Norman Vincent Peale, Christian preacher and a...
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Maybe Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was on to something after all.

My mother Betty, bless her recently valve-replaced heart, is the Queen of Stubbornness/Negativity.  That’s quite a title, but it’s true.  So what did she and my father produce as a youngest son?  The King of Stubbornness/Positivity.  I had to use that self-given title (made it up just now, in fact) a bit in my visit with her last week in my hometown of Salmon, Idaho, at the care center where she resides.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m human.  I can “get down” just like anyone else, and I’m not talking about “get down” as in dancing … no, I take that back, I can “get down” that way too.

Anyway, as soon as I walked into my Mom’s room for the first time in over a year on Monday night (it’s amazing what a lack of pay raises to keep stockholders happy and outright lack of employment can do to keep a family budget so tight you can’t afford to see family for long periods of time when you live hundreds of miles away), I knew that there was still some positive stuff to work with in the few days to come while I was there.  I knew because of the smile on her face that lit up the room as soon as she came out of her usual “hiding place” in her room and saw me for the first time.  She hugged me tightly, which told me her arms still had some strength in them at least.

Her skinny legs — not so much strength.  But those skinny legs have always been one of her weaknesses.  No matter how hard she’s worked (and she’s definitely worked hard throughout her life), through years of climbing and standing and walking and lifting and sweating and bending and stretching, those legs have always been just … well, “birdlike.”

It’s those legs that got her into trouble on July 4 a couple of years ago when she stumbled and fell on a sidewalk while getting her mail at her apartment and she broke her wrist.  She’s been struggling with fear and self-doubt and increased unsteadiness ever since.  And her negativity, which she’s shown throughout her life, has shot through the roof.

But that’s one big reason why I wanted to be there last week, to give her a figurative “kick in the pants” and try to break through her fear and negativity and try to get her moving and mentally alert again.

I used to coach Little League football “back in the day.”  I know how to do those kinds of things.

I got to her room around 7:30 p.m. last Monday night and stayed until just before 9 p.m.  I looked her square in the eye and told her to get a good night’s sleep, because starting the next day I was going to work her harder than she’d worked in a while.

“Ooooohhh, I don’t know,” she started to protest.

A cockapoo -- but not Mom's Bobo

She looked at me like I’d just shot the last dog she ever had (his name was Bobo, by the way, a cockapoo) before she looked at the twinkle in my eyes and she ended up smiling.

“I don’t know” then turned into “Okay.”

I fought her negativity with positivity.  And I won.

The next day’s “activity” was mainly focused around teaching her how to play Wii bowling.  I knew she’d been exposed to Wii games while visiting out at my sister Lynda’s place, but she never has really “taken” to newfangled gadgets.  And, truth be told, at times I mess up on Wii bowling when it comes to letting go of that darn B button underneath to let go of the ball.

But I just try it again.  And that’s all I ever encouraged her to do.  Before getting too tired and frustrated by that B button, she had almost mastered the game to the point of letting go of the ball, and that’s when we had to quit for the day.  Before then, she was getting the hang of moving her lane position left and right, she knew better about when to push the A button, and she was cracking a smile.

I knew she would if she’d give it a chance.  This is a lady, after all, who’d spent countless nights in her younger years engaged in bowling league competition, and doing pretty darn well at it.  I watched that game in the 1975 World Series when Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning homer to help the Boston Red Sox beat the Cincinnati Reds on a color TV set in that Salmon city bowling alley from the lunch counter, while she bowled nearby.

Wii bowling was — dare I say it — right up her alley.

Yep, I just said it.

She’ll get the hang of it if she just keeps trying and stops shaking her curly-haired head in a negative motion when she can’t quite get the hang of the B button.  She needs to turn that shake of the head into a nod, and when she does it’ll be cause for a celebration.

The next afternoon, it was time to take her down to “Sittercise.”  Again, she was a bit reluctant.  But after some firm coaxing — she doesn’t seem to get mad at me when I do that, but she does with others and if she keeps that up I’ll have to get a bit ticked at her myself, LONG-DISTANCE — she agreed to go down for some leg lifting and arm raising, all while seated in the comfort of a nice, padded chair.

Mom (left) lifting those legs, with direction from my cousin Lisa Gilpin

But she made it, all the way through.  With gentle coaching from my cousin Lisa Gilpin, the activities director at the center, she lifted those skinny legs, which worked her stomach and thigh muscles.  She worked on moving her feet on the floor, which worked her ankles and calf muscles.  She raised her arms, which worked them and her back muscles.  She kicked a ball around on the floor, which worked on her reflexes and her mental focus and even more of those leg muscles in the process.

She kicked a ball around on the floor with other ladies just like she was on a female senior citizen ladies’ soccer team getting ready for a senior citizen World Cup match.

Mom lifting ... and smiling

And she smiled.  And she laughed.  And she had a good time.  But, most of all, she smiled … and she laughed.  And that was a very positive sign.

The next day, it was on to resistance training with big rubber bands.  Oddly enough, Mom really didn’t put up much resistance that time.  Pardon the pun.

I didn’t get any photos that time.  Why not?  Because I took my own place in that circle of ladies and worked right along with them, feeling the burn myself as Lisa led everyone through a variety of exercises that worked the various arm muscles, the chest muscles, the back muscles, the leg muscles.

And, much like the activity where everyone kicked the ball around the day before, that day they batted two balloons around, in the air with their hands and on the ground with their kicking legs and feet.  And, much like the day before, it worked on her reflexes and her mental focus and even more of those leg muscles in the process.

And she smiled.  And she laughed.  And she had a good time.  But, most of all, she smiled … and she laughed.  And that was a very positive sign.

She had fun.

“But people keep telling me I can’t do this, I can’t do that,” she always tells me, whether it’s face-to-face or long-distance on the phone.

“Mom, to be honest, the only person I ever see tell you that you can’t do something is you.  And that needs to change,” I fired back.

“Wwwweeellll, okay,” she smiled back.

And I pray that her negativity does change.  That’s my next big prayer.  If it doesn’t change, I’ll personally grab a copy of “The Power of Positive Thinking” or a new personal favorite of mine, “The 4:8 Principle,” and read it from cover to cover with her relatives — including everyone from my family in Utah — taking turns pumping that positive karma into her brain.

And that’s a promise.

 

 

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