Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My New Friend, Nicholas

I love my physical therapist. (And his wife and their staff, I must add quickly, lest I be accused of non-professional intentions.) Thanks to various back injuries, I've been contributing to his children's college funds for the past five years and he has yet to kick me out. Which is great, because his PT clinic includes not only workout equipment tailor-made for those who can't handle the macho stuff in the gym, but exercise tables (with pillows!) and filtered water on tap. As long as I behave myself, don't ask him too many pesky questions, and bring a bunch of homemade chocolate-dipped macaroons around the holidays, I imagine he'll allow me twice-weekly workouts from now until I'm strong enough to bid them adieu. Or forever, whichever comes first.

Yesterday I visited said clinic and began my routine. On nice days, I start with laps around their parking lot. If it's too cold outside, I walk on the treadmill. Since I felt chilled, and it was a slow afternoon, I opted for the 'mill.

About fifteen minutes into a kick-butt session, I was still the only one in the clinic. Then I heard someone come in, but all I could hear was her end of a cell phone conversation. Always the eavesdropper (I have this down to a science, as most writers do), I gleaned that this was one of those conversations one has with one's mate after the resolution of the argument. When the instigating party feels the need to explain why he or she flipped out. I heard phrases like "I didn't feel like you were supporting me," ad nauseum.

After ending her call, she walked out the side door, which lead to the rest room, and she was gone for a good ten minutes. She returned and hopped onto the treadmill next to mine. My PT came in at this point, and started talking to a third person, and from the tone of his voice, apparently this was a very small person.

His name was Nicholas, three years old, and not only did he belong to the woman on the treadmill, but he had been left unsupervised in a non-child-friendly exercise clinic for ten full minutes.

At times I've gotten annoyed with parents who bring very young children into potentially dangerous places and do their own thing, either expecting that the other people there will watch out for their child, or their child is exceedingly disciplined and will remain in the corner with his or her sippy cup for Mom's entire workout and not try to jump on the treadmill while she's walking or attempt to pick up loose dumbbells or use the big exercise balls as hoppety-hops.

But I was in a good mood yesterday afternoon, so I let it slide. Tried to put myself in this mother's shoes. Maybe bringing Nicholas to her physical therapy appointment wasn't her first choice, and some child-care option had fallen through.

My PT (who is excellent with kids…and dogs…and people in general) entertained Nicholas until Mom was ready for her appointment, and then, tucked away in one of the patient cubicles, he was a good boy and didn't move from the chair next to his mother's table. He found the ultrasound machine exceedingly fascinating, especially the goo the PTs used along with it. This held his attention for a while, but like any typical three year old, his mind began to wander.

His body soon followed, and instead of watching boring old Mommy learn how to do her tummy-tightening exercises, he was soon out on the main floor of the clinic, watching me do my exercises.

I had a feeling this would lead to no good, but I started talking to him. I mean, come on. Aside from a basket of kittens, what's more adorable than a three-year-old that isn't yours? And despite what people may think about me, I love children, and don't want to see them harmed by pinching fingers in the springs of a physical therapist's trampoline or pulling dumbbells down on their soft little heads. So while I did my tummy tightening exercises, I entertained him by answering all sorts of questions about the variety of balls all over the floor and on the countertops.

"I like the pink ball the best," I said. I'd just used it for my abdominal crunches, and it was resting in the tenuous crook between my table and the big dangerous metal cabinet that contained all sorts of big dangerous things. I reached over my head and plucked it free. "Here," I said. "You can take this."

Dutifully, he took it, and began arranging all the balls atop the trampoline. The big green exercise ball, which he impressed me by lifting, went on first. Then the smaller ones – the pink one, and then a squishier purple one (he liked the word "squishy") and then the little black one that I liked to use against the wall to give myself a back massage. This activity seemed safe enough.

But then he started getting bold. Twice I had to talk him off of spinning around on the therapists' stool. We got him to sit in Mommy's cubicle again for a while (when he had his box of organic cookies and sippy cup) but once again, more interesting things prevailed. Why is it that the one thing you tell a kid not to do is the only thing that captivates their attention? To Nicholas, that stool must have looked like Christmas morning, a birthday party and a trip to the ice cream parlor all rolled into one shiny package. I tried to divert his focus by playing the "what-are-your-siblings'-names" game, and I dropped his jaw by telling him the names of all of my brothers and sisters (from my wonderful blended, extended family.) This only lasted so long, and he was back on that stool again. Finally, with him atop it, I put a hand on each small shoulder and walked him toward his mother's cubicle. My PT greeted us.

"Maybe we can find something safer to play on," I said.

Soon Mommy was done learning all of her tummy-strengthening exercises, and she started the process of packing up cookies and sippy cups and Nicholas.

As one hand disappeared inside the sleeve of a coat, he gave me a special and simply adorable little smile. "See you later, alligator!" he said.

My heart melted. "In a while, crocodile," I said back.

After they were gone, my PT thanked me for my patience.

"Patience is my middle name," I said.

OK. So I get free gym time and comfy exercise tables and filtered water. Watching out for a kid or two, sometimes a dog…that's hardly a bad tradeoff. Just don't tell my PT that I had fun playing with Nicholas. It will totally blow my image. And we can't have that, can we?

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