Susan's Blog

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Every Breath You Take

And breathe. Just breathe.
–Anna Nalick

I wonder about relearning a behavior, or learning a new skill, and how difficult it is to do that. While Nat has been sweating it out with our new home program, which uses a technique called Verbal Behavior, I have been working at mastering a bellyroll for weeks. Both Nat and I are learning new ways of thinking and doing things as basic as breathing these last few weeks, and it strikes me how frustrating such a thing can be.

I still hesitate a moment before I even tell people that I’m belly dancing. Some people don’t get it; they are somehow afraid of it or they think it is something it is not. It is not striptease, pole-dancing, jumping out of a cake, etc. It is an ancient art form that is found in a great many cultures and first came to America in the mid-19th century. It takes as much discipline as ballet, and yet it can be (and is) performed by the very old as well as the very young, the fat, and the thin.

People smirk about belly dance, but the fact is, it is a very difficult exercise to perform. Every set of muscles in the abdomen — everywhere else, too, but abs in particular — eventually is worked and isolated to get those undulations. That is much harder than learning how to do crunches or sit-ups. You have to think about where the muscle set is and then focus on moving it some way (up, down, to the side).

A bellyroll is completely counter to the American cultural view of what a woman should do with her stomach. We are taught as little girls to suck that gut in. We are taught to have flat stomachs only. But a bellyroll celebrates the fairly universal female tummy, which, let’s face it, sticks out a little bit. Especially after having children. With the bellyroll, you have to suck it way in, navel to spine (or as close as you can get it to that) and then lift it up as high as you can, and then, push it out, way out. Then you bring it in and up again. That is the roll. It is quite beautiful to see it, also kind of freaky. You have to do this while not moving anything else, except perhaps while performing a hip shimmy, at a faster rate. Oh, and maybe snake arms, or arms framing your hips. No other jiggles. And still breathe and smile. Good luck.

I find this difficult on a few levels. First of all, I am not used to looking at my belly willingly. I have never liked my stomach; even at my most youthful and firm it was not firm (I’m talking 14 or 15 years old). But now, after three pregnancies — ! Second, I am not used to pushing out my stomach that way, and so quickly. It is difficult and weird looking. Third, I have trouble breathing while I do this, so at about the tenth roll I start to see stars and hyperventilate. Ned asked me, “Are you supposed to make that noise when you do it?” Ned, with his brutal honesty, is the perfect audience to start with because I really have to build up my thick skin to continue through with my performace around him! I only dance well when I’m feeling confident, so my challenge is to pull back into myself (even if I’ve just danced over to under- appreciative Ned) and not lose my cool.

Nat loves to watch me belly dance. He loves everything about it: the music, the beat, the waving of my arms, the fact that I’m not looking at him when I’m moving around the room, so he can stay in there comfortably and experience it. I did try to wrap my veil around him the other day, but he leapt up in terror. Ben, on the other hand, loved the veil dance and even blushed! Max stays far away. So I mostly dance for Nat.

Yesterday, Nat was having a good day (had participated in all kinds of things at school, used words very well to express what he needed, that sort of thing) and seemed happy to be home. And then I mentioned that his therapist was coming soon, so he could watch a video and then work with her. “A short video,” I said.

Ben came in a few minutes later and said, “He didn’t pick a short one, Mom. He’s watching Pinnocchio.” Jeez! Pinnocchio is our longest Disney flick! The therapist would show up and Nat would have to take it out and then he’d be mad. I went in there and said, “Nat! You can’t watch that! It’s too long! I told you to get a short one, like a sing-along!”

Nat started biting his arm, and jumped up. My stomach clenched in fear (not a good isolation for belly dance, by the way. Fear is right out.) I knew what was next, (he was going to go for me) but I did not panic. “Nat, come on,” I said quietly, “It’s okay. Just watch Under the Sea. After you’re done with therapy, you can watch something else.”

He looked at me with those wide eyes, his whole body shaking with anxiety or anger or whatever, and he listened to me as if I were repeating sacred texts. My explanation was his lifeline — or so it felt. Both his teacher and his home therapist have been working hard to teach him that he can get what he needs, he can find the words; they are building up his confidence in part by giving him the words and then letting him say them himself. I imagine that the words they give him almost reach out and pull him out of his despair and frustration.

He approached me and put his hands on my arms, firmly. I prepared myself to be pinched, but I thought, “Look at him! He’s so agitated! How can I help him? He must feel constantly thwarted by the world around him!” I sought for a way to throw him that lifeline. I concentrated on my sweet boy rather than my fear for my arms. I isolated my love like a muscle and focused on that alone.

I think he could tell I was on his side. His hands on my arms became a hug. He pulled me to him and held onto me for like two minutes. He put his hands in my hair, but did not pull it. We just stood like that, quietly. I could feel the electric energy drain out of him. His breath returned to normal. He let me go and walked back to the television, then he came over to me again. Another hard hug. Then again.

And then he was done. He sat down to watch Under the Sea.

I said, “Any time, Nat. Just ask.”


That, Susan, was absolutely beautiful, on Nat’s part and your part. Very, very touching.

— added by caseofthevapours on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 7:43 am

You gotta warn people when you’re going to make them cry first thing in the morning.

Amazing moment. Thanks for sharing it.

— added by MOM-NOS on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 8:39 am

that was beautiful, susan.

— added by kyra on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 9:16 am


— added by enna id on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 11:26 am

Susan, you just made me cry.
What a touching moment!

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 8:26 pm

Whoa. Lucky!

— added by mrs. gilb on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 11:00 pm

Sue, what a great moment! It reminded me of when you sat with Nat on the couch in MPWA, and the connection just blossomed. When you meet on “the bridge” it’s truely breathtaking. These guys really need to be understood. You saw the results…awesome.

— added by Candy on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 11:33 pm

Oh,, I loved this post and can really relate! And the things we go through with our Spectrum kids ( not things that are done to us or happen to us but what we go through, together) can really serve as analogies for the greater lessons in life I think. And our kids are often the ones gently taking us by the hand and leading us. So glad I caught up with your Blog on this day.

— added by Em's Mom on Friday, October 27, 2006 at 5:36 am

I loved reading this. My son Henry also loves watching Disney. He also tends to pinch when he is frustrated, although he rarely injures himself- first he directs it at others.

A good hug can calm a lot of frustrations, for the autistic and the non-autistic alike. An important thing to remember.

— added by gretchen on Friday, October 27, 2006 at 1:08 pm

I had a similar experience. During my first year as a teacher, I was working in a major metropolitan area. I clearly remember the moment when, for the first time, I was able to stop myself from getting freaked out by the prospect of being bitten in the face. That boy gave me such strange and useful gifts.

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, November 2, 2006 at 9:30 pm

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