“Do you want to learn how to do a somersault?”
Addie still has her ballet outfit on – leotard and tights – and she’s running around, pretending to be a gymnast. She vaults over my legs, upper body first, legs following, her body slithering down to the ground like it’s no big deal. It seems only one step removed from a somersault.
“Yes! Yes!” She squeals in excitement. It’s contagious; where a moment ago I was sunk down into the couch, exhausted from a night awake with the baby, suddenly I’m smiling and full of energy.
I clear away her toys from a spot on the rug and kneel down. “I’ll show you first,” I say. Then I plant my hands, roll my head forward onto the ground, and . . . freeze.
I haven’t done a somersault in god knows how long. Twenty years? Frankly, I’m not even sure exactly how to go about it. The ground feels hard under my head – hardwood covered by what now seems like a measly, flimsy rug – and I can’t imagine swinging my body up and over and letting it fall. I imagine bones breaking against that hard floor. Or at the very least, black and purple bruises blooming up my back. I push up slightly, not ready to give up yet, but the task seems beyond Herculean. I try to call on muscle memory, hoping my body remembers what my mind doesn’t: how to do this simple, childhood trick.
But my body doesn’t remember. I have never felt so old as I do right now, in this moment of bodily failure.
I sit back on my heels and face my exuberant daughter. “I don’t know sweetie, I’m not sure if I can do it.”
She jumps up and down, not catching my reluctance. “Yes mama, yes! You do it first!”
She’s so sure of herself, so unafraid. She so wants me to show her how to do this thing. This damn thing that she never would have thought of if I hadn’t brought it up first.
I think of everything my body as done: birthed two children, naturally. Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Hiked a fourteener alone in Colorado. I work out; for less than three months postpartum, I’m in pretty good shape. But I just can’t do this. The fact is, I’m afraid.
When I was young and I did somersaults, my body traveled gracefully through the movement. I did them with a running start, or from my knees, or off the bed for god’s sake. There’s even a notorious family movie of me doing them on playground equipment, regularly falling to the ground, while my father looks on laughing and I get up over and over and over again.
But now my body feels stiff and uncertain, each body part has a mind of its own and they’re all protesting this insanity. They don’t work together so fluidly anymore, they don’t move with the grace of childhood.
For the love of god, I tell myself, it’s just a freaking somersault. I kneel down again, head to the floor, and take a deep breath. I look up and meet my daughter’s eyes, and I draw youth from her. I close my eyes. And I roll.
I feel it all. Neck, then shoulders, back, then hips, feet last. Everything hits the ground hard. But I did it! And it was exhilarating! Addie laughs and I laugh and soon we’re rolling around on the floor laughing our socks off. The joy balloons inside of me until I feel light and whole and young again.
I do two more, just to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. And each time, the joy builds. And I think: these are the moments. This is what it’s all about.