An Unexpected Exercise Regime

A ballroom dancing couple. Illustration by Dav...
A ballroom dancing couple. Illustration by David Göthberg & Co, Sweden.  Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My exercise of choice used to be Ballroom Dancing. I loved moving my body to the sound of music and thrilled in my ability to move gracefully across the dance floor. I spent hours with my dance partner perfecting the movements of the dance; and spent many hours with a high impact aerobics instructor in order to be “dance fit”. My aim was to compete in five dances, one after the other, and make it seem effortless. I could not imagine exercising without moving to the rhythm of music.

Fifteen years later I have had two children and dancing has become a part of my “before-children” phase. A firm believer in the benefits of exercise for growing children, I have walked my children to swimming lessons, skating lessons, and (on request) Tae Kwon Do (TKD) lessons. Each week I have taken them to our local community centre so that they can get their weekly quota of exercise in order to grow physically strong.

In January of this year, my husband and I decided our girls needed more marshal arts training than they were getting at the community centre. They needed to take the sport seriously and learn to perfect their form. We enrolled them in a TKD dojang (school) and have seen them blossom under the tutelage of their new Master and instructors.

But what about me? I fell into the trap that many mothers fall into: the trap of looking after the health of the family and not my own. My exercise regime suffered. My own physical activity consisted of walking my daughters to their lessons; and trying, sometimes successfully, to follow a DVD at home early in the morning before the household awoke. No longer was I exercising for up to 2 hours a day. Instead, I have watched my children partake in their lessons, praised them and encouraged them, watched physical activity from the sidelines. I have felt proud of my children’s achievements and progress, and celebrated with them each small success.

“What about mum?” the TKD Master asked me one day after a lesson. “You are here, try it.” She encouraged me to join in, noticing that I often watched with interest the participants in her class. “Maybe you will like it. It will help you with your weight, and give you energy to be with the kids.” (She knew I am a teacher of young children). I knew on some level that I was neglecting my own physical fitness but, secretly, I hoped to one day dance again. Realistically I knew that it would not happen for a long time, not while I had children dependant on me to take them to their physical activities. And in the meantime? I gained weight, and lost the fitness that I once used to enjoy. I decided to take the Master up on her challenge and join the other adults I had watched exercise with their children.

Four months ago I donned the white uniform of the TKD student. As I tightened my white belt around my waist, young voices of encouragement echoed in my mind: “You can do it mommy! I know you can!” The voices of the instructors joined those of my children as they encouraged me to do sit-ups, push-ups, and even cartwheels.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
The Tae Kwon Do uniform. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I will not tell a lie and say that the classes were easy. I am not supple and struggled to even touch my toes. My heart beat races after the first few minutes of cardio. Often during the class I am left breathless as I strive to keep up with those fitter and younger than me. And yet … I revel in the aching muscles and physical fatigue that helps me sleep at night. I welcome learning movement again albeit without the sound of rhythmic beats. I am learning slowly to master the movements, the exercises and patterns, the Korean terms.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
Attaining the TKD yellow belt. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I felt pleased when I attained my next belt and wore the colour proudly. My children helped me learn the new patterns, and I practised a little each day when I woke up. I have slowly begun to feel stronger – certainly the muscles in my legs are getting firmer. I am surprised at how many push-ups I am now able to do (I can now do more than one!). I have reached my toes in the stretches and am now working on touching my head to my knees. I enjoy the camaraderie of the classes and still watch in admiration those who have attained a higher belt.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
Testing for orange belt. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I have just completed the test for my orange belt and feel I am now on a TKD journey. Each time I tie my belt around my waist, not only am I showing that I have attained the next level and am committed to this marshal art, but also that I have made a commitment to my own physical exercise and well-being. And the next best thing? I am exercising with my children – both in the classroom, and when we practise together at home.

Have you ever fallen into an unexpected exercise regime?

