(approximately a 2-minute read.)
We zip into the roomy confines of the trampoline—strong enough to hold a Honda, as says the website. I have a special pair of slipper socks dedicated to the cause, and an extra pair of Ruthy-socks in my pocket. We warm up by going around, two or three laps, to get the blood flowing on these frigid days and bounce-out the shoulders and jaw. And it begins.
BE A MONKEY! my near-five-year-old Ruth says. I make monkey noises and tickle my armpits. AND A DINO! I add growls and T-rex arms. PRETEND YOU BROKE SO YOU FALL DOWN! I drop like a sack of potatoes. NOW GET UP AND BE ELSA! I sing Let It Go and shift to grace and ease. NOW OUR SHADOWS ARE LAVA! DON’T STEP ON THEM!! But I already did so I fall to the ground in faux-agony. NOW BE A BEAST! Grrrrrrrr!!!!
NOW A BEAST GRANNY!
And that’s the first five minutes.
It says right there on the handwritten schedule, written in bleedy-sharpie on orange construction paper, the time following lunch is: “Ruth’s outside choice time.” And lately—regardless of my mood, my energy, whether or not I feel “up to it”—it’s been the trampoline.
Experience has taught me that having chunks of distinguishable YES time for Ruth is a mental health necessity for the both of us. But what is beyond clear, after months of this routine in my own little one-woman study, is that there is so much more to it than feeling happy because I’ve made her happy.
On the trampoline, we are literally zipped up from the outside world. I don’t bring my phone (unless it’s on the deck for music, out of reach) and I do whatever I’m told (as long as it doesn’t put me in a position where I would urinate). Lack of distraction and willingness to dive in is required. And as we gain momentum, it’s inevitable that strange voices and goofy movements emerge from the trenches of rawness, and the result is a good ole’ fashioned pile of angst-dissolving laughter. After an hour of this fresh-air, full-body, improv circus, I am awash of any and all little creeping anxieties and buggies of self-doubt. Every. Single. Time. Reminiscent of summertime-pool-therapy, like a dry-air baptism, a cellular re-set.
Much has been written on the mental-health importance of adult playtime. Second City even holds Improv Classes aimed at healing anxiety! And I'm getting it for free and in the comfort of my own (dirt-patched and dog-poop ridden) backyard! Hurray!
Fact: we are still in the trenches. After nearly a year of NO-childcare-NO-playdates and as many times away from Ruth as I can count on half of one hand, I’m scavenging for morsels of sustenance where I can. I’m experimenting, keeping notes on what works.
My mental health is exponentially better-off when I have small humans to show up for. What kind of neurotic quick-sand would COVID have pulled me into without the needs and antics of my kids? Likely I would've watched a ton more TV. Yippee skippy. And I'm guessing I'd have picked up yet another affliction. I’m quite confident this would not have been the era that birthed my first great novel.
When I talk to a friend who is stuck in a tailspin of worry, who has one (older, less ball-busting) kid, I can’t help but to think to myself, “All you need is an hour with Ruth on the trampoline. For reals. And more sleep.”