Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Trampoline

My mother’s 2007 Christmas gift to the children sat in our garage until April 2009. If I told you why, that would lead to another story, and I want to stay focused today. It was a trampoline for my sons. It was the largest, most industrial, safest trampoline my mother could find, because… “I don’t want my grandbabies getting hurt out there.”

I remember the day my husband and brother put the trampoline up. It was so large, we couldn’t find a space in our back yard – which is a wooded forest – to put it. When we tried putting it in a clearing between our house and the neighbor’s, we received “feedback” from the neighbor. So, several tree cuttings later, the trampoline sat squarely in the middle of our back yard… in direct view of my bedroom windows.

When you were a kid, do you remember the house where all of the kids from the neighborhood hung out? Well somehow, that house became my house. When the trampoline first went up, there were no more than 3 kids allowed on it at any one time, and the older kids directed which children, based on weight and height, could participate at the same time. It was very systematic and I proudly watched from my bedroom window as they fairly managed equal amounts of jump time.

In the beginning, there were only 5 or 6 boys gathered in my backyard after school. But as the school year ended and summer rolled around, the number grew to 10, then 12, then more – girls too. And eventually, the restrictions lessened so that about 6 - 8 kids of various sizes were jumping at once. One day, as I watched with concern, two children aimed balls at the jumpers and they began a dangerous game of Jump-Away-Dodge-Ball. Instead of running outside and putting an end to the risky business, I watched, mesmerized, as the kids were actually able to dodge the balls and flip and fall and get back up. They laughed and high-fived each other as the ones that were hit were replaced by the ones aiming balls into the pit.

Winter soon rolled around, and I was sure the trampoline would be forgotten as the weather turned cold. But the creativity of children is amazing. They found that jumping and falling and bumping into each other with thick, fat coats on was even more fun than jumping without the extra padding. A new game of Bumper-Bodies was created and whoever fell off, was out. Now this may sound unsafe, and it probably was. But as I watched from my bedroom window, ready to spring and run to save a hurt child, they would bump someone off the edge and, he or she would roll softly onto the bed of dead pine needles and leaves. Unscathed, they’d get up, dust off, and get back on.

In January, it snowed, and this brought on a new game of See-Who-Can-Make-The-Snow-Bounce-Highest. That game was combined with Bumper-Bodies and Jump-Away-Dodge-Ball (note: balls were replaced with snowballs that week). And the kids never stopped coming.

One day last month, I noticed there were no kids jumping in my backyard. For the previous 12 months, there had been kids moving vertically in my backyard every non-rainy day. So the absence of bouncing children was a bit strange. Upon closer inspection, I noticed there was a strange dip in the normally taut material in the center of the trampoline. Hm. Eventually, my sons and 4 of their partners in crime trooped into the kitchen with serious faces. “Uh, Mom…”

I’ll spare you the lengthy details of 6 boys trying to explain how they broke the trampoline, but I will tell you that it involved a highly complicated game of heaviest, largest children on one end all jumping as hard as they could at once while small children lifted the rim on the opposite end. Don’t ask… I still don’t understand the concept.

I knew this would be the end of the trampoline and my backyard as the clubhouse. And I have to admit, I was actually a little sad. I would miss seeing how the kids communicated and interacted. I would miss watching them argue and then figure out solutions to their disagreements. I would miss watching new children become part of the Trampoline Family. But most, I would miss watching how innovative they were as they created fresh new ideas for games and activities on the trampoline.

So, you can imagine my surprise when the next afternoon, there were at least 7 kids in my backyard. I stopped what I was doing and sat, mesmerized again, as they worked like little ants to carefully take apart the trampoline. Over the next week, they pulled, pushed, propped, and pitched the poles and metal from the rim of the trampoline. Then they stretched the fabric and netting over the corners of the poles and rim. By the next weekend, they had a covered clubhouse. The twins from up the block brought chairs, and another child from across the street brought an old wooden crate his parents had thrown out to be a makeshift table. Children from everywhere brought books, and toys, and stuff, and things. (I’m not sure how I feel about all that stuff in my backyard, but we’ll discuss that at another time.)

There is a lot to learn from observing children. My sons and their neighborhood friends clearly demonstrated three important facts:

  1. When you get tired of playing the game, create a new one. It can be just as much fun as the old one – maybe better.
  2. There’s room for everyone to get in the game if you take turns and follow the rules. You don’t have to turn anyone away.
  3. When the game becomes obsolete, reinvent it.

Our house is still the house where all the neighborhood kids hang out. And I think I like that…

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I’m planning my 40th birthday celebration. It’s not until December, but I like to plan. Because I’ve started so early, I find myself reflecting on the last 20 years. It’s strange for me, because I don’t feel like that many years have passed. It feels like I did a whole lot of stuff in just a few years.

