Almost one year ago –
Ella steps to the corner of the mat. Her coach is with her whispering a few last minute bits of advice before the announcer calls her name. She is about to execute her first routine in her first gymnastics meet. The butterflies in my belly morph into the winged monkeys from oz. Darren and the kids stayed at home due to the fact that we had to drive an hour and a half to attend and also due to Liam’s inability to sit for the duration. I chat with a few other parents and text with Darren and Kelsey to express my pent up emotion. I am scared for her. She expressly let me know that she did not want to compete and she only wanted to do gymnastics for fun. She had made the team in the spring and it turns out that if you are going to practice with the team you have to compete with the team in at least one meet. She stands at the edge of the floor ready to fulfill her duty as a team member. I am already proud of her for sticking with it and doing something so far out of her comfort zone. At this point in her life it is common for Ella to say “no” to something new or different or risky. If she cannot predict the outcome with a 95% certainty factor the answer is no thank you. Today, because of her love of gymnastics she is doing something scary and uncomfortable without complaint.
My only wish for Ella as she stands at the edge of the mat is for her to feel good at the end of it. My greatest fear is that if she felt she did poorly, it will be a set back in the other things in life that require courage to put herself out there and take a risk. I want so much for her to grab onto her days and the opportunities that come her way and know that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose and that’s okay because it’s all about being richer for the experience.
She salutes the judges and the walks out to wait for the music. I have not yet seen her do the routine all the way through so I am curious and terrified. She completes some choreographed dance elements and some strength elements. I am a first time gymnastics mom and I have no idea of the routine or for what skills the judges are looking so based on my in-depth knowledge as her mother I would have to say that she did great. She pauses and collects herself for the tumble. I want to scream. “GO ELLA YOU GOT THIS!!” but I refrain and sit there motionless and wordless. She has only landed her round off back hand spring three weeks ago for the first time and then we went on a week-long vacation with absolutely no gym practice. She runs and tumbles and BAM she sticks the landing. She completes the routine and it was beautiful and I hope that she is as happy as I am, but I won’t know because I can’t talk to her until the end of the meet. This is a good thing because I want to say way too much and now I have time to counsel myself into saying very little and letting her do the talking if that is what she wants.
After floor comes bars, then beam then vault. She falls off the beam and can’t get some move on the bar that seems to be important. Her vault is decent. At the end of a very long evening we reunite and make our way to the car. I resist every urge to say too much and simply tell her that she did such a great job and ask her if it was fun. “It was so fun, Mom.” Her usual modus operandi is to not offer up details. I get a lot of one word answers to my probing questions – good, yes, no, not really. Instead of asking her questions, I say nothing listening to my inner counselor who is working overtime. She talks about her routines and emotions and the good and the bad and next time she will do this differently and so on. Next time? Then she says, “You know what, Mom? I am going to stop saying that I don’t want to do things before trying them because that was so completely awesome and I said I didn’t want to do it. And like the hay ride that I said I didn’t want to do when we were in Philly, I ended up doing it and that was awesome too.
I almost cry, but I don’t. I say, “That is really great, honey. I am so happy that you were able to figure that out. I bet it feels so good.” The rest of the way my motherly heart sings with admiration for my oldest daughter and for myself. She is not only growing up, but she is growing up great. She is learning about testing her limits and that awesomeness can come from moving away from her comfortable sure thing into scary and not so comfortable. I know now that she is going to learn this with or without me or maybe even in spite of me. As for me I, I finally shut my mouth and listened. I have a moment of – DUH – why had I not started listening a long time ago. I guess I never really realized I wasn’t listening. I move away from the inner self flogging and enjoy the moment in the car alone with my girl. I had not asked her what she learned or told her what she should take away from her experience. I had let her have her experience and learn from it. I realize how much more valuable this moment was without my voice. We are learning together and this simple fact inspires me to be better – and to listen.