Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Who Is That in the Mirror?

Last night during Zumba class I saw my mom's reflection in the mirror, although I've never seen her in those clothes or dancing like that.

This morning when I went to wash my face, she was there again, looking at me over my bathroom sink.

Both times it was just a glimpse, but more and more as I get older I see my mom in me. It's not necessarily a bad thing, because neither of us look our age. But it is something that you can often look forward to as you get older. That moment of looking down and seeing your parent's hands (YIKES!) or hearing a recording and realizing your voice is much like theirs. You may even feel an expression on your face that you know you'd recognize, or find yourself reacting in a way you know they would.

That's not a bad thing if you love your parent, if they have aged well, or if you consider them a good role model. It's also not unavoidable though the path to avoiding it can be a tough one.

My mom doesn't look like my grandmother. Like many of her generation, deprived as a child, my grandmother wound up being a little heavy as she aged. That extra weight eventually meant she couldn't get around like she enjoyed and it contributed to diabetes. Even when I was a child my mom was making the conscious decision not to follow in her footsteps.

Like my grandma, she worked hard physically in the garden during the summer, but when she couldn't be working, she also did some exercising. I can remember her with no special equipment at all, long before Jane Fonda made it hip, exercising with what was probably a local television show or sometimes following the routine on her own. It was nowhere near the fitness regime I demand of myself today, but it was still something that stuck in my mind. I saw her doing it less as I got older, and I don't even know if it is something she kept doing or not. I'm sure, however, that is why in her 70s, she still works in the garden and yard, enjoys taking hikes now and then, and looks as good as she does.

It's a lesson that has stuck with me because I don't think there's ever been a time I wasn't active to some degree.

When I was younger it was hiking with dogs. Even in high school my dog and I walked on a daily basis, usually a couple of miles. With young children, well, that requires a certain amount of full body workout every day. When they were older, I had a gym membership for a while. Now I guess my fitness routine is the most dedicated it has ever been with dog walking five mornings a week, PiYo and Zumba once a week, and wrestling three girls every weekday.

But I still wish it were more and that I found time on a regular basis for the Bowflex, or yoga, or even Zumba in the living room. I want to be sure I'm doing enough to be a healthy older person and still be able to do what I enjoy doing.

In my PiYo class, I've sometimes complained to the instructor that I'm not as flexible as I wish I was, although if I watch my fellow students, I'm not doing that bad most of the time. I confessed to her, however, that I wish I'd realized 20 or 30 years ago how important it was to keep that flexibility and worked on it sooner. She, of course, tells me I'm doing great because that's just the way she is. But the fact of the matter is, the sooner we start the easier it is to keep going. Maintenance is a whole lot easier than repairs, on anything.

And that in itself is a message to parents, or grandparents. Nevermind what kind of future you envision for yourself. When you look at your children, what do you want for them? Because like it or not, whether we feel like we have the time for it or not, they are learning from what you do, not just what you say or what the world around them tells them.

If you want them to be healthy and confident -- and surely we all want that -- then they need to see that as they grow up. Oh, believe me, I know how tough it is when you're wrestling a child all day to also exercise. Good grief, isn't that enough? But we all know it's not. Even at their most tiring, the children in our lives don't always exercise what needs it. If they didn't I wouldn't feel that wonderful stretch or any soreness from a good workout.

I have to realize that one of the most important things I can do is take care of myself and feel good about myself and share that with the little girls in my life. That is important not just so I can be there for them, but so they will have another good role model as they grow up.

Taking care of myself means watching what I eat and making sure they see me make good choices most of the time as well as not beating myself up when the choices aren't so good, being active wither that means walking and playing with them or three of us attempting yoga poses (and darn if I don't envy E1 her flexibility and encourage her to keep it), and taking time for myself now and then (they can't go to PiYo/Zumba, but they know that's where I am and sometimes we look up YouTube videos and so a few minutes in the living room).

Feeling good about myself is a tougher challenge some days, particularly with children who are so brutally honest. But it is equally important. I need to learn to brag on myself to them. To be happy with where I am in life so that they can feel good about who and where they are, not only now, when they are little children and the world revolves around them, but in 10 years when they are grappling with being teenagers, or 20 years when adulthood is bearing down on them, or 30 years when they're parenting their own children, or even 50 years, when they are spending time with grandchildren of their own.

I wonder if that is a lesson I passed on to my daughter. Can she look at me and see a confident person that she wants to follow in some ways? Did the things I did when she was young help or hurt the person she became? Just like my physical fitness, I wish I had thought about taking care of those areas when I was younger as well.

Either way, worrying about the past is about as effective as worrying about the face we see in the mirror. We're pretty much stuck with it (plastic surgery aside) and we learn to live with it.

What we can change is the view looking forward and what it is the young people in our lives see when they look in the mirror. We can give them an image that they are happy to see, instead of one they want to run from, by learning to take care of and love who we are so we can pass those lessons on to them.

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