Splits Happen

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Friday night arrives and I sit with the others in the sacred section of bleachers beside the band and directly in front of the 50- yard line.  We are a formidable bunch with our matching royal blue t-shirts and dark sunglasses, cameras posed for that perfect action shot, camcorders whirring in anticipation.  The girls march past us, buns bobbing, and I search hopefully for my daughter, then exhale when I spot her once again sitting alone in the stands, looking down at her jazz shoes that have yet to dance on the field.  Another failed try-out and once again she would not be performing at half-time.

I mutter under my breath, “What a bunch of bull…”

“Splits!” cries the booster president beside me as she clicks furiously at her camera.  “This is my favorite part!  Aren’t they amazing?”

I nod in agreement.  I had not missed one performance.  The Pacesetters are award winning, their toes practically grazing their ears as they high kick in sync to “Living on a Prayer”, then leap and land in a line of perfect splits.

Splits happen, it seems, just not to my daughter.   And that is how I find myself after years of reminding her to sit like a lady, cross her ankles, keep her legs together, encouraging her to do just the opposite.

I try reasoning with her the next day.  “It’s all in your head.  If you set your mind to it, you can do anything,” I lie, knowing full well if there were a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot, my hamstrings would shrivel into knots before letting me pick it up.

There is only one game left, I remind her and I have yet to capture one photo of my daughter on the field.  I suggest hot baths and stretches.  She rolls her eyes dramatically and taps out something on her phone.  Pilates or yoga will increase her flexibility, I counter, just to have her record me at an unflattering angle so she can send her friends video vines of my double chin.   I promise her fresh baked chocolate chip cookies if she will only practice, a bribe that never failed to produce when she was younger.  But now she is older with a smartphone and a mom she thinks is anything but.

“I can’t do it!  I’ll tear a ligament!” she cries and storms off into the kitchen.  “And I’ll make my own freaking cookies!”   She picks up the can of PAM for emphasis and sprays a cloud of cooking oil all over the pan and most of the floor.

“That’s it!  Give me your phone,” I order, grabbing it from her hand and placing it out of reach high on a shelf.

“I’m waiting for a call.  Give it back!” she roars, a demon in a pair of black practice hot shorts far smaller than any lingerie I wore on my honeymoon.

I take a deep breath and speak slowly, as if addressing a rabid dog.  “Practice your splits and you get the phone back.”

She stares me down, fury flashing across her face.  Planting her hands defiantly on her tiny hips, she slowly slides one foot in front of the other and with agonizing precision, proceeds to lower her body until she stops abruptly 12 inches from the floor.  Then a split personality possesses her and she begins to cry.

I feel instantly guilty at her unexpected show of weakness.  After all, the only thing I stretch these days is the truth.  “Look, that’s better,” I cheer.  “You’re almost there.  Just try to hold it one more minute.”

The shrill ring of her phone pierces her concentration and she jumps up.   We dash across the Pam coated kitchen tile, skidding into each other, leap for the phone and with a horrible tearing sound and a scream, land in a tangled mess on the floor.

“Mom, look!” she cries, waving her cell phone in the air like a pom -pom.  “I’m doing the splits!  I’m doing the splits!”  She rubs her legs in disbelief.  “But I definitely heard something tear.  I hope I’m ok.”

“That would be my pants,” I guess as I clutched my lower back and struggle to get up from the slippery floor.

Friday night arrives and I lie in my bed propped up with a pile of pillows, a heating pad set on high against my back.  My daughter stops by my room on her way out, hair sleeked back in a bun, wearing her blue and white game uniform and a broad smile.

“I’m really sorry you won’t be able to see me dance,” she says as she hands me a plate of freshly baked cookies.  “The doctor said if you would do your stretches, your back would get better.”  She pauses.  “You know the pain is all in your head.  You could get out of bed if you set your mind to it.”

I roll my eyes at her, wave her away and reach for the Advil on my nightstand.  My back is killing me.  And suddenly, I have a splitting headache.

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Spin Cycle

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I survived my last birthday, and even learned to live with the pile of unwelcome gifts from Mother Nature, including roots that give Fifty Shades of Gray new meaning. Some of Her presents, after all, were as subtle as sweat in the middle of winter, and as tiny as the cluster of smile lines barely visible to the farsighted eye.  She even sent me a greeting card in the mail under the guise of an AARP membership, which fluttered to the bottom of the trash with the other junk mail.

She also blessed me with saddlebags full of cellulite and a healthy dose of absent-mindedness which I promptly forgot all about.  But surely this is one of the more glaring gifts of aging I thought: agreeing to do something that just months ago in my cautious youth I would have had the good sense to refuse.

“How’d you like to teach the spinning class tomorrow?” the manager of Bally fitness dared me on the way to Zumba last night.  “I just lost my instructor and I’ve seen you take the class,” he eyed me warily.  “Unless it would be too much for you…”

“Sure!” my 20-something mind answered, flattered.  “I’ve been taking the class for years,” I bragged, so much for being older and wiser.

