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Doing gymnastics

January 24th, 2004 · 1 Comment

I wasn’t sure I should take the girls to watch the gymnastics competition today. I had begun to doubt what Ted and I were doing, bringing up our daughters with the sports of ice-skating (mostly watching it on TV) and gymnastics (taking kiddie classes on Saturday mornings). Is this what I want to do, encourage my girls to idolize anorexic adolescents? Do I want them exposed to the intense competitive pressures that crush children? In our sexualized society, do I feel comfortable with young girls performing in skin-tight sparkling spandex? What kind of damage are we doing to our daughters?

But I hoped to educate and inspire them by taking them to the gym across the street from our neighborhood. All Abigail and Michaela knew about the sport came from their kiddie classes, where they had fun bouncing on the trampoline and swinging on the rings. But they didn’t have a good idea what gymnastics was. They had never seen anyone flip on the balance beam or perform a floor routine. Abigail’s dance and gymnastics class teacher also coaches the local team so I thought it would be fun for the girls to see her in action.

It took some flexibility just to get over to the competition this morning, as we all woke up late.

I’d never seen gymnastics before. At the gym, we discovered one important principle: the seats with the best view of the floor exercise get taken first. We needed to sit close to an exit anyway. From our spot, we got a good view of the uneven bars and balance beams.

So I was still a bit skeptical. I still wasn’t sure this would be a good influence for them. Looking around at the teams, I did see some girls so thin they appeared brittle, about to break. But some girls were a good size, healthy and strong in appearance. Some of the competitors smiled but others seemed unhappy, grim faces, hair pulled tight into ponytails. After hearing the introductions, the cities where these kids lived, I knew that many of these girls had gotten out of bed early this morning, probably leaving their homes before dawn.

As I watched the competition I saw strong girls. Girls who could bend and spin their bodies around bars. Girls who could run and vault into the air. Girls who could balance and rotate on the beam. They had pointed toes and muscular legs. They did the splits and flipped backwards in defiance of physics. They could concentrate and control their bodies. They were powerful.

The teams hugged each other and rooted for each other. The girls who fell even seemed to get more hugs than the girls who didn’t. It seemed supportive.

And I realized how refreshing it is to see local competitions. It’s great to see the national champions on TV but another feel entirely to watch community kids performing in the gym across the street.

I felt impressed by these girls who could do with their bodies what I could only imagine doing with mine. I began to think that perhaps gymnastics could be good: to learn how to compete, to put out your best, to experience success and failure, and to grow in strength and mastery of your body. I thought it might help a girl especially feel good about herself, to know she was so strong and tough, and I wondered if perhaps at some point in the future one of our daughters might participate on the team. In my mind, I flipped a bit.

Soon our hour was over and we needed to go home. Walking out of the gym, I saw a mom from the island team. I had a couple questions to ask her about the competition, curious about what numbers I had seen the judges display.

The mom and I began talking about gymnastics team. “Start saving now, ” she advised me, if we were thinking about having our girls participate on the team. I could tell from the uniforms and sweats that gymnastics team cost money, and this mom told me that there were other costs involved for the practice time. The girls practice 5 nights a week, nearly year round, 3 hours a day or more, sometimes as late as 6:30 or 7 