I’ve started going to the climbing gym in the morning. During my freshman year in college, I judged a class’ merit by its starting time. I majored in whatever subject started at noon. Similarly, I’ve arranged my workday to start a little later, in time with my body clock. This also allows me some stolen moments at the virtually empty climbing wall.
Earlier in the day, there’s usually no one there. I enjoy going at night, too, connecting with winter climbing friends who religiously head to the gym two nights a week and alternate laps on the challenge of the day, marked by a different color on any given night. But I’ve discovered I get more done with less people there; I focus more, I take more calculated rests and above all, I enjoy the head space.
I like working out to music but the stereo isn’t always free. In the mornings, there are kids’ classes on the main floor. The climbing wall is part of the Aspen Recreation Center in the Red Brick Building where gymnastics, yoga and what I’ve come to call socialization classes are held throughout the day and evening.
Tony, the main kid’s instructor, gives me a nod whenever I head in. He knows I like to play music so he’ll let me know if the stereo’s up for grabs: “Hey Jamie, why don’t you play us some music while we bounce across the room?” Twelve pairs of four-year-old eyes look over at me, expectantly.
Most of the time, though, he has a fine-tuned kid’s soundtrack going and so I defer to child development background music. Truthfully, it’s OK. He has some decent stuff on there. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow (don’t be too impressed, I had to look that one up), some hip reggae for kids and just general Jungle Book-sounding music, with a groovy beat. The kids remind me of Mogli from the Jungle Book, running around with messed-up hair and curious expressions, kind of bewildered at this new space full of colors and mats and things to roll over and crawl under and most importantly, other kids to interact with.
I smile at the tunes and the kids exploring their bright new world. A few minutes later, Tony gathers them in a circle to regroup and review group behavior tactics.
A little girl named Daia hasn’t said a word. She’s not ready to talk in public. But she uses her voice. She points at a chair and starts to cry; slow and steady at first, then brings it to a high-pitch wail, the kind that makes moms very sad and makes others falling off the climbing wall decide it’s time for a breather.
“Daia? Sweetie? What’s wrong? You want to sit next to Arabelle? Well, let’s use our words,” says Tony. Silence. “Come on Sweetie. Daia? Repeat after me: ‘Dan’….”
Another little girl chimes in, channeling Daia’s voice like some sort of medium, or Daia ventriloquist: “Dan?”
“Would you please?” continues Tony.
“Would you please?” repeats Daia’s friend.
“Let me sit there?”
Silence. Daia’s friend waits. Daia waits. No response from Dan; just a head shake and a grimace.
“O.K., well, looks like Dan doesn’t want to move,” says Tony, stating the obvious for the record, “so now, we need to deal with this new reality.”
Another voice pipes up from across the circle. “You can sit here, Daia,” says the little girl, a tentative smile on her face, gesturing to the empty seat next to her.
“There we go,” declares Tony. “Problem solved.”
Wow. I’m impressed. Speaking your truth, asking for what you want, registering disappointment, adjusting expectations, action vs. reaction…good solid stuff.
“You know, Tony, I know a few adults who could take your class,” I call across the gym, laughing.
I head back to a neon green traverse, working on endurance today and breathing and just staying on the wall for awhile. It’s my second time back this winter and already, I’ve developed a flapper,(n)- a piece of loose skin, most often on a finger, which peels off from over-gripping plastic holds, most often. Ask Wikipedia.
“Now remember what we say when we head onto the trampoline,” says Tony, to the whole class.
“GIVE. KIDS. SPACE!!!!!” Their vocal chords resonate with ancient wisdom; their voices rise in unison. “GIVE. KIDS. SPACE!” They know this mantra well.
I shake my head, suddenly wishing someone else was around so I could process the greatness. What a phenomenal life lesson, for all ages. How many arguments, bad moods, non-productive conversations have been logged into the miscommunication books because one person needed space and the other wouldn’t give it?
Mental space, certainly; sometimes physical space, too. I think of my own annoyance on a crowded dance floor, when the woman next to me just can’t seem to find her groove without bumping into me, over and over. Yes, I know I’m right up front but still, I’m able to enjoy it without stepping on her foot and hitting her shoulder and spilling my drink on her shoe.
Who knows, maybe I’m just a better dancer.
* * *
Everyone needs space at one time or another. In The Road Less Traveled, author M. Scott Peck cautions against starting meaningful conversations when you’re in a low mood; low energy, low vibrations, nothing of higher value ever gets accomplished.
It’s been awhile, but I cringe, recalling some of my own low mood moments and interpersonal mishaps over the years. Ah, relationships…
Scene 1: I’m tired. Well, we need to talk! Yell, don’t talk. Slam door. Wait 45 seconds. Knock on door. Or open door and look around, depending on whose door is whose.
