I spun from the refrigerator to the sink. Dumping a bundle of carrots on the counter, I twirled toward the stove where a kettle lid was jiggling noisily. My fifth grade daughter Tammie, sat reading a book in the corner of the kitchen. Ninth grader Niki, leaned on the counter next to the sink eating an apple.
Earlier, when I picked them up after school, I had asked, “How was your day? Tell me about it.” They’d each given me the typical non-verbal shrug.
I knew from experience that I’d opened a channel of communication. If I was patient and listened, by the end of the evening their experiences of the day would slowly unwind for us to share.
Tossing her apple core into the wastepaper basket, Niki proudly announced, “My gym teacher asked me today if I was a dancer.”
Looking up from my gravy-making, I inquired, “What gave her the idea that you danced?”
Niki answered with a chuckle, “She had the class doing stretches. I was able to do them easily. She told me people who dance are usually more flexible than those who don’t.” Drawing herself up as tall as she could, she proudly proclaimed in an exaggerated drawl, “I am flex-i-ble!”
Laughing, I instructed, “Ok, flexible girl…show me those stretches!” While I finished supper preparations, both Niki and Tammie were on the kitchen floor doing splits.
For the next few weeks, when Niki was goofing around, she would throw back her head, stick out her chest and proudly proclaim, “I am flex-i-ble!”
One day I commented to my daughters, “I think some people are flexible because they do special exercises. Other people are flexible because it runs in their family. Grammy Altmann is very flexible for being in her late 80’s. I can stretch almost as far as you, even although I’m almost 30 years older. When your little sister wore leg braces, she used flexibility and strength to get herself off the floor.”
Nodding, Niki threw back her head and proclaimed, “WE are flex-i-ble pe-ople!”
Niki and Tammie grew up and left home, but to this day we remember Niki’s boast, “I am a flexible person!”
It is wonderful if you are physically flexible enough to do a grand jete’, but being flexible in other ways, to change your schedule to help someone move, paint a room or keep them company at a difficult time, is an ability we may not be born with. Life is filled with desires for things, goals and activities that makes it hard to be open to others’ wants or needs.
Although my daughters have busy lives, I admire how they always try to lend a helping hand. Niki will be in there painting the ceilings and lifting the heaviest boxes. Unable to reach as far, or lift as much, Tammie provides technical and research assistance.
Accepting unwanted changes is another form of flexibility. Often entwined with grief or disappointments, mastering this form of flexibility with grace makes it all the more amazing. Losing a job and having to move are big issues. But the loss of a dear family member makes other losses pale in significance. I again see my daughters excelling in the flexibility needed for this dance of life.
When my husband Arnie died, a huge, gaping hole opened up in our lives. We danced around the edges, tying not to fall in. To stretch and thrive was our way of honoring his memory.
Eight years later when Niki’s husband, Mike died, another huge hole opened up in our lives. This hole was even more challenging because their children were so young.
At a recent family gathering, I looked around at everyone at my dinner table. The last few years have not always been easy, but I don’t recall seeing much self-pity. With pride and satisfaction, I thought to myself, “We are flexible people!”