When I was around 4, I did not experience the ability to make choices in many areas of my young life, but I do remember experiencing the power & freedom of moving my body. As I grew, a regimented Ballet teacher scared the young crap out of me, but on bikes without training wheels, in gymnastics, ice skating & free form dance, I felt empowered. Those fast & freeing laps around the ice rink, pushing forward, up & out with strong legs & arms, propelled me towards my own choices & ways of being in my body.

When I was 15, I walked into a special education classroom to work as a teacher’s aide & my teenage angst was taken down a few notches. A group of children in various stages of disarray were seated at desks filling out worksheets; some rapidly churning out numbers, while others stared into space. I sat down next to a small boy with a blond bowl cut named Anders & attempted to assist. I noticed he worked for a few moments, then looked up & his eyes clouded over. I gently touched his arm & he shook his head, then looked down at the paper again. Pencil lead smeared across the math page, yet all the answers were correct.

Teacher Sheila glided around the room, speaking softly, encouraging, picking up dropped supplies & adjusting feeding tubes. I asked about Anders & she explained he was experiencing rapidly firing petit mal seizures, until brain exhaustion took over & he fell into a deep sleep, head in arms on the desktop, then woke about 10 minutes later for the next round.

When I was 26 & working as a teacher with Head Start, my back gave way in a grocery store over a too heavy hand basket. Traditional doctors suggested traction & back surgery, while gentle manipulations, massage & Chinese tinctures were offered instead by a Naturopath. From there, I found a natural progression into Therapeutic Movement, where one learns to lean into & learn from psychosomatic issues, instead of turning away from them.

When I was 30, I returned to college after many years of work with special needs & high risk kids & went in to Somatic Psychology studies; BA & MA degrees, doing movement & teaching college courses in psychology. It was a deeply satisfying & well loved rhythm & flow.

When I was 41, I gave birth to Gabriel. He was endearing & happy, with oversized glasses, yet as time moved on, there was the gradual discovery of mental retardation, seizures & mental health issues including, Bipolar Disorder, OCD & Tourette’s. What were the chances, I thought, while why would it not be so, at the same time? The tables were turned on his mama & there have been the highs & lows between true joy & heartbreak. I love that boy completely.

When I was 50, I fell into a dark clinical depression.The college teaching career I loved was lost in a devastating way. Jabs at returning to once familiar work failed, which left me confused, depressed & languishing, without much interest or connection to anything except Gabriel. I stopped moving, except as if through mud, gained weight & set about the intellectual study of religion & other diversions, which only moved me further away from myself. Both of my parents & some close friends died during this time & I was a lost orphan, floundering around without reserves & ending up in the hospital with a dangerous infection & a breast cancer scare. I decided to return to my much loved New Mexico for some reprieve, yet mostly found myself driving around aimlessly & sitting at the ancient altar of the El Santuario de Chimayo Church, sobbing until spent. A bright spot was attending a conference at Ghost Ranch on ‘The Creative Brain’ & attending an indigenous Deer Dance at a closed pueblo.

When I was 57, I went back to the beginning. I circled back into a new Movement post graduate training program with my previous mentor. I also started subbing in special ed. classrooms again for extra income. Although still moving at a snails pace, things started making some sense again. Along with returning to Authentic Movement, I am currently practicing Feldenkrais in private & public sessions & meeting with a body centered therapist. (Ironically, I now have the means to afford these things with an inheritance from my parents.)

A few weeks ago, I dragged myself into yet another classroom where I was put in charge of “babysitting”, (yes, someone actually said that to me), a 9 year old boy who I had seen around at Gabe’s summer camp & in school. He uses screams & moans to communicate; his head & body folded over to one side with twisted arms that reach back under his chin. I’m sure as I approached he could sense I was not thrilled & he certainly was not either. (I was replacing his regular aide while she was out sick.) Colorful sensory toys were spread out on a table in front of him, plus an iPad, that when touched, displayed undulating colors & shapes on the screen.

I sat down, said, ‘Hello’, & he proceeded to twist his body completely away from me so I could not see his face & screamed at the top of his lungs. With years of practice in this field & with Gabe, I kept sitting there, acting uninterested in his behavior & playing with the toys to divert his attention. It soon became evident that he could outlast me & 4 miserable hours of care loomed in front of me.

Suddenly, I remembered Mary Whitehouse, & Joan Chodorow, (founder & student of Authentic Movement), talking about 'meeting clients where they are’ as a witness; reflecting back their soundings & movement as acknowledgement of who they are in the moment. I began doing my own turning away with my limbs locked, but in a softer voice, followed along with his 'AH AH AH' screams. Soon his voice softened to meet my volume & I could hear his body gradually turning in his chair & shifting towards me. I also slowly turned back towards him as he looked up & we locked eyes. Leaning in further still, he awkwardly turned & laid his head on my shoulder. Through instant tears, I started poking at the I-Pad screen with my finger & bright bursts of color followed. He soon tentatively unfolded one arm, reached out & did the same. Over 40 years of special education & movement collided & all that previously felt like a long paralleled mass of experience finally merged together. AHA.

Our time together flew by as we did laps on the outdoor track with his tricycle, his feet strapped on to peddles as they turned & him screaming, this time with delight. At the end of the school day, we waited out in front of the school to catch the bus. When it arrived, he broke free from my total grip on his wobbling body & walked, still bent forward, but under his own power to the steps, climbed up & sat down in his seat. I strapped him in, we smiled at each other & away he went.

I recently watched the Sundance documentary, ‘ALIVE INSIDE’, which chronicles the  experiences of seniors & the disabled who have turned completely inward with the combination of institutionalization & medication, & then literally ‘come alive’ through the simple experience of listening to familiar music on headphones. http://www.aliveinside.us/#about

It reminded me of another boy in a special ed. classroom who, in his free time, goes directly to You Tube & Adele videos; rocking back & forth in his chair, smiling & singing a few words here & there, loud & strong. Piecing together my own meaningful movement & special needs experiences is opening up ways of integrating my past, present & future in ways that are only beginning. I too am feeling ALIVE again, inside & out. 


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