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The Brain

I worked hard at gymnastics as a kid, and could barely lift myself up onto the low bar, or walk across the high balance beam. I practiced all the time, but I could never do a back walkover, or hold a handstand for the requisite ten seconds. My body is not smart in that way. My body feels like a group of people who are shouting to each other over mountaintops miles apart. It’s as if the communication system between my various body parts is crunchy and static filled, instead of clear and smooth.

Cricket, on other hand, is an athlete. If she were human instead of canine, gymnastics coaches would be clamoring for her. She’s compact (aka small), and she can run fast and jump high and stretch into unreasonable positions, just like a world class gymnast. I would not send her into rhythmic gymnastics (with the ribbon, and the ball, and the hoop, etc.), because she cannot be trusted with toys, but artistic gymnastics, especially floor work, would be ideal. Butterfly would love to run around the edges of the mat, ready with a bowl of water, or some paw chalk, when her sister needed it.

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Cricket can fly!

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No, really. Butterfly is my witness.

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Butterfly has to work on her flexibility to keep up with Cricket.

The lack of clear communication in my body has always disappointed me. I am in awe of dancers who can speak, and sing (!), with their bodies, never needing words to tell a story. I feel almost mute, physically, and it really bothers me.

My social work internship for next year will be with traumatic brain injury patients. Some will have motor difficulties, speech and reading difficulties, and pain, but all will have some kind of dysfunction in the connections in their brains. Even if every distinct brain region is working fine, the communication between the areas will be muddled in one way or another, and I think that being able to see the varieties of this will be good for me. I have never been diagnosed with a TBI, even a mild one, but while the brain can be shaken up physically, it can also be shaken up emotionally, with similar results.

I took a class called Brain and Behavior a few years ago and was fascinated by the idea that you could identify specific brain areas where certain types of information are processed. There is a biological basis for the things we consider ephemeral and wispy, like emotions, and knowing more about the brain gives more weight to all of those things people have pooh poohed for years as silly and unprovable. Studying the impact of brain injuries on different areas of the brain helps us understand how much who we are, and how we behave, is physiologically caused.

The work I will, eventually, be doing at my internship, comes after the physical therapists, and occupational therapists, and speech therapists have done as much as they can to stabilize the TBI patients, but I will get a chance to observe their work, and I’m very interested in seeing the different methods people have come up with to try and retrain our bodies and brains. With one kind of injury, practicing speech patterns and walking skills can really bring you back up to close to normal, but with another injury, no matter how hard you practice, the brain connections just aren’t there and can’t retain the information. There’s some relief in the idea that you could know which goals are reachable with hard work, and which ones are just not possible.

I can watch Cricket and Butterfly walking next to one another and see clearly how their different physiques control and limit how they walk. Butterfly will never be as flexible as Cricket is, because her rib cage is too big and her legs are too short. And Cricket will never “walk like a girl” because her hips are slim and refuse to sway. Butterfly’s brain can’t begin to imagine the number of horrible dangers Cricket believes are right outside the apartment door, and Cricket’s brain cannot fathom the Zen-like calm that Butterfly feels when she hears bird song in the distance.

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See, they’re completely different.

I wish I could accept my own limitations for what they are, but I still hold onto the dream of plasticity, that my brain will change and grow over time and allow me to be something more. It’s not impossible, actually. Someday, Cricket’s brain might rewire itself inexplicably and allow her some peace.

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Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

The Dance Recital

The Dance Recital

I didn’t even know that my niece was taking dance classes. All year I’d been hearing about a final show at her gym, where we’d finally be allowed to see her doing gymnastics full out instead of jumping off couches and risking life and limb doing back tucks in the living room. We asked every few weeks, when would it be, where would it be, but no answer. Finally, on a Friday afternoon, we were told she had her dance recital on Sunday.

Dance? Not gymnastics?

Gymnastics would be later, on another unknown day, at an unknown time, and place, that we’d be told about at the last possible second.

The dance recital was held on the huge campus of a public high school in her neighborhood, in a stand-alone auditorium building, with a lobby filled with little girls in adorable dresses and pictures to order and very expensive tickets. The program for the show was huge, with thirty two dances overall, and my niece was in one at the beginning and one towards the end, so we were in for a long haul.

Most of the performances were by the girls from the school who were on the various dance teams, and I was afraid they would be intimidating, or upsettingly sexy for young girls, or too fake, but the feeling that came from the stage, for the most part, was that these girls had become family to each other. They loved dancing together. And they didn’t all come from the same backgrounds. There were a few other Jewish girls like my niece, a handful of black girls, Asian girls, Latinas, multiracial combinations, and girls of different sizes and shapes. There was a girl with Down syndrome in one of the younger groups and she looked like she was having a blast.

I loved the little girls who couldn’t remember the steps and kept looking to the side of the stage where their teachers were demonstrating the steps for them. Four little girls. All looking to the right or the left, doing maybe one out of every six steps in the dance. One of the littlest ones had to leave the stage because she was so overwhelmed. I felt her pain.

One of my niece’s routines was called “The Bling Bling” dance and there was a lot of jumping around involved. When we got back to her house afterwards I suggested that she teach Lilah, their black lab, how to do the dance, but she didn’t take me up on it. Lilah would have loved to wear some bling around her neck and jump around the living room with her human sister. I guess that’s kind of her daily life, though, now that I think about it.

Lilah and her bling!

Lilah and her bling!

Butterfly would like to go to ballet class. They’d have to lower the bar a bit for her, and adapt some of the positions to her unique body type, but she would love to twirl and spin and jump with the other little girls. She does a very impressive Russian split when I hold her up in the air. Or maybe she could take tap! Can you imagine the noise four tiny tap shoes could make on Butterfly’s feet? Or eight, if Cricket joined in?

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

I think they’d both enjoy going to dance classes, actually. Moving to the music, following the teacher, running across the dance floor with their friends. I wonder if anyone runs a ballet school for dogs. I’ll have to look into that.

Cricket loves to run!

Cricket loves to run!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

I kind of like the idea of dance classes over obedience training for dogs. They could build up their core muscles and have fun and make friends. I never really saw the point of teaching my dogs how to walk at my heel. I’d rather they got to listen to music than listen to clickers. And the tutus would be adorable!

Wouldn't Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)

Wouldn’t Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)