The Story of a Movement Teacher Growing Up in Stillness (Part 1) 2/27/18

I come from a family of brains on legs. Also? For most of my childhood we were Christians whom god was going to save; this body defined by how it could serve and what’s more, receding behind promise and assurance that eventually we’d leave it for a better place. 

I’ve heard you should look back at childhood play-themes to determine the work you should pursue as an adult or determine whether you are in fact on track because the play? It revealed something soulful.

Despite the fact we were a family leading firmly cerebral existences, I spent many an hour teaching dance in shawls and dress-up clothes to my class of stuffed animals, commanding their attention. Maybe Mrs. McCurley’s basement ballet classes inspired me (I seem to remember her being bereft at my leaving) because I taught choreography to snoopy and friends to the jaunty soundtracks of my records with great passion and regularity. I’d peer for hours at the cover of the Boone sister disco-christian-pop album I had: the five of them posed in jumpsuits and high heeled clogs, standing around a bench under a light-post in the twilight next to a California beach.

My parents? Step-dad retreated each night in an insulated vest to the basement to talk on his ham radio and play with model trains. Once he drew an intricate timeline of the history of everything in the world up on a rafter. He printed perfectly neat letters I can still picture and camped out with me at the kitchen table, patiently encouraging and teaching while I wept, night after night, over math homework. He held encyclopedic knowledge of dates, history, inventions, revealing huge surfeits of knowledge in some areas and gaping holes in others. His vices were Hydrox cookies (far superior to Oreos, he claimed) and Pepsi and he and my mother would fight, loudly, daily. In their fifteen years of marriage I never once saw him cry. He knew not what to do when we did. He was brilliant and frustrated and called his boss The Turkey. He may have liked hiking, it’s the only thing I can imagine, but I never saw him so much as run, jump, dance, ride a bike or swim (though I remember wading?) and he didn't watch sports or follow teams. He and his ham radio friends practiced weekend long drills for disaster readiness and he squirreled guns away all around the house that weren’t discovered until my mother evicted him amidst a divorce. He never offered to throw a ball around with us but he took us to model railroad and antique engine shows, thrilled enough for all of us. He was mostly kind. I cannot visualize him in motion other than snow-blowing our driveway, stacking wood or executing a chore on the endlessly scrolling to-dos. 

My mother might have moved more (she had danced in college and adored basketball) had she not been burdened by school, work, three kids and the bulk of domestic duties (shared by my sister and me) because stepfather didn’t vacuum or do laundry or cook or iron even though he wore dress shirts every day. They would collect in a basket and emerge every other week in interminable piles for my sister, I and our grandmother to take turns ironing. He needed a detailed list of instructions to make even a microwave meal and surely was intimidated by the rules (french-fold towels, hospital-corner beds). My mother made everyone’s breakfast and lunch every morning in the flickering light of the kitchen on orange formica counters: brown bagged sandwiches (egg salad, cream cheese and jelly, tuna with tiny bits of apple, always too much mayonnaise) and cooked all the dinners and orchestrated all the details for the kids. He could make chipped beef on toast. He could load the dishwasher. 

The rest of the time my mother huddled at the dining room table behind piles of papers and books, begging us not to talk while she perennially, protractedly worked on her doctorate or other coursework, always stressed, often snacking, losing her temper and juggling the miasma. I vowed I would not be anything like her in a very specific way: that I would not use food to soothe me, that I would not be large. I was so afraid of largeness. Skinniness felt the same to meaza as power. When she was 60 years old she took up competitive weight lifting and inspired the shit out of me, lifting over 300 lbs on many an occasion and collecting a slew of trophies. All right. I could be like that.

But that was a long way off. For now we lived in a dark red ranch house with one and a half baths, three kids, two adults, two dogs and a cat. We didn’t ski together because tickets and equipment were entirely out of budget, but neither did we camp or bike or hike because mostly my parents worked and in between just scrambled to get the basics done. Once a year we rented a cottage in a nearby ocean town and my mother made sure there were lessons (swimming, figure skating, piano, voice) because she didn’t get them as a child, she’d say wistfully.

Exercise though? It was something you did at a gym; aerobics, weights, cardio. We had an unwieldy used exercise bike in the living room no one rode, a mini trampoline, Jane Fonda's book floating around and Richard Simmons on TV. I adored him. “C’mon everyone, you can do it, that’s it, you’re beautiful!” He wore silky striped shorts, hightop sneakers and the bold face of positivity (thinly disguising great sadness) as he jumped around with that frazzled 'fro. But he was so good to us. He welcomed the bodies that others did not. He broke the rules. He shouted out love.

Erin JadeComment