Why I’m Jumping Up and Down

Yesterday, I receive a large, bumpy envelope in the mail from the Baker family.  I know it’s gonna be good. 

This is from the mother who advised me that the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children.   This family doesn’t own a television set, and the children don’t play computer games.  Whenever they come to visit, I’m inspired to find new ways to take my children away from the screen. 

Just yesterday, we walk in the woods. 

My daughter’s image blurs as she races away. 

Breathless from running, she pauses to show me leaves larger than she knew existed. 

Back home, I remember how much I want to keep my children (and myself) moving.  

I open the large envelope and find a gift from the family-who-owns-no-television.  

It’s new double-dutch jump ropes!  My friend has sent long jump ropes made of soft rope that don’t hurt your ankles when you mess up.

Her timing is perfect.  Monday night, we resume our Neighborhood Double-Dutch Challenge in the parking lot.  Because of the time change and the warm weather, we can finally go back outside.   We’ll work on jumping in, turning the ropes for each other, and singing all the old songs. 

Who needs television when you have a double-dutch challenge? 

___________________
Journal:  What are my plans to move more this Spring? 

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When the Competition is You

Last night for Neighborhood Fitness Group, we dance our normal dances and crawl around like wild animals.  But then, the children beg for “The Jump Rope Challenge.”  Turning jump rope in a basement is a challenge in itself, but we figure out a way to make it work.

“The Jump Rope Challenge” isn’t a normal competition.  It’s a battle against your own best record.  Before each child begins jumping, he or she announces a personal goal.  Sometimes, this number is 10 jumps.  Sometimes, it’s 110 jumps .  There’s a scorekeeper, cheerleaders, and rope turners, so everybody has a role to play.

A little girl jumps.  We cheer when she surpasses 10 jumps and reaches 39.  The next one exceeds 100 and achieves 102 jumps.  The next one beats his record of 18 and goes for 21 jumps.  High-fives!  Loud cheering!

The fun of the challenge is that you beat yourself.

I’m amazed because the children don’t compare their record to other records.  The moment jumping rope is about their personal best–unique to them, in their stage of life, set right at their fitness level.  My sister has told me for years about the running world and “personal records.”  It’s not important who finishes ahead of or behind you.  You have your own time to beat. 

I keep turning the jump rope, and my arm feels like it’s going to give out.  I tell myself to keep turning so that a little boy can reach his personal best.  Somewhere deep inside of him, he musters up the strength.  I see his face, and I try to imagine what’s going on inside of his head.  He wants to quit; I see that.  But he doesn’t. 

The scorekeeper records the personal win.  We tape the evidence to the wall.  Maybe I’ll keep these charts in my basement for 20 more years.  Maybe I’ll show them at their high school graduation and remind them of these nights in my basement when they accomplished a personal best and the neighborhood cheered.

They wanted to quit, but they didn’t.

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Darning a Hole in Your Community

Last night, our neighborhood launched the second year of Monday Night Neighborhood Fitness Group in the parking lot.  We had children and adults jumping rope while others biked, skated, threw football and Frisbee, walked a circuit around the perimeter, flew the big turtle kite, or raced up the steep hill beside the parking lot.

From above, I wondered if we looked like one huge mass of criss-crossing elements filling in the space.  We wove in and out, passing one another.  

I thought of darning. 

Darning is the technique one uses to repair a hole in fabric or knitting.  I learned that a knitter makes a framework around the hole and then uses a crisscrossed pattern to fill the gap.  My friend alerted me to this concept two days ago when I mentioned that the beautiful socks she knit me last year were beyond repair with two gaping holes in the heels.  She says, matter-of-factly, “I’ll just darn them for you.”  

Darning reminds me of how scabs form on the body.  Platelets, fibrin, and plasma all work together to form a web around the wound–filling it in and sealing the hole. 

There’s something beautiful in the webbing and criss-crossing that must take place to repair a hole or a wound.  It happens when we repair fabric or our own bodies, but it also happens in our lives.

I thought about my community and all the ways we hold each other in place, all the ways we intersect, gather in, unite, and fill each others lives. We choose to deliberately criss-cross.  We are wound healers when we come together like this. 

Something was darned in my heart last night–some gaping hole I hadn’t remembered was there.  I only played for an hour.  The sun set upon us, shining gold through the trees in the distance, and there I was, jumping double dutch (making a fool of myself) with these folks I’m living life with. We aren’t related by blood.  We were strangers a few years ago–some a few days ago.  Now, we are something else.   I’ll gather on the asphalt every week with these people:   platelets, fibrin, and plasma that circle, web, and heal.

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The Double Dutch Challenge

I learned Double Dutch with the neighborhood children.

I did it. Seriously, I did.

It was a community effort. One mom bought the jump ropes at a sporting goods store, one mom offered her vague memories of how to do it, and one mom agreed to turn the ropes with me.

We read an instruction booklet first.

So there we stood, us moms and dads, with all these children around us, rising to our newest neighborhood flair challenge: Learn Double Dutch jump rope.

It’s a terrific game to learn. Think about the fact that two ropes are turning in opposite directions, fast, and some child (or adult) jumps over these ropes in a sequence that resembles running in place or else doing little hops to avoid getting tangled up. We practiced turning the ropes (that’s a sport in itself), we sang traditional jump rope songs (something about candy), and soon, 6 children learned this skill. We cheered each time. We slapped high-fives. We celebrated like we were at the Olympic Games.

And then it was my turn.

I am an older woman, remember. Put it this way: I jiggle in places and need support in more ways than one. But I always wanted to learn Double Dutch, and for whatever reason, I never took the opportunity.

Well, now. If I’m going to live with flair, I can’t let this be.

It took me two tries, and I did it. I maybe jumped 5 times in total, and I didn’t get tangled up in ropes or anything. It’s actually not that hard once you learn to jump really fast. Now I’m moving on to performing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” moves while I Double-Dutch (thanks for the suggestion, friends).

What made it an overwhelming flair moment? Double Dutch represented the best of community organizing. We set a goal, we divided tasks, we gathered to accomplish our goal, and then we celebrated. As I teach my family about community service, I instill the value of building a neighborhood. We are learning how to gather people together around common goals.

Our neighborhood values physical fitness and raising children with the skills they need for life-long health. We can’t do this alone. We need the group.

Something about this shared task of learning Double Dutch felt truly authentic. I’m not sure how to define it other than to tell you that authentic community involves jump ropes. I keep them in my minivan at all times.

Besides, life is hard. Some days I feel like I’m trying to jump over ropes going in opposite directions with out-of-control schedules, sick children, working, and just living. But then I look up, see my community with their hands on the ropes, steadying me, encouraging me, looking me straight in the eyes and saying: You can do this, Heather! Ready, Set, Go! And the ropes turn, and the neighbors cheer, and then I’m doing it! I’m doing this impossible thing that I couldn’t do just yesterday!

Having a neighborhood that comes out to play after dinner is community flair. We value exercise, and now, we value it with flair. Living with flair means keeping jump ropes in the back of your minivan just in case the neighbors come.

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