Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gymnastaphobe

I have an unnatural fear of gymnastics. I think it's a fantastic and suspenseful sport. But I'm fearful for my kids to participate in gymnastics. I am convinced that the sport is so taxing on those little bodies that when I watch competitions on ESPN, -- because I'll watch ANY sport -- I watch through my fingers. I'm sure a gymnast will snap a leg during a landing. Or hit an apparatus with a body part. Or pull something out of socket. Or fall off some beam or bar that is raised too high up. It's very stressful for me to watch. But here's the part that makes no sense: I'd let my girls play tackle football if they wanted. I'm big on physical-style basketball. Maya spars in Tae Kwon Do and I've seen kids get knocked out with head kicks, and yet I still encourage her to be aggressive and go for it and, most importantly SHAKE IT OFF if she feels the sting of a kick or punch. But gymnastics, which is unknown territory to me, seems way more grueling.

I was on a spring board diving team when I was about 15. I was progressing right along until I hit the diving board with my thighs doing a standard one and a half front flip. My coach said, "You're jumping back a bit on your approach." I was majorly mind fucked from that moment on. I was unable to kiss and make up with the end of the board. My coach suggested we work on back dives for awhile until I was able to SHAKE IT OFF. I practiced a back pike and promptly nicked the corner of the board with my head a la Greg Louganis. I pulled myself out of the diving pool, walked over to the lap pool and joined the swim team on the spot. Didn't even say goodbye to that fucking dive coach. And this is how I view gymnastics, a big mind fuck with a nice injury waiting on the other end. I've had plenty of injuries during my illustrious basketball career including two broken fingers just a couple years ago that made me hang up my high tops, but I guess gymnastics is just so foreign to me.

Maya never had much of an interest in gymnastics other than jumping on the trampoline or doing a flip into the foam pit. But who doesn't want to do that? When we attended a gymnastics birthday party not too long ago, Husband and I were all over that too. Mina, on the other hand, was born to be a gymnast. She shot out of my womb with pointed feet and stuck the landing, man. I had been denying this fact until a month ago.

Since Mina could grip a bar, her favorite activity has been the monkey bars. In preschool and kindergarten, she spent so much time on the monkey bars, the palms of her hands turned into one big callus. It hurt me to hold her hand because the skin was so rough. I'd ask, "Mina, what did you do at school today?" "Monkey bars." "Did you do art and writing?" "Yes. And monkey bars." She was so good, that when we'd go to the park, other parents would ogle Mina going back and forth and forth and back across the bars, then swing for literally ten seconds BY ONE ARM before she'd change direction and then repeat. She developed lats like an Olympian swimmer. You think I'm kidding? Look at that picture. I had written in a previous post that though she does Tae Kwon Do, she tells everyone she is a gymnast. I'd say, "You're a green belt! Aren't you proud of that?" She'd say, "Yes. But I like gymnastics." FINALLY, as I panicked internally, Husband convinced me that I couldn't deny it any longer. We had to sign her up. What was one hour a week going to hurt?

The gymnastic school is a musky warehouse with dull, industrial lighting that seems oppressive to me. The air is wet and thick and parents populate the Parent Pen anxiously and humorously. Husband and I were naively joyful during her first class and we clapped and laughed as Mina had a ball. But when we looked at the other gymnasts we realized that these kids and these parents are not fucking around. Every single body on the floor was a taut specimen of a child. Every single body had a quarter-bouncing ass, long oval muscular thighs and 24 pack. We know Mina is small for her age, but all these girls are small and packed into little superhero bodies wearing velour bathing suits, lavender and pink and royal blue. They pranced around seriously with fat-bare limbs slathered in white chalk and their hair was pulled tightly and gelled and glittered and bowed. They were all doing one-handed push ups, practically, like 500 of them. And climbing ropes with their fingertips, and doing sit ups by hanging upside down. And the militant coaches lacked joy. They were serious too and just bigger, aged versions of the same body type. The banner on the wall read: "Gymanstics: The Art of Perfection" which scared the shit out of me and only confirmed my fears about this crazy, tortuous sport. But, of course, Mina loved it and apparently caught the eye of one of the vulture coaches that accesses athletes like quarter horses; maybe because they look like them. After only three classes, they invited Mina to be in the excelled class. And at age six, she will now do gymnastics two days a week for an hour and a half a pop. Until they kidnap her to Romania and really whip her ass into shape. I caught the end of her first excelled class on Monday. This is when they have the tiny little group of girls climb a rope that stretches from the floor to the warehouse-sized ceiling. I arrived just as they said, "Mina are you ready to try The Rope?" And I clasped my hands and thought thoughts like, Just do your best, baby. Climbing a rope is really hard -- and wouldn't you know that lil mufucka scurried up the rope like it was NOTHING. I sucked in my breath emotionally as I looked at my baby way in the air. I then wondered what kind of super strength she possessed. But obviously the monkey-bar lats came in very handy.

