Turning interest into activity can boost your spirit - and your health…
If you read the average women’s magazine (which I hope is far down your reading list after you’ve read Autism File), you see story after story on how to get and stay healthy. Why, you can hardly read the pharmaceutical ads without being interrupted by articles telling you how to lose weight, look younger, eat better, cook healthier, exercise more, work your abs while you sleep—it never ends.
I think it’s all a bunch of crapola.
A healthy lifestyle isn’t about being scolded into changing habits. It’s not about reevaluating your love of Keebler Fudge Sticks (guilty) and striving to love carrot sticks. It’s not about breaking up with Ben—or Jerry. It sure as heck isn’t a comparative project, as you look at today’s “real” housewife who had a baby six hours ago and is now running the Atlanta Marathon with Baby Sigfried on her back smiling from the cover a magazine. She, like every other woman in the magazine, has been (photo)shopped more than Macy’s the day after the Thanksgiving Parade.
I have three kids with autism, 18, 16 and 12. I’ve been married for 21 years. I work umpteen jobs. I keep a house. I cook from scratch. And I’m so tired I could scream. But—my lifestyle has never been healthier. Why? Because I found something I truly love that motivates me physically, emotionally and even spiritually in some strange way. What is it?
Call me Karate Kim. I’m training to earn a black belt in traditional Shito-Ryu karate along with my AARP card by 55.
I know! It’s ridiculous to imagine me—a Mom—in a white gi kicking and punching and sweating and—hey wait, it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Here’s how I started.
In the spring of 2010, I was sitting at my desk working when I heard the sound of breaking glass. I stood and looked out my kitchen window to see a strange car backed up to my garage door. And then I heard the garage door open. I was about to have my home invaded.
Long story short: I grabbed the phone and tip-toed out my front door as robbers were breaking in my back door. In what could have been an episode of I Love Lucy meets Baretta, the police showed up, the bad guys leapt out of my front door and fled across the street into the river that runs through my neighborhood. One was caught, arrested and convicted, and the other escaped. I guess there is honor among thieves because the police never learned the identity of the second robber.
By the time the dust had settled and the police reports were complete, I had a chance to reflect on what had happened. And it scared me to death. If my kids had been home, I would never have been able to get them out of the house quickly or quietly. Come on, we’re talking autism: Mia would have had to grab four books, three DVDs, a small blow- up Bozo the clown and some red carnival stuffed super hero who looks like a reject from the casting of The Justice League. Gianna would have searched for two ratty photos of Taylor Lautner and a rubber duck. And Bella would have gone bonkers without three sets of Mardi Gras beads (colors subject to change) and her “Go Talk”. In short, we’d have been caught by and at the mercy of robbers in ski masks.
Those of you who know me know I have a sharp tongue. I can write a pointed retort as easily as I can type “A,B,C”—but actual defensive skills? I had none.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered a dojo a minute from my house—and I started training in kickboxing. I was afraid to try karate. It seemed so “unMomlike.” One day the very wise dojo owner put a uniform in my hand and said, “You start tomorrow. Be here.” It was exactly the push I needed.
I now train for two hours, four to six days a week, and have added Okinawan weapons training to my classes. Am I nuts? A little. But the difference in my attitude, fitness, strength and confidence is worth the work. Think about it: what’s the one thing so many of us fear? Getting older. Not because of the vain reasons most magazines use to try to scare us into buying face cream or Botox injections, but because we know our kids are going to need us long after most kids have left the nest and launched their own lives.
Whether our kids are severely affected by autism or differently affected by Asperger’s, they will need us longer than most children need their parents. And we have to be prepared mentally and physically. I might be helping Bella put on her pants at 25. I need to be able to bend over and get back up. I need muscle and sinew and endurance. Not to enter the Mrs. Connecticut pageant, but to provide the care my kids will need—into adulthood.
Calming the storm
My healthy lifestyle is about taking care of my girls. I eat better because I’m as hungry as a horse and crave good food. Karate has a strong spiritual and zen-like component and that has helped me control my temper (No Mother Teresa, remember?) by learning to “be the calm not the storm.” I’m still very stormy but working on it.
My trainer, Kyoshi Torri, has a saying to encourage us: “Little by little.” He never rushes us. He is patient but firm. My girls are now training in the dojo too. Gianna is learning to block, kick, and punch. She will need to be able to defend herself throughout her life. Mia and Bella are stretching, exercising, and learning to follow commands.
A sense of accomplishment
I’m not suggesting that you, dear reader, join a dojo tomorrow. But I want you to do what autism requires us all to do every day: think outside the box. Outside the diet. Outside the gym. What motivates you? What will bring you a sense of accomplishment and pride and offer the benefit of better health?
We all know what we need to do for our kids’ health. We live it every day. But what do we do for ourselves? I know we’ll all put the drop down oxygen mask on our kids FIRST, despite the flight attendant instructing us otherwise. We’re autism Moms and Dads—our kids come first. But we have to remember to take care of ourselves.
A healthy lifestyle will look different for each of us. It doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or having a fridge full of fermented organic yak milk (is that casein free?).
For me, it’s karate. For you it might be a quilting circle where you sit quietly with others and create your happiness with a needle and thread. It might mean taking Zumba classes with wild abandon (I took one class and after watching myself in the mirror asked the instructor for a Xanax.) Whatever you choose—as long as it feeds your mind, body and spirit in some way—let’s kick it!