For most of the people I know, they become morose and depressed as they reflect on the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s of their lives. When I think about my last 20 years, I smile, laugh out loud, shed a tear, and wonder – “How did I do that?”

I didn’t leave college with a plan. I just did what was expected after you leave business school – I went to work for a major company in their management development program. All of my peers did the same thing, and many of them are now Directors, VPs and top executives at companies around the world. But I knew early on, it just wasn’t for me. I hate pantyhose – always have. I love to wear heels, but not the kind that are appropriate for Corporate America. I like to wear suits, but my taste is a bit more colorful, shape-showing and sometimes Bohemian. Not exactly the right fit for a Fortune 500 company. So I left the rat race – against the advice of my peers, friends and mother – and started teaching aerobics and personal training in a gym. I was happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

I didn’t have a plan for a relationship or it’s future. I just did what felt right. I continued dating my college sweetheart after graduation and between multiple long distance moves, because no one was better than he was and is. When he asked me to marry him, I was shocked because - unlike most of my college friends - I wasn’t trying to hook a man, I was partying and enjoying life. So... we got married. I was happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

When we found out I was pregnant, we – and my entire family – were completely surprised. My family was concerned because I loved to travel and get lost and end up in weird places and explore and come home whenever I felt like it. I loved to party and sleep and get up whenever I wanted to and… just be free to be me. But sure enough, along came my first son, and I fell in love immediately. And he simply traveled with me and got lost with me and explored the world with my husband and me. Having a child stifles some people. For me, it made exploring and learning even more fascinating because I experienced the wonders of life through my baby’s eyes. And I didn’t stop partying - I just got a babysitter and kept on dancing with wild abandon to drummers and house music and hip hop. I was happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

I decided to take advantage of an ad I saw in a fitness magazine for aerobic instructors to teach while traveling. So, I taught Yoga and dance and water aerobics at resorts in Jamaica for many years. I got free vacations, made wonderful friends that I still talk to and visit in Jamaica, and I feel like I have another home to go back to. I explored Jamaica with my husband and my son, and had one of the best girlfriends' parties ever there. I was REAL happy and having LOTS of fun and that’s what life is about.

One year, I thought I could make a fitness video just like Donna Richardson. So I did. In fact, I made six of them that sell internationally. And I made a television show that aired for two years. And I hosted the fitness segment on the weekend news for over a year. And I started presenting on the fitness conference circuit. So what if I was pregnant with my second child and raising a 3-year old toddler. I did it all anyway. Why not? I was happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

Who decides to pack up their entire life – spouse, children, tv career, local fame – and move to another state and start all over again? Me. And it was the best move of my life. I spent a year getting my children settled in a new house, in new schools, and personally making new friends. Then I thought about what I hadn’t done in life and still wanted to do. I wanted to open my own fitness studio. So I did. The classes are packed, we’re hosting private exotic dance parties almost every week, I get to do Yoga every day, and I’m positively changing peoples’ lives every day. I am happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

Who thought a woman that likes to dance barefoot, water ski in a thong bikini, and knows more hip hop history than most men raised in the 80s could be a community leader? Not many people. But sure enough, I’m the president of the a local business organization, a regular fixture at the county’s Chamber of Commerce, a former representative for the school board, and very involved in local economic development. I am happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

Was it all good times and easy street and fun? No. There were - and still are - challenges, struggles, mistakes and painful endings. But those things make life interesting and colorful. They also make the good times feel so much better. They create character, empathy and understanding. They keep hypocrisy at bay. Most importantly, they offer wisdom that can only come from personal experience.

So here I am. 8 months shy of 40. I’ve done more with my life in the last 19 years than most people do in a lifetime. I have absolutely no regrets about any of my decisions in life. I’ve experienced life as a single person and a married person, a mother of a newborn and a mother of a son as tall as I am, an employee and a business owner, a face in the crowd and a leader in the community, a shy wall-flower and a party animal, a student and a teacher, a magazine reader and the cover model on a magazine, an avid reader and a popular writer. I don’t have limits. I don’t allow people to tell me what I cannot do. More importantly, I don’t allow me to tell me what I cannot do. I live every day like a new opportunity to create an adventure without restrictions. I am happy and having fun and that’s what life is about.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Woman vs. Wasp

I know better than to think that 15 minutes is more than enough time to gather my notes, computer, fix myself up, check on the kids home from spring break, and drive to the studio for my private training client. I'm right.

3:40 pm
That's what the glowing red numbers indicate on the digital clock beside my bed. I had come home from work since the boys were home for spring break. They were doing their usual thing - picking on each other, screaming names at each other, throwing pillows and sharp objects across the landing and down the stairs at each other. Nothing special. So I had holed up in my bedroom, spread stacks of papers, receipts, invoices and contracts around me on the bed, and propped my cute little MacBook on the lap desk my mother gave me for Christmas.

