“My son has a job here,” I said in a much too loud voice, loving the sound of it. “So we have a family membership.” The girl behind the counter scanned my YMCA card. “My son got this for me, because he works here.” I almost couldn’t help repeating myself. I knew I sounded like one of those older women…the ones with the multi-colored tracksuits and cloth visors who constantly refer to their first-born as, “My son the doctor.”
Max has a job. That’s right. It’s part time, mind you. Very part time. And it’s through his school’s vocational program. But it’s a job! Two mornings a week he works for the YMCA helping to clean up the grounds. Sometimes he washes windows. Sometimes he vacuums.
After his first day on the job, Max came home and announced that he wanted to walk on a treadmill. Since our super-helper, Lena, spends every other hour at the gym, she jumped on the idea. And it was a grand success. Max spent 30 minutes in the “Wellness Center” learning how to use the exercise equipment.
So last night, though we didn’t have Lena with us, I thought I’d bring Max solo. I don’t exactly fall into the athletic category. Nor am I a sloth. I’m a walker. My idea of a good workout is three times around the neighborhood instead of two. I call that my triathlon. It’s a large neighborhood mind you. And while I walk I often talk on the phone. So I think that works my arms.
I remember belonging to an exercise club back in the…um…er…1980’s. Going to the gym back then was all about aerobics class. Jane Fonda was in her glory and spandex was in the prime of its life. Most of us were wearing it at some point during the day. I had the aerobics clothes – the pink spandex top, and something that looked like a bathing suit bottom, which you wore over black tights. I remember spending an hour in the dressing room choosing that outfit. I’m sure I struck a few Olivia Newton John poses as I studied myself in the mirror. But when it came time to go to the gym, I was smart enough to leave those clothes in the drawer, and opt for a tee shirt and old baggy sweat pants.
I believe I still have those sweat pants. Because I believe I wore them to the “Y” last night with Max.
Max and I spent the first 20 minutes, side by side, each of us on an elliptical trainer. Max was listening to his iPod, bouncing up and down with each step. He even proved that he could work the machine standing on one leg with the other pulled up like a flamingo. He’s in great shape. All that jumping and dancing, which has collapsed our living room floor, has given him endurance. And style. After our workout, Max dutifully wiped down our machines, and we moved to the treadmills.
This area of the “Wellness Center” intrigues me. There must be 50 treadmills lined up like cars in a parking lot, each occupied with a walker or runner. Windows surround us, showing the beautiful wooded grounds. But we stay inside, in this little glass bubble, as if there weren’t enough oxygen to sustain us in the outer elements. It feels a bit like the nose of a space ship, with all passengers mandated to strength training duty in preparation of alien attack.
No one speaks on these treadmills. No one interacts or even makes eye contact. Not exactly the social opportunity I had hoped for. People face forward, and typically wear headphones attached to an iPod or TV. Actually, the social standard appears to be in line with the characteristics of autism. Max wore his headphones, but oddly enough, he didn’t fit the social expectations. He was too excited, walking on the treadmill at a brisk pace, his lips moving as fast as his feet.
It was 6pm. The YMCA was packed to capacity. Every machine was now occupied. Max kept smiling at me, yelling with excitement in an outdoor-voice. I did my best to smile at the women on either side of us. One was my age, the other a bit younger. Both were wearing spandex. I was not. Neither would acknowledge our obvious presence. I didn’t know people that thin could walk without assistance.
Suddenly, Max stopped his treadmill. I jumped to the side and hit the stop button on my machine. “Are you done, Max?” I asked. “Are you ready to move to the bike?” But he didn’t answer. He looked up at the ceiling, cupped his hands over his headphones, and started to sing. And then, right there on that motionless treadmill, he started to dance. It’s the kind of dance that Max is known for, the kind of dance that happens when the music becomes a part of you, when joy fills the room like confetti. His knees were bouncing and arms flinging. Instead of facing the glass windows, he spun around a few times to face the people behind him.
I held the sides of my treadmill, and bent over in laughter. When I picked my head up and looked around, everyone behind us had caught Max’s joy. Eyes were squinting, smiles were wide, their faces red and sweaty. Even the two exercise queens beside us couldn’t hold back. I might not be athletic, but I’d like to see endorphins do that.
After his 30 second dance, Max started up his treadmill, and resumed his walk.
Yes, my son has a job here.
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