“Are you crazy?” my 50-nothing body argued back.  “You weigh more than you ever did nine months pregnant and will have to wear spandex.  In a mirrored room!”

Somehow, the next day, armed with an iPod of 80’s hits and a sense of false bravado, I sucked in my stomach and entered the Spinning room, smiling confidently at the class already seated on the 14 spin cycles facing the mirrored wall.

“Where’s Veronica?” a blonde in a pumped up jog bra whined through bee stung lips, giving me the once over.  “Seriously!”

I plugged in my iPod and climbed onto my bike facing the class, trying to ignore the fact that my spandexed bottom was on display from every conceivable angle.  “I Will Survive” bellowed from the speakers and I began to pedal as if what was left of my life depended on it.  A bored young man glanced at his watch.  I turned up the volume and pedaled faster.  The blonde rolled her eyes.  It was then that I remembered another advantage of growing older: you just don’t care what people think anymore, unless they think you’re old.

“She’s old enough to be my mother,” the fit young man hissed, then smirked as he witnessed my confidence exhale like the air in a balloon.

“I’ll show you mother!” I muttered, and made it my personal goal to wipe that snarly smirk off the man’s face.  This was war, and it would not end until the blonde’s sweat was pooled in a puddle at her feet and her boyfriend begged for mercy.

Faster and faster I pedaled, cuing the class through standing climbs, jumps and switchbacks.  I was a vision in the mirror, a crazed woman with a halo of hair frizzing around my face, one lone gray hair standing defiantly like a diamond studded exclamation point at the top of my head.  My varicose vein pulsed to the beat of the music.

“Old enough to be your mother,” I mumbled under my breath.  “What a load of bull… “

“Sprint!” I demanded.  “Faster!”

It was then I noticed an older gentleman at the back of the class.  He met my gaze and smiled, fanning himself with his hand.  If I could have caught my breath at this point in the workout, I would have breathed a sigh of relief.  At last I had some positive feedback.  “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA came on and to my surprise, he pointed to his chest, then gestured to me, clearly moved by the words.  I felt my face flush, and looked away.

It had been several years since my divorce, and I had devoted myself to my children, which gave me little time to meet new men, to date.  I glanced back at him.  He looked me in the eye from across the room and pantomimed his hand holding a drink, bringing it to his lips, suggestively.  I glanced away, embarrassed at the attention.  I was a professional.  It would be inappropriate for me to meet with a student out of class.  Still his desire was unmistakable.  I took the class through a grueling series of jumps, trying to clear my mind.

I had always pictured myself with someone closer to my age, but if I squinted, he almost resembled the Dos Equis man, the distinguished bearded model on all the beer commercials.  I don’t date men from the gym often, but when I do, it’s…

“Dose of your own medicine, that’s what you need,” I thought, looking at the fit young man and the blonde in the front row.  Good things come those who wait and I’ve waited a long time for this, for a second chance at life.  I might be old, but I’m not dead, and I’m not going to let this opportunity race by me.

I began the cool down, and looked back at my admirer.  He winked at me this time, tugged at his shirt collar, and raised his hand to his mouth in a drinking motion.  Then he hugged the handlebars of his bike as the last song came to an end, a man spent and satisfied, soon to be hungering for more.

“Yes!”  I cried, smiling triumphantly as I hopped off my bike.  I will meet you after class for a drink.  I will ride off into the sunset with you.  I will be yours forever, my knight in shining Under Armor.

I started for the door.

“That was a killer class!” announced the fit man, his mouth hanging open in surprise.  I stopped long enough to gloat as the blonde beside him swiped at the rivulets of black mascara crying down from beneath her Botoxed brow.  “That old dude’s barely moving.”

“They’re just jealous,” I thought as I hurried to the locker room, wanting to freshen up before happy hour with my new friend.

Fifteen minutes later, I floated out of the locker room in a cloud of Cavalli and waited expectantly for my date to show up.  I would never quit my job, I thought, even though he probably is a retired millionaire and will want to travel the world with me.  I will always remember my humble beginnings, my first class.  Deep in thought, I almost didn’t hear the wail of the ambulance outside.

“Where have you been?” my manager demanded, rushing up to me.

“I was just getting changed.  I had the best class!  Everyone loved me.  Well, some more than others, obviously.”  I glanced around for my date.  If he stood me up, he was a dead man.
“You’re fired!” my manager barked at me.  “Didn’t you see that poor old man in your class?  He collapsed!  This blonde told me he was trying to get your attention.  Didn’t you notice?  We had to call an ambulance!”

“That’s impossible!” my 20 -something mind argued.  “Things like this don’t happen.”  I clutched my mouth as the paramedics wheeled my ashen admirer out of the Spin room.  He winced when he saw me, and weakly pointed his middle finger at me, a last defiant gesture.

“The nerve of him!” my 50-nothing body protested.  “If he thinks I’m going to nurse him back to health, he’s got another thing coming.”

I turned my spandexed bottom to him and strode out of the gym.  Dating was like riding a bike.  All I had to do was hop back on and it would all come back to me.  And thankfully by tomorrow, my aging mind would let me forget my broken heart.