Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight.

Whether filtered by maple leaf or memory, the sunlit leaf pile glows golden in my mind. Big mound, mostly brown, some red, russet, brick, mustard, pumpkin, lemon, rust heaped high. So tempting to run, jump, drown momentarily under crispy crinkling leaves, light as air waves. Taking turns to re-rake and jump again.

I’d rarely get more than one turn, however, since this side yard was the kitchen window’s view.

Mom’s admonishment would sound, as reliable as the V of geese honking overhead, halting my play. Words like “leaf rot” and “know better” and “migraines” and “remember last time.” The return of my allergies played as much a part in the autumn cycle as school shoes and pencil cases.

Smoke set off the headaches as did my fourth grade teacher’s musk perfume. But mold was the worst. The apple harvest at Wilson’s orchard up the hill was inevitably followed by pie, yes, but also a dark room and a cool cloth over my forehead. Still, I participated, eager to enjoy the beginnings that autumn offers, despite my body’s resistance to the change of seasons.


Savoring patio suppers, we eat outside while we still can. Setting, serving, clearing jobs remain intact, after which he jets farther into the yard, looping among our few trees, imagining adventures in the last long rays. Fading light brings biting bugs, so I retreat to the kitchen sink.

Dusk deepens. My boy’s laps around the house have lapsed. Realization dawns that he hasn’t zoomed past the window in…how long? No matter. It’s warm. Safe. Still early. I call twice but get no response. Savoring the rare silence, I let him play.

Then suddenly, twilight has passed. Evening glow is gone. It’s dark. Silent. No answer when I call. Did he come in? Upstairs is inky shadows. Also silent. My skin crawls. Fearful of his jump-out-startle game, I retreat to the kitchen doorway.Nothing’s wrong, I tell myself. Last week’s backyard bear walks across memory. Busy streets bookend our property. I’d have heard brake squeals, I assure myself. Fearful to look. Embarrassed by my fear the dark. Wary of passing on my fear.

Purposeful calm in my voice, I project loudly, It’s late. It’s time to come in – or out if you’re hiding. I’m going to count down from 10 and you need to be in the kitchen before I reach one.  Ten…nine…

Mama! His voice emerges first from the blue black yard. I’m coming. Did you call? I was on the swing. The screen door clicks as he enters, cheerful.

I was swinging and I wondered when you would come get me and it kept getting darker and I kept swinging and I saw the stars come out the first one was maybe a planet? Do you know? Was it Jupiter maybe? It was right up there through the leaves…

The monologue continues into the bathroom (brush without talking, please) and through tick check and into tuck in. Calm, velvet darkness envelops us, now safely inside. Together. I marvel at my boy, besotted by starlight and bravery from swinging alone in the moonless night.


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.



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