I’ve written about my mother being self-conscious about her fat. Afraid of other people thinking she was fat, afraid of not being able to walk far enough, of not being able to find a chair that fit, of being unable to defend herself if physically attacked. Mom was also self-conscious of being out of shape and having an “ignorant-sounding” accent.*
Mom broke her leg when I was 10. She was 45. Spending months with her left leg in a cast from hip to toes probably atrophied some muscles. I quickly learned to tighten my core muscles so I could help her up off the couch without hurting my back. I don’t recall Mom doing physical therapy when the cast got off; I do recall that after that year she gardened less, walked less, and generally seemed less active. Arthritis seemed to bother her more; her back pain became more severe. She began to see a chiropractor regularly.
It was a few years after the cast came off that Mom’s best friend, who she’d routinely gone shopping and to lunch with, ended up moving away. During prior summers Mom and her best friend would load up kids, coolers, blankets, towels, and so forth and take us off to one of the local parks most every day. Without her friend, though, Mom decided the park was too crowded. Wrangling kids and a cooler and blankets and towels and so forth around a park may not have been all that much activity, but it’s certainly functional fitness.
By the time I was 15 or 16 I was doing all the Christmas shopping so that Mom could “avoid the crowds” at the mall; a few years later Mom confessed that she didn’t think she could walk the length of the mall anymore. I carried a pillow into movies so she could sit more comfortably, offered my arm for support when Mom climbed stairs, or pulled her up if she were on a low seat or the floor. This continued through college, until I moved out. I was 25 then; Mom was 59.
How much of her back and leg pain was due to injuries and arthritis, and how much was due to muscles that weren’t strong enough to work effectively? I don’t know. I do think she had a reinforcing negative spiral: she exercised less because she felt out of shape; she became more out of shape because she exercised less.
I do know that I developed a self-image of myself as strong and capable due to spending my teen years in my self-appointed role as Mom’s caretaker. I know that part of why I was frightened by injuring my knee was “I don’t have mobility problems, Mom does“. And I know that one of my motivations to exercise is because it may not let me avoid my mother’s problems — but I’m fairly sure that NOT exercising would make me repeat them.
*Southern accents weren’t exactly “in” during the 70s in Seattle. One speech therapist blamed my lisp on Mom’s tendency to add “r”s to things like “warsh” and “Warshington”. Funny how Mom didn’t have a lisp, and mine went away with orthodontia and practice.