(This post was inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

An Added Responsibility

free write friday kellie elmoreI stand in front of the shop window, gazing at the black and white images flickering on the screen. How I wish we had one of these boxes at home! It would certainly relieve the boredom of staying cooped up inside when it is my turn to look after Dani. I am sure he would enjoy the movement of the images too. The stories look like they are fun – especially the ones with the man and his bowler hat. 

Suddenly someone grabs my hand, pulling me along, away from my meagre entertainment. It is Emily, my older sister.

“Leave me alone! Where are you taking me?”

“You need to go watch Dani now. I am going out,” she responds.

“It is not my turn,” I shout. “I left 30 minutes ago. It is your turn. I want to be outside watching people, seeing them talk and laugh.”

“Well that is too bad.” She pulls me in roughly through the front door. Immediately the smells oppress me. The smell of urine, and of our bedridden brother. I wish to leave this dark and gloomy place, if only for a while. I love my brother but sitting with him day after day, helping him drink, spooning his food to him, emptying the bedpan, is too much. I am 12 years old. I should be outside with friends, doing things that children do. Running free in the sweet-smelling air.

“You need to stay here until mom gets home. An opportunity has come my way and I am not going to let it pass. It is a chance to get out of this hell hole and I am going to grab it with both hands.”

I look at my oldest sibling. She is beautiful with her well kept hair, her manicured nails and her trim figure. “Where are you going?” I ask suspiciously. “Why are you dressed like that?”

“I, my dear, am going to an interview. Hopefully I will get the job and earn enough to leave this place.”

“No,” I cry desperately. “You cannot leave me here alone. Who will help with Dani? And what about me? I need to go to school – I miss too many days already.”

“That is not my problem. I am not going to let my life be ruined because our brother made the wrong choices!”

Emily turns on her heel, picks up her purse, and leaves the house closing the front door firmly behind her. I sink to the floor with my head in my hands. I cannot stop my sobbing. But what about my life? Why was I born into this family? Why? Our father left us so long ago that I cannot even remember what he looked like. My sister is concerned with only herself. Our mother works all hours at the hospital. We never see her – she is like a spectre in this house. Ghostlike, she drifts in and out occasionally saying that we are good children. My father’s leaving took the spirit out of her. Dani used to tell me she was full of fun and laughter before. Not that I even remember her like this. All I remember is a mother who is never there – both physically and emotionally.

And then there is Dani. The brother I adore and used to follow wherever he went. He was the shining light in this place where we all live. Always laughing and full of life. And one day three months ago all that joy was gone. Snuffed out. I get up and walk towards the room where he now lies, silent and unmoving. My sobs have quietened but the tears still run slowly down my cheeks. A bad decision and so many lives have changed. Joyriding in that flashy red car must have sounded so exciting to him and his friends. But speed and too many beers had led to two deaths and a paralysed brother. The doctors do not know if he will ever walk again; but his care has landed squarely on my young shoulders. Mother does not seem to care, and Emily … Well, Emily is not going to let this get in the way of her life and her ambitions.

I wipe the tears off my face. Feeling sorry for myself is not going to change anything. I head off to the bathroom to fill the ceramic wash basin with warm water. I pick it up and carry it to Dani’s room, water slopping over the edges. As I enter the room, the pungent smell of urine hits me. Emily had not emptied the bedpan. Again!

“Hi Dani,” I say cheerfully. “Time for your wash.” Dani looks at me silently with eyes that are lifeless. I pick up the wash cloth begin to clean my brother, deftly and quickly. No one else is home and I am unable to turn him myself. So I do what I can. I empty the bedpan and make a mental note to myself to catch Mother in the evening to help me change the sheets. When done, I look up and see my patient looking at me with tears in his eyes.

“I am so sorry, Lucy. I would never have wanted this life for you.”

“Dani, it is okay. I love you and will always be here for you.” I climb up onto the bed and snuggle up next to him like I used to do before the accident. I close my eyes and feel comforted. All I can do is hope that everything will be okay.

(This story was inspired by Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt.)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013