Alternate Ending: Hang up the phone. Feel superior. Start to call back, then hang up and sit on hands. Congratulate self on self-control. Call back 11 seconds later and let it ring. Still ringing. Hmmph.
Unfortunately, wanting to take it all back and make it all better right away is a pipe dream. Sometimes counting to ten really means counting to seventy-two hours and giving each other space.
Or counting on the fact that later might be a better time to talk.
In my experience when someone says “I don’t want to talk right now”, that means “I don’t want to talk right now”. A friend of mine told me he really loves his girlfriend but he won’t marry her until she learns to give him space; the fact that she pushes and won’t let him feel whatever he’s feeling after a disagreement has led to bigger disagreements, and it really bothers him. Like that Dixie Chicks song (my observation, not his), he’s not ready to make nice and he’s still mad as hell. He needs some time to get over it. He needs some space.
Friends need space too, I’ve realized, to deal with things in their own lives that have nothing to do with me. I’ve learned it’s not always about me; disappointing, but true. Years ago, a friend and I took a road trip to LA. It was a good time, full of giggles, comfortable silences and that deep-talk groove people fall into after about nine hours in the car.
We had a heart-to-heart somewhere between St. George and Vegas. “My dad taught me three really important things,” she said, pointing her fingers towards the windshield: “‘never take things personally, never take yourself too seriously.’” I think about those two a lot; I’ve got a good handle on the second but the first is still pretty challenging, for some reason. I don’t remember the third thing her dad told her but I’m sure it had to do with giving grown kids space.
* * *
Over at the trampoline, Daia’s calmed down; though she’s still not talking, she’s squealing, this time in delight. Tony is calling out other things to keep in mind. Help others! Share! Be POLITE!
I stretch my sore fingers and remember an incident from a trip to Fiji few years back. There were four of us: two of my best friends, myself, and a wild card, one of the friend’s work friends. Four women navigating the other side of the world together. Enter hormonal cycles, international datelines, colossal fatigue and four days of torrential tropical rain. Patience had worn Nicole Ritchie thin and our coping mechanisms for exotic challenges were played out.
Disclaimers aside, Wild Card was a piece of work.
One rainy afternoon, an expat invited us for spontaneous cocktails – are there any other kind? – but we had prior plans for the night and so, on behalf of the group, I politely declined, asking for a rain check. It was the rainy season, I pointed out. The man laughed.
We piled into the car, my friends and I crammed into the backseat while Wild Card, the most high maintenance person I’ve ever met, sat up front. She had this way of finagling the front seat.
“That was so rude, Jamie,” said Wild Card, with a sneer, leaning across her headrest for emphasis.
“Excuse me??” I shot back, leaning forward into the hostile air space between us.
“Yeah. In fact, you’re the rudest person I’ve ever met,” she declared, nodding her head. There was a trace of smirk below her arched eyebrow and a hint of venom on her lip.
“Whoa,” said my friend Sarah, with a slight cough, for emphasis. “Now that doesn’t sound right.”
Fast-forward to behavioral meltdown, heated talk of new lodging arrangements and parting of ways and finally, group talk in the living room, Real World style.
In this case, space was not needed. I daresay we needed an escalation. We needed to deal with the new reality, as Tony would say, and integrate the new information: she and I didn’t get along. And we didn’t like each other. However, the old reality was still in effect: we were on a group vacation down a dirt road, four days into a 15-day adventure and we had to find a way to deal with each other. She apologized, twice in fact, saying she just says what’s on her mind and doesn’t think sometimes; I listened, without interrupting and kind of admired her self-awareness. I moved on. The rain stopped. We put on dresses and went out drinking.
The irony is, we got along quite well after that. We’d come to some sort of understanding, or acceptance, and totally enjoyed one another the rest of the time. My other friends left a day early, so Wild Card and I were last seen together. We survived customs and customs detainment in Australia and even shared a ride through the streets of Sydney. I kind of missed her when the taxi dropped me at my friend’s flat. (That’s Australian for apartment, according to the Foster’s Beer commercial.)
* * *
Space. Lack of space. Dealing with reality. I refocus my thoughts on yellow tape with blue stars and the reality of this morning’s chaffing boulder problem: there’s a big ass-dyno after the third move, and I’m either going to have to grow longer limbs or use the ones I have more efficiently. Damn it.
I glance over at the chitlins. Tony has moved them beneath a giant rainbow-colored sail of sorts; I’m not sure what the lesson is because I can’t see them, can only make out the outline of their little selves crawling around under big sheets of fabric. The mood in the room is optimistic, however; they’ve managed to maneuver the trampoline without trampling on anyone’s fingers. Or feelings.