Author: Sarah Parsons West, for RiseVT August 2018
Many families around Vermont are replacing the suggestive phrase, go out and play – used to urge children towards activity instead of boredom, with the inclusive, let’s go out and play.

“Play is a subject near and dear to my heart,” says Sandra Preston, a mother of three boys. “Much of the time, I am the only adult playing along-side the kids,” she says of her adventurous spirit, “Whether it be sledding, jumping off the diving board, making mud pies, or dancing.”

Sandra says that while her kids are used to seeing her participating and having fun, they sometimes give her the ‘Mom, you’re crazy’ look. “Usually adults don’t play enough,” Sandra says, recalling a chance encounter at the 2018 St. Albans Rotary Home Show, that made a lasting impression.

“NMC’s Playscription Booth was strategically placed right up front, you couldn’t get away from it,” Sandra says. “NMC’s CEO Jill Berry-Bowen stepped up and asked my 13-year-old son, Sam, to fill one out. I told Sam, ‘she’s top-dog at the hospital,’ as he wrote out the Playscription,” a fun way to encourage people to write their ideas for active play.

Sandra says Jill then took off her shoes and went to join in the mock snow-ball fight, being played out with puffy pom-poms.

“It was an ‘aha-moment’ for Sam, seeing adults, other than his Mom playing. It was like I had back-up,” she says. “For him to see professionals, people in high-heels and business casual clothes, kick-off their shoes to go play, was a game changer for him. We still refer back to that moment.”

Incorporating more activity and healthy play into her children’s lives became easier for Sandra, after making a commitment to do the same for herself.

“Taking the meditation class called Mindfulness Tools for Health and Wellness with Roz, (at NMC) was my pivotal point,” says Sandra. “I learned that just being present, was enough.  I didn’t have to be in shape, the proper BMI, or from the upper middle-class, to be ‘healthy.’ I just needed to show up.”

During that mindfulness class, Sandra says she received complete acceptance right where she was at, each day. “I thought, if a perfect stranger can be okay with where I am, then why can’t I?” The on-going class motivated a trickling effect in Sandra’s life.

“The RiseVT ‘Show-up’ events jumped out at me,” she says, “I got to exercise a new muscle that I was developing: taking care of myself.”  As a divorced single-parent, she says there’s not always enough money to go do ‘extra things’ for herself, like joining a gym. “RiseVT’s events let me go try and not feel bad about where I am in my journey, it is perfect!”

Last month, Sandra was jogging behind son Sam, as he accidentally flipped over the handlebars of his mountain bike, subsequently breaking his wrist and thumb. Receiving care at NMC Orthopaedics, Sam’s wrist was casted by Nolan Hurley, PA.

The family is having to improvise their summer activity routine accordingly. “Entertaining Sam with a broken wrist is proving to be a harder task than I thought,” Sandra says. “Even a small hike makes his hand swell and cast uncomfortable. We are so limited.”

While the family can’t go to the swimming pool as they usually do, she says, “We’re staying active, catching crayfish at the Mill River swimming hole, amongst other things.”

Although accidents sometimes occur during active play, Sandra says it’s better that Sam was out having fun, rather than sitting around the house playing video games. “In a way, the break is empowering, it makes him stronger,” she says, hoping Sam’s minor injury will heal quickly.

“His bones will be stronger from this; his spirit certainly has become stronger,” she says. Sandra wants Sam to realize that with proper safety equipment, like a helmet, bumps and bruises can happen. “We get up, dust ourselves off, and jump back on! Life is full of little detours.”

Sandra has also faced obstacles keeping her middle son Fred, a High Functioning Autistic (HFA) adult, active in the past. “Autistic kids are set in their ways and do not do new things,” Sandra explains. “Now that he’s 20, he’s even more set in his ways.”

Sandra was amazed one Saturday when Fred joined her at the City Pool for a free swim session. “When it was adults only, Fred jumped in, swam across the pool and got out,” she says. “RiseVT is opening doors that for us wouldn’t be opened, because autism automatically closes them.”

Betsy Cherrier-Fournier, one of RiseVT’s Wellness Specialists, was pre-school teacher to Sandra’s eldest son, Jonah, years ago. “She is always supportive with all my boys whenever we see her at an event,” Sandra says. Furthermore, Sandra credits RiseVT with helping Fred become engaged in things outside of himself. “He even recently went Kayaking, that’s like Mount Everest in the autistic world.”

For the past eight months, Sandra has been taking walks every morning and evening, with Fred recently joining her. “It really does take a community to motivate individuals sometimes.”

Sandra says she wants others to understand how the RiseVT Show-Up events remove barriers, especially financial restrictions. “Fred wouldn’t have gone to the pool if it were a paid event. Free speaks volumes,” she says.

There’s no limit to what active play consists of, as it varies for each family and community. “Sometimes people think there’s nothing to do, or that it costs money,” Sandra says.

“I was my own biggest obstacle,” she admits. “You don’t want to drag your kids somewhere if they don’t want to be there. But, these events are for all ability levels, all size and shapes are welcome. There’s no discrimination.”

Having attended numerous active play dates, Sandra says she’s amazed that people still don’t know about the on-going recreation opportunities available to all families.

“RiseVT provides a chance to try new things, without guilt. They take away the excuses that we busy parents make to avoid exercise,” she says. “What a wonderful way to break the cycle of self-imposed oppression and immerse ourselves in new experiences, which will be passed onto our children, and their children.”