From age 2 to age 12, I was a gymnast. It became my identity and fell right beside “Leah” on my signature page. I won medals, I won meets, and I won the approval of others because of my successes…All with the expense of my happiness while living it.
I learned to hate it. I learned that crying meant weakness and that failure meant that I was inadequate. I learned that when I was good, I was good and when I was bad, well, I was bad. I learned that appearance mattered when I was called a “garbage pail kid” when forced to wear rec specs during practices because of poor vision. Contacts were not available to anyone under age 12 at that time, and neither was my self image. I was told that a broken leg did not prevent me from swinging from the uneven bars and that a broken arm meant nothing when doing a back flip on the balance beam. Fear was looked at as a deficiency and certainly a voice that second guessed these feelings, was considered rebellious. But, I had “talent” I was told, so I kept going back for more and more, week after week.
It became confusing to me. I started a sport so young that I was told that I loved from the very beginning and wasn’t able to understand why it began causing me more pain that gratitude. I confided in my parents, who, with no insult to them, simply did not have the capacity to understand because they were never in the sport. “But you are so good,” they’d respond. I felt unheard and the truth was just that. So I practiced. The time commitment and the cost were nothing short of intense and expensive. For years, I carried on harvesting these same feelings. Yes, it is no secret that if perhaps you have the right amount of money or time to put towards anything, you will prevail. Is it about being happy or being better over someone else?
Inevitably, I quit at age 12 when my parents divorced. So in essence, it seemed to be about them and not me. After years of a working marriage, my gymnastics was fitting, but the moment that went away, it was no longer a priority. Regardless, I vowed never to place my children in gymnastics…ever.
Fast forward 20 years, and I am watching my five -year -old daughter follow the same trek as I, already putting in five hours a week at the gym because of her abilities. Is this unfinished business? Am I hoping to achieve a different outcome than what I had experienced? Or do I feel as though I am equipped with the understanding of this sport because I had lived it and can learn from it. Is it for her or me? Am I able to separate the two? I’m not always sure.
Here I am repeating the same history, like any other example of a child teaching as an adult what they have been taught. But isn’t this a common theme? We know better, therefore; we can teach better; therefore a better outcome? Or are things just different today than they used to be?
Twenty years ago, I spent hours in the gym, but also went to piano lessons, softball, girl scouts, and soccer. Did I get burnt out because there were too many things going on, or was it the sport itself? As it stands today, the children take one sport to the same position as an after school job, where the only cash earned is to be the best on their team, or quite honestly, not the worst. Activities are pushed like cocaine on the city streets. “Kids need to be involved to stay out of the trouble, “ the saying goes. My question is what kind of a trouble does a five-year-old really get into. Are they smoking Newports out of their window during an episode of Doc McStuffins? If they are, activities are not as urgent as family therapy…I assure you.
Yes, it is true that activities can result in deterrence down the road in avoiding bad decision making. I don’t regret,at my current age of 33, that I spent those ten years of my life dedicated to something that I deemed as awful. In retrospect, many aspects of it was not, but through a child’s eye things are more black and white. I cannot deny that involvement in sport has taught me more than suppressing my feelings or doing a backflip with an arm cast on begrudgingly. It has taught discipline, self worth, success and disappointment. It taught that pushing through tears to get through pain will become dim in comparison to the milestone of improvement and the value of commitment. We learn when we fall, we can rise. I find that not to be a bad lesson to teach my daughter, or any of my children for that matter. So as I question my motives, perhaps this is why she, too, is doing gymnastics.
But I do wonder whether it is only a matter of the parents or a trusting mentor that will make or break the experience of anything. What if my parents had experienced what I had…would the redirection of understanding the overall outcome have benefited my success and I would not have quit? I’ll never know. However, I can be confident in that these experiences that my children and I have agreed upon (at least for now) will not be at the expense of never seeing them smile while doing it, and that will be my commitment to them.
Be True, Be you.