Turning a Corner: The Beneficial Effects of Relentless Jolliness
Updated: Mar 27
This, as many of you will know, is Rowan, our youngest son. He just turned 12, and I have been his (and his brother, Alex's) primary caregiver since the Pandemic began when I got laid off and Lisa started working full time. For years, we have been wrestling with a problem when it came to Rowan and sustained physical activity, in as much as he was not interested in it, and would simply lie down on whatever horizontal surface was handy when he had had enough. Such surfaces include just inside the door of the supermarket, in the middle of a crosswalk, in a puddle beside the sidewalk - really anywhere, regardless of inconvenience and outright danger. This was very challenging for Lisa when she was the stay-at-home parent because she can't drive and needed to get him to school, run errands, and go to appointments (so many appointments) in a timely fashion and often in crappy weather. That meant using his wheelchair regularly, and eventually he came to rely on it and expect it, to the point where he refused to walk further than about a block at any given go. Add to this his tendency to knock stuff off the shelves while in the grocery store, and you can see why the chair figured largely for a long time.
This was problematic for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is his weight. We are trying to manage his diet a little better (really, it's been pretty good), but that missing ingredient has been exercise. I'm fortunate in that I drive, so that has allowed me to take Rowan places and get him walking, out of his chair, for longer and longer periods of time. I have the chair in the back if I need it, but it's been a while since it's been necessary (with a few exceptions).
Because of these successes, I recently decided to kick it up a notch and take Rowan off-road, really for the first time in any sustained way, into Kaymar Creek Ravine and the downhill trail that runs from Rumble down to Marine:
This place is perfect in a lot of ways. For exercise, the trail starts with about 35 steps and the trail itself runs down a steep-ish hill. For convenience, it's about a ten minute drive from home and, as you can see, is smack in the middle of suburbia in case there is a problem. For aesthetics, it's a beautiful, wooded ravine with a groomed, cobblestone-lined stream running all the way alongside the path. The stream has particular significance, because Rowan's favourite thing in the world is water in all of its forms. When we got to the bottom of the steps and he saw the stream for the first time he got very excited and was psychologically/emotionally propelled down the hill, following its course. I had to hold him back a bit and keep myself bodily between him and the water so that he didn't dive right in there.
We have been twice now, the first time just down 25 steps or so as an introduction and the second time the next day when we made it about 100 yards or so down the trail. I didn't want to overwhelm him and felt we needed a couple of victories so that this place would make an initial favourable impression. So far, so good. We have been back since a couple of times but have stayed up on the road because he is getting used to new shoes. I think today we will return and try again if the weather co-operates.
That's Alex, btw, our oldest, in the gallery above, from a year ago at the bottom of the trail.
I will have to finish this off another time to explain what I mean by "The Beneficial Effects of Relentless Jolliness."
***The next morning***
The above Street View shot of the wee parking area next to the trailhead and the one below of the end of a tone-y cul-de-sac beside the ravine have a lot of resonance for me because Rowan and I visit them around five times a week during our daily commute from Rowan's school to Lisa's work, with an hour in-between to kill and only about 20 minutes or so of actual driving.
As usual, clicking on any of these images will trigger Google Earth with that view. Anyone who follows my Instagram feed will recognize these locations.
So, regarding the title of this post. The above covers what I mean by "Turning the corner" - Rowan has certainly turned a corner with regards to his physical activity. "The beneficial effects of relentless jolliness" refers to the most effective strategy when managing Rowan, and that is relentless jolliness. Rowan is fundamentally a happy boy, easily delighted and energized. He has moments of frustration, melancholy, opposition and disconnection (these are the little seizures of absence that we are dealing with), but his resting state is usually very positive, Consequently, the easiest way to get him to do the things you want that he doesn't necessarily want to is to make them a delightful experience. Because he loves music a lot (a lot), breaking out a track with big bass and drums and a funky beat will usually get him moving, especially when you take his hands or feet and get him physically moving to the beat. He's almost helpless to resist a good beat, and it is employed frequently in the morning when getting him dressed for the commute.
Playing an actual song isn't always an option, though, or anyways convenient. As a result, I sing to him a lot in the happiest, most upbeat and delightful way. I have to really sell it, too, because the more feeling I put into it the better he responds. The singing is usually activity-related narration, set to fragments of familiar melodies.The Beatles figure largely, but also the Black Eyed Peas, James Brown. There's also a lot of nonsense rhyming, verging on scat (but not actually getting there, to be clear).
I've come to realize that all this jollying along, this delightful cajoling has had a real effect on me , my mood, and my general outlook. It's a positive feedback loop, with Rowan as a partner that I am dancing with, rather than a recalcitrant obstacle. That last might seem a little harsh, but Rowan's stubbornness is heroic in its proportions. What I've been noticing lately, and especially very recently during this spring break from school, is an increase in his overall level of co-operation. This is also the corner that we have been turning, and a benefit of that increased co-operation has been an increase in our physical activity and daily quality of life.
There's a ton of research out there about the positive impact of putting on a smile when you're not actually feeling it. Here's just a few:
There’s Magic in Your Smile: How smiling affects your brain. Psychology Today, Jun 25, 2012.
The Psychological Benefits of Smiling. Psychreg, 26 November 2019.
The Untapped Power Of Smiling. Forbes, Mar 22, 2011.
All I know is that my mood has been generally upbeat and optimistic, despite some relatively large recent setbacks and problems that would under normal circumstances turn me broody and anxious. Of course, still being sober contributes hugely to this positive outlook, and channeling extraordinary creative energy contributes just as much. I intend to keep dancing as long as possible.