Hula-hooping

This is the little girl who hula-hooped so enthusiastically.
With Parkinson’s, hula-hooping has come full circle for me.

By Teresa Swartz Roberts

30. Copyright 2020

I don’t remember when I got my first hula-hoop. I do remember looking down at my chubby belly undulating and making the hoop form its Spirograph circles around my middle. I do remember the sound it made, a unique fish-aquarium-gravel-in-a-pill-bottle rattle. I do remember the way my body felt when I hula-hooped.

Hula-hooping was a meditation, something I could do without thinking while I worked out the problems that made their home in a seven-year-old’s mind in the 1960s. Where was Vietnam, and why was my brother maybe going there? It didn’t look like a good place. We saw it on TV, a bunch of helicopter blades blowing back the head bandages of men who were being carried by other men who had rifles hanging off their shoulders.

When I was six, I had cried in my first grade class when we learned to make a capital G. My oldest brother’s name began with G, and I was afraid for him to become one of the bandaged men.

Then there was the Vietnam lottery we watched on TV when I was eight. Nobody seemed very eager to win the lottery, especially my second-oldest brother.

I worried that I had tattled too often on my youngest brother, and he would tell on me for eating the last of the fudge. Even though he was ages older than I was, he wasn’t old enough to be a marine or a soldier. But he was old enough that I was supposed to mind what he said if Mother left him in charge for a few minutes.

Thankfully, my brothers didn’t go to Vietnam. I still had plenty to think about.

I thought about Mother and the birthday present I had picked out for her at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime. It was an antique, which meant “pretty dish.” I learned that by listening to Grandma talk about her favorite belongings. The pretty dish I had chosen was red and had cherries all over it. I could see her face when she opened it, while my hula-hoop went shooo-shooo-shooo.

I imagined myself hula-hooping in the circus. I would be famous because I could twirl one hoop on my left arm and another one on my right arm in the opposite direction.

I imagined myself hula-hooping in the circus. I would be famous because I could twirl one hoop on my left arm and another one on my right arm in the opposite direction. I would have to borrow someone else’s hula-hoop to do it, though. I could even hula-hoop around my neck. I played talk show in front of the mirror and pretended I was the guest. I performed first and then sat on a stool and talked about how I had always loved hula-hooping and entertaining people, so my circus act was a natural career.

My big break came one Independence Day. I decorated the Radio Flyer wagon that had belonged to all of us for as long as I could remember. I didn’t have a bike, and I was too old to ride my red tricycle in the Fourth of July playground parade. The playground lady gave me streamers in red, white, and blue and told me that I could also sign up for the talent show if I could do something special.

I could! I worked out a choreography while I tied the streamers onto the wagon. It didn’t take much effort because I had dreamed of this moment for so long.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of all the kids, even the big kids on bikes and the teenagers who had been playing basketball until we took over the court. I had just my hula-hoop, and it was my friend that day. It moved. It danced. It twirled one way, then the other. In my mind’s eye, I see the chubby little girl with the bad haircut, the horn-rimmed glasses, and the missing teeth moving awkwardly. Then I remember how wonderful it felt. And the people clapped.

So when my son mentioned that I had started hula-hooping, his way to describe the new dyskinesia that my Parkinson’s meds had given me, I smiled. I remembered how it felt to hula-hoop. Similar to what I’m doing now.

Here’s how my meds work: They replace dopamine and try to keep it where it belongs so that my brain can talk to my body. The major price I pay for that is uncontrollable movements—not tremors, but movements that seem to make me feel better. Hula-hooping seems to relieve the pain I feel in my back and legs. When I have dyskinesia, I make the people around me uncomfortable, but I feel better, not worse. I feel strong. I don’t feel like I’m about to fall.

So I trade one kind of weirdness for another, but it’s my choice. It feels good. It’s my talent. I am a hula-hooper. How about a round of applause?

2 thoughts on “Hula-hooping

  1. That looks like a certain young lady I remember from Dunbar. Rainy days laying on the front porch. Sunny ones across the street in the park. Walking to the Dairy Queen. Listening to Peter Paul and Mary with Little Gordon and Emery. Getting up early to deliver newpapers. Yep, that was it.

    Like

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