Dear Vigilant Mom at Adaptive Zumba,
I was watching you in Zumba class and I hope you don’t mind if I offer a bit of advice. This class will be really great for you and your son …. if you could just chill out a little. (No, this isn’t a critique of your dance moves, that’s for another letter.)
I bet you heard about this fun cardio-fitness class offered by a local parks and rec adaptive program from other parents whose teens/young adults attend. I’m sure it took you a few months to get up the nerve to sign your son up, because you just never know if he’ll like it. But the once-a-week class is less than 20 bucks, right? So, you gave it a try.
I heard you tell the instructor that your son has never taken a class like this before, but I could tell from the first day that your kid really likes being here. Oh, I know there was some anxiety at first, since he (and you) didn’t know what to expect. But it was clear by the third class, he was so happy to be there. I mean, of course he was. Upbeat music. Repetitive movements. Welcoming instructor. Enthusiastic peers. Wall-to-wall mirrors. It’s like Zumba was made for him, right? It’s a dance party in here.
I watched you encouraging him to follow the instructor, and showing him the steps. You were so happy every time he started to move his arms or legs (but usually not both together) to follow the routine. He truly has such good rhythm! But he’d only move for a few beats and then pause to stand and watch or spin those beads. You seemed a little disappointed when he stopped dancing, and I could see that you were struggling to find the right balance between insisting he dance more (“I know he can do this!”) and letting him do his own thing.
Trust me, even if he’s not dancing the whole time, he’s having fun. Just look at that grin!
Your son seems to enjoy watching the other students, too. Every time a new song starts, the regulars get excited to hear another favorite tune and begin dancing together in a familiar sequence they’ve learned through repetition. Even if they lose track, they can jump back in at the chorus as the key moves are repeated. Some of the participants crowd the instructor in their enthusiasm, prompting her to place blue tape on the floor to remind them to give her (and themselves) more space to move.
But your son hangs at the back of the room, and your attempts to coax him closer to the center of the room only work temporarily. I watched him gradually move (to the beat) back towards the wall each time you tried. It’s ok if he stays near the wall, mom. He’s giving himself the space he needs to enjoy the class.
Did you notice that most of the other students don’t have an aide dancing next to them? A few do, of course, but most others are Zumba-ing on their own, while their attendants watch from the chairs at the side of the room. You could just sit and watch, you know. Your son is an adult now, isn’t he? About 18? Even if he still needs supervision and assistance for other daily living tasks, in a class like this, he can make his own decision to participate (or not) in the way he feels comfortable. It is recreation, after all.
And, it’s Adaptive, which means it’s designed to give people with disabilities access to recreational activities. Everyone, no matter how they are able to or choose to participate, is welcome and encouraged here. Try to remember that it’s not just about his fitness and health. Being here in the group and enjoying himself is also good for his self-esteem and quality of life too. And, I imagine, yours too.
I know you’re worried that he won’t exercise at all if you’re not next to him modeling the steps and encouraging him to try, but he might surprise you. I’m sure he has a great memory, and after a few more classes, he is going to have these cardio moves memorized. It is sweet, though, how he came to get you when you tried to stand off to the side during one song. Maybe he’s thinking, “Hey, I’m not the only one who needs to exercise, Mom.“
So, dance along with him, but you don’t have to instruct him so much or worry about him learning the steps exactly right. Look at this class. They’re all grooving in their own way, sometimes following along with the routine, sometimes not. But most everyone (like your son) is engaged and staying in the room for the full 45 minutes. That’s great all on its own.
It doesn’t matter if your son never gets to the point where he’s moving his body “correctly” for the duration of a whole song or a whole class. He’s here, he’s happy, he’s participating. Let him be. And, just dance.
A Way More Laid-Back Mom
*** Author’s note: I am not really a fan of the “Open Letter to an Anonymous So-and-So” post format that pervades the personal blogosphere. In this case, though, I know for a fact that the mom this letter is addressed to will read it (and hopefully take it to heart) because she also wrote it. 😉