I never wanted to be THAT Mom. The one who was sitting in the stands, auditorium or in this case, on the chairs right outside of the gym mats, feeling all the feels. I imagined feeling maybe two emotions, pride and joy, while my child was out there doing their thing. Turns out it is a lot more complicated than that. I never wanted to be the Mom who wanted it more for my kiddos then they did for themselves. Never wanted to feel anger at judges or referees because I have always believed I would be the Mom who knew it was all only a game, a meet, a recital and in the scheme of life it would be over and done with and we could go home and carry on, business as usual.
Last weekend that business got a little unsettling for me as I watched my daughter struggle. I was just that mom in the chair, texting friends, checking Facebook, online shopping, until it was my girl’s turn to shine. (Don’t judge me, gymnastics meets are marathon events and I was solo, so I was being a good time manager.) Her first event was the vault, not her strongest and she had been having heel pain, making her sprint to the table more of a hop and hobble. Without the speed she couldn’t propel her tiny self over therefore resulting in a less than desirable performance and lowest score ever.
I don’t share this as the mom who is pushing her eight-year-old to be gold medal material. She truly loves the sport of gymnastics and as her mother, I want her to pursue her heart’s desires, for as long as they are bringing her joy. I share this because it was at that moment that I felt it. She faltered on her landing and looked in my direction upon her salute, her Happy Harper self overshadowed by all the bling on her leotard. She looked sad. Then, I felt sad. Her second vault wasn’t any better and I could tell, that despite her cheery disposition, it was getting in her head. The meet continued, with all the flips and leaps, but there was something missing for her. She knew she hadn’t done what she was capable of, and her constant stare from the mats to my seat made me realize she knew that I was feeling for her. I had a hard time not crying, several times I made an exaggerated fake yawn as an explanation for my tears. The scores weren’t the source of the tears, the change in her attitude was.
You see, with the recent move came a new gym, with new girls, new parents, new leo colors. It’s all different, more difficult and more competitive. For the first time in a sporting event, as a parent, I felt all the feels. I had the urge to run out there and hug her and tell her that this wasn’t going to make or break her, that this was just one meet and she would learn from this and move forward. In that same moment I also felt a strange sense of disappointment. Not IN her, but FOR her. For the beating up of herself she was doing, for the newness that was swallowing her whole. A sense of regret and doubt. An unsettling wonder, was this too much pushing, was this a good fit? All of the feels washed over me like a hot flash.
After several hours of this heaviness, it was over. Thankfully, this child is the most elastic of them all, not just literally, but her bounce back is a thing of champions. She took her medal for 7th place in Floor Exercise and her “everyone gets one for participating” trophy with grace. She congratulated team mates who had done wonderfully, complimenting their performance and clanging adornments. When we got in the car, she simply said, “I don’t even know why I got this stuff. I was dead last in my age group. That’s nothing to make you feel good. Plus this trophy looks like a poop emoji. Can we just eat and go Christmas shopping now?” I hugged her, hard, accidentally inhaling some of the glitter that was in her hair, handed her the sandwich I had packed and asked where she wanted to go.
We didn’t talk anymore about it for a while, but when we finally did, her insight was well beyond her eight years. Her biggest hurdle, she missed her old gym friends and thinking about them made it tough to think about her routines. Her heel was bothering her but she was afraid to say so because she didn’t want the coaches or other girls to think she was using it as an excuse for her performance. She knew it wasn’t her best work and vowed to work hard in the weeks to come before her next meet, not because she wanted to beat the other girls, although medals are nice, but because she knew she could do better and had done better at practice even and wanted to feel good about herself at the end of the meet.
The “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” and the “its JUST a game,” type mom I had always identified with was wavering. There is something about a sport like gymnastics where even the teammates are competing against one another that makes it very lonely. Each girl for herself, each shiny metal a moment you outshined someone else. It was then that my tiny flipping powerhouse became something more in my eyes. She was suddenly older. An uncharacteristic calmness came over her and I saw a glimpse of her potential on and off the mat, the role model she is and will continue to be, the feeling of pride and joy I had been missing all morning.
Sadly, I also saw myself in her, the jaggedy edge parts that are hard to carry without causing damage. The loneliness, the desire to do well, to put everything you have into your performance, the fine tightrope line of balancing all the newness, of finding your place, making friends, not having to bear it all alone. Her little self on that high beam, pointing her toes with all her might, sidestepping to perfection, leaping and cartwheeling her heart out, wasn’t enough. And she knew it.
This mothering gig gets harder all the time. The times of infants waking incessantly through the night, toddlers having tantrums like riddles without answers, preschoolers getting into paint and glue, messes for miles, those were the easy things. Now is the time of building up small souls so they will one day make the monstrous impact they have been put here to make. It is a time of sewing tender hearts back together with golden thread, making sure there is a shining light on the inside. It is a time to cry with them, and for them, but still manage to have poise, to be the unfaltering rock that they need to cling too, delicate moss.
So, because I love her just as much as she drives me crazy, I will continue to take her to and from the gym a million times a week, wash crystal studded leos by hand in the sink, do her hair with glitter and bows and drive at all hours, for many miles, early and late to be the mom sitting in the chair outside of the gym mats. Silently praying for God to make us both strong, in body and mind, as she runs full speed ahead, ready to soar through the air in hopes of landing on her feet.
We will press on and I promise I won’t tell her that I almost wish she would go back to playing soccer. ❤