(Note: I LOVE my lap desk. My mother loves holidays and preparing gifts - especially for holidays (see my blog "Vacation"). What makes her even more special is that she knows her targets well and always gives gifts her recipients will use and cherish. Hence my appreciation for the lap desk - she knows I love to sit in my bed and she knows I love to work on my laptop. Now I do it on my lap desk.)

As I finish paying the last invoice online and noting it in one of my many black cash books, I glance at the clock and see the time. 20 minutes before my next client.

3:45 pm
I file and repack all the stacks and zip my precious Apple notebook into my computer bag. I (reluctantly) climb down from the bed and go to inspect myself in the bathroom mirror. Everything looks good, so I smooth down my shirt, blot a little shine from my face with a hand towel, and exit my private sanctuary grabbing my computer bag as I go.

3:48 pm
"Mommmmm, my eyes are BURNING," my preteen says as he rubs his red, puffy, allergy eyes. Tears leak out of the corner of his left eye as he tries to see through his swollen lids.

Sigh... I run back to my bathroom, dig through my makeup case until I find the bottle of Allergy eyedrops. As I run back out and tilt his head back, my cell phone rings. I prop the phone between my shoulder and ear and start whisper/pointing directions to the preteen who really hates getting drops in his eyes.

Soccer coach wants him to play a tournament in Charlotte, NC next weekend. Can he make it? Hm, can he drive himself up there? Sigh... I'm holding my computer bag, two purses (one black, one brown - I have to match and I haven't had a chance to switch them yet), a cell phone to my ear, squeezing a bottle of eyedrops into a squirming preteen's eye and trying to think of my husband and my work/travel schedule for the next weekend. "Uh, can I check with my husband and get back to you by 5:00 today?"

3:55 pm
I put the bottle of drops on the table, ask the boys not to fight until I get back home (yeah, right), snatch my keys off the counter and run out the door. I have exactly 5 minutes to drive 6 miles through stop lights to my 4:00 client. I can do it!

3:58 pm
I am cruising through the 1st of 3 stop lights and talking to my husband on the cell about the soccer tournament when I notice a huge gold and black wasp as big as my pinky finger sitting calmly on my leg.


I beat, slap and pound on my leg with the cell phone. The wasp and my cell phone go flying across the car. As the protective case around my cell phone smashes apart (thank goodness for those hard plastic cases), my mind registers that I am driving 45 mph down a two-lane street. I look up and notice I am careening into the other lane and swerve back into mine. Then I hear my husband's tiny voice somewhere in space - "Thea, Thea, Thea!"

I grope around on the floor of the passenger side with one eye on the wasp climbing the passenger-side door and the other on the street. I calmly smile into the phone, "Oh, hi Maurice. Sorry about that. A wasp was on my lap." Out of the corner of my eye, I see the wasp climbing to the level of the window. "Uh, I have to go now. I'll call you back, okay?" I drop the phone on the seat next to me and check the time on the dashboard.

Normally my being a minute or two late wouldn't be a problem. But our studio isn't open until 5:00pm in the evenings. That means my client will be waiting outside of a locked, dark studio in the heat and pollen. We don't treat our clients like that.

So... I start to calculate. I am now 2 miles from the studio and the wasp is resting peacefully on the ledge between the door handle and window of the passenger side. I figure I can make it. I keep driving and hoping...

The wasp gets caught in a breeze coming through the window and flies across the car toward me. I scream again - louder and longer than last time - and start flailing my arms around my head. Yes, I'm still driving - without hands. My good sense gets the best of me, and I grab the steering wheel with one hand and grab a bunch of my long dredlocks with the other. I start swinging my hair like a weapon, not knowing where the wasp is or caring - all I know is that I can hear it buzzing so it's too close to my head for comfort and it MUST GO.

My mind starts to work again and I see a driveway into a neighborhood. I slow down, pull in and stop right in the middle of the lane. Too bad if someone is trying to come home, I can't move right now. Shaking, I scan the car with laser-like vision and listen acutely for the buzzing I know so well. Nothing. Then I start itching. I feel like the wasp is climbing up my arms and down my back and across my neck. Ew.

I pull cautiously out into the street and finish the commute into the parking lot of my studio. I see my client peering through the front door window and I imagine her wondering if I've forgotten our appointment or whether she has the right time. I take a second to glance at myself in the rear-view mirror, tuck a stray loc, smooth down my eyebrows (they always stick up anyway), and pick up all three of my bags and parts of my cell phone.

"Hi Patti!" I say brightly, like nothing has happened. "Sorry I'm late - come on in and let's get to work."