“Balance isn’t something you just get,” said my favorite yoga instructor. She’s forever coming up with these isms that sound so obvious rolling off her tongue I feel silly for never having thought of them myself. “It’s something that comes and goes.” We’re crouched in eagle pose, one of flow yoga’s hallmark awkward balances, where the arms are completely intertwined at shoulder height and the standing leg gets all tied up by the free leg. There’s nothing elegant or agile or birdlike about it for most of us, but as our wobbles get smaller and the grunters stop grunting, we relax into relative calm. We are not eagles, we are warped, panting humans. But we are finally still. The teacher continues. “Balance is what comes when we let go of needing balance. When we normalize the fear of falling.” My mind reels. How can I not need balance when I’ve morphed into a human twist-tie? “Remember, falling is okay,” she promises. Good thing, I think.

To be honest, I didn’t really like that class on Saturday. There’s something about walking into a darkish yoga studio when it’s 75 degrees and sunny that feels inauthentic for me. But I did really like that toward the end of the class, Leisha focused on balance. Because her words, spoken and digested when I was really supposed to be not thinking at all, helped me process the fears and worries of my previous weeks.

See, we just started kindergarten. (I know: I’m not in kindergarten, my son is. But the process is certainly family-wide. Ask any new kindergarten mom; we’re all crying or screaming at our husbands or getting hit by our normally gentle children.) I wasn’t worried about Graham when he settled in for his first day. Sure, there were details–where he could put his new walking sticks, and how he’d get to the playground, and whether he’d need help in the bathroom, and why he seemed for forget, so suddenly, how to write his name–but ultimately, on the first day, I didn’t worry a bit about his safety or happiness. He stumbled off excitedly after his classmates, falling occasionally, oblivious to how the school’s well-intentioned mind–and heart-balancing slogan, Got Balance?, mocked him from the back of his school t-shirt as he tottered town the hallway.

The start of kindergarten was much more of a personal crisis for me. On the second day, the assistant head of school called us into her office. “This is going to be more difficult than we expected,” she admitted, eyes grave. She wanted to strategize about how to be patient with Graham’s slower pace without sacrificing the academic time the other kids deserve. My husband and I nodded, smiling, trying to strike the right chord between We told you so and Oh God, what happened? On the fourth day, she called us in again. They’d paired Graham with an intern every day that first week. We think it would probably be best to hire a movement aide for Graham. He’s a trooper, but traversing this school is just too exhausting for him and too time-consuming for the class.

Ultimately, it was the obvious choice. Having someone sweet and strong and kind and interested in Graham’s success dedicated to helping him would make kindergarten work not just for Graham, but for the whole class. But when we heard those words–the ones telling us that despite making huge leaps after a summer of huge efforts he still wasn’t going to hack functioning in a classroom full of typical kids without some serious help–we sagged. How could we tell them that we were thrilled with how fast he was moving? That Graham’s physical therapist said he’d never seen a kiddo adapt to forearm crutches so quickly and easily? That given what we’ve seen from Graham, we were sure the weeks to come would bring big improvements? We were pushed off balance. It felt like we were falling down, all of us together.

My friends didn’t seem to understand. “He’ll be fine,” they assured me. Of course he’ll be fine. Graham is nothing if not a trooper. We’ve found the best aide I could imagine, and Graham seems to understand that he now has permanent support. But he’s also clearly old enough to begin grasping that he needs extra help where other kids don’t, and that hurts a mom’s heart. It hurts like falling.

The question, for me, is whether (and when) I’ll be fine. Whether I’ll find the balance that now, in hindsight, we seemed to find so gracefully and easily within Graham’s preschool. Whether the aide will gain his own instinct with Graham, the way so many other parents and teachers have in the past. Whether every single one of the new kindergarten parents will eventually be able to look me in the eye (and when it will stop mattering to me what they think). Whether I’ll fall every time Graham does, and whether I’ll be able to stand back up as quickly–and with as much courage and as big a smile–as he does so many times every day.

These are the twist-tie days, when I feel like I’m falling almost all the time. Every morning now, I do a little yoga. It’s not the physical kind. (There’s not even any sweating, which is nice.) I just repeat my little mantra: It’s okay to fall.

Then I start a new day, hoping I can let go of needing balance at all. Knowing that someday, I’ll find it again.


Filed under commentary

9 responses to “Balance

  1. Isn’t it in falling that we learn how (and where) to stand?

  2. peggyvonburg

    Beautiful boy, he is. Beautiful mom, too.

  3. Linda

    If I was there, I’d look you right in the eyes, and say, “Hi, I’m Linda, which one of these puppies is yours?” (puppies because when they’re all playing together, they look like a bunch of puppies..8-) It looks like Graham has enough spirit and stamina, and moxie, for him and you and dad! Just follow his lead. He’ll know where to go. They always do.

    xo Linda

  4. I was just telling a story to a friend today, about when Eleanor started walking. Two nights before she really took off, she began a game at bedtime, heavily falling – no, more like dramatically throwing herself – down on her bed. Then crawling/scooting to another spot on the bed, doing a downward dog, her butt high in the air, and pushing off her hands, coming up to standing again. She did this again and again, with a wild, happy grin all the time, and eyes lit up with excitement. But it wasn’t only enthusiasm, it was also this sheer pleasure in the sensation of falling, and maneuvering back up. Two days later, when she really walked, I realized with a start that she had needed to learn how to fall down (joyfully, dare I say?) – and get back to standing without the support of me or a wall – before she could walk. …I share that story not for the parallels in walking, but more because, well, I suppose there’s a good metaphor for work and effort and joy in there, somewhere.

  5. ehopeb

    So glad our paths have crossed! Good to have kind folks along when the falling happens (because it always does in one way or another). Love your blog!

  6. Pingback: Balance

  7. Jess, I so understand you! I have a boy just like yours. He just turned 12 and I think I am finally getting to my balance point (maybe!). And he is a ski racer too. He looked at Graham’s pictures in ski magazine and asked me if we can try to arrange for them to ski together. Let me know if you guys are interested, would love to talk to you and share the ski stories!

  8. I’m late to the game here but this is lovely and heartwarming and heartbreaking and makes me want to hug you across 3,000 miles. Eloquent.

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