When I was about three years old, 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 eight, 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 at sporadic intervals.
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, at the close of our monthly meeting, I hopped up and shot off a few at the age of forty-two. I fantasized that they too clambered to shed their yuppie shackles and follow me down the yellow brick road – all the while doing cartwheels too. Who knows maybe we could have had a “cartwheelathon” and raised money for a worthy cause if I had pushed my agenda a tad harder?
I turn fifty-four – 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 fifty-four? 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 my inability to do 100 cartwheels in a row without inducing physical impairment shouldn’t be one of them. But the icky feeling of no longer having that option as a viable goal at age fifty-four 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 seventy.
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.
What have I learned?
I have learned to stand quietly by.
I have learned not even to attempt to try one cartwheel.
I have learned to remind myself of the things I can still do:
Easily touch my toes from a standing position
And, after a few warm-ups, touch my chin to my knee when my legs are spread eagle on the floor.
And what else have I learned?
To be okay with my limitations.
What physical feat have you given up?
What physical feat are you still in the throes of perfecting/doing?
And how do you feel about those insidious age-creeping limitations?
For now, I’m going to be satisfied with stretching!
Keep Preserving Your Bloom,