12 comments:

kiki said...

you know when i was in elementary and high school i dreaded the gymnastics segment. i could take the onslaught of dodgeball or tackle basketball. it didn't phase me any of the times i fell off my horse while barrelracing but the idea of vaulting myself over that fake horse just about killed me.

Marigoldie said...

The Art of Perfection! Ha! That is a bad ass picture of Mina. Very cool.

Maven said...

I'm probably going to end up spinning off this post because despite being totally earthbound and having a weak upper body, I have had many personal (and funny) experiences with gymnastics. Sports parents can be so creepy, can't they? There was a reality show about this recently that I absolutely refused to watch because I can't handle the horrifying, projected-ego parenting. Anyhoo...I guess as long as Mina is having a ball, you just have to roll with it, don't you?

madness rivera said...

I think as a parent of a naturally talented athlete, you really ride the razor's edge. You want them to have child's fun, but do you not encourage (push?) them towards greatness? We all dream of being great at something . . .when do you let your children know that sometimes that's not always fun.

The things I'm most passionate about are not always fun, hard work in fact. And I guess that's the only thing I can continually tell the girls: It's all a balance, and if you really want something you gotta work yo' ass off. And with that work comes confidence and pride in yourself. And that's fun isn't it??
P.S. The fanatical parents are scary to be around because you want to tell them off but then they'll beat your ass, and that would be bad.

acumamakiki said...

It's great that you've gone past your own fears to let your daughter shine and clearly, this is her sport for now. I've got other reasons for not wanting my girl to do gymnastics or ballet and so far (at 4 1/2) she's not asking for either. I also know though, that she is her own person after all and despite my mad desire to see her tap dancing across the stage on Broadway, it probably won't happen. And I REFUSE to be one of those parents, the kind everyone has mentioned. Very creepy indeed.

la vie en rose said...

i have horrible gymnastic memories from jr high. i was the fat girl in the p.e. class being forced to vault. nightmares to this day. well, i commend you on letting her spirit do what it needs to do despite your fears.

Michelle Fry said...

I was always too tall for gymnastics but have always loved the "super hero" bodies they have. I hope you can shake off your apprehension about gymnastics but I sure can see things from your view point. The coaches do all seem rather nazi-ish.

Anonymous said...

Love Mina! She is so focused. She is going to really thank you for allowing her to participate in something her lil soul craves!

tina said...

Oh, gymnastics...yeah, it's great fun to watch, but behind the scenes--yikes. Read 'Little Girls in Pretty Boxes' if you want to be even more freaked out. Or don't, if you, you know, don't.

madness rivera said...

THANKS A LOT TINA. I just read a lengthy review of the book and I'm nauseous. But just watch what happens if some unfortunate coach let's the words fat or idiot slip from his lips directed towards a daughter of mine. I'll vault a foot us his ass, and get perfect 10's doing so.

Hmm, well, I guess when Monkey Bars becomes an Olympic sport we're golden.

Cmommy said...

I adore that Mina is wearing two different shoes in that photo---as a former kindergarten teacher, I give her high marks for creativity! :-)C

Anonymous said...

there always is a chance of any one breaking some part of their body, regardless of what sport they are doing