I stand quietly by. I don’t even try one. And I’m okay with that.

Or, I thought I was okay with that. But as the days passed, I realized I wasn’t okay with that. Yes, I was too old to fling my body heedlessly though the air, hoping I wouldn’t break both my arms in an effort to support my weight as I executed the motions. But I wasn’t giving up that easily. I search out YouTube for cartwheel instructions.Ten year-olds make it look so simple: find your strongest leg and lead with that, face forward, open up your body and GO!

Ha ha ha ha ha.

I’m not giving up, though. So, I do what any sane baby boomer would do when convinced they can do something once again as well as they did it 60 years ago. I head for the computer. I type into the search bar on the internet “Cartwheel Instruction.” And I arrange for a private lesson on cartwheels execution.

I will keep you posted on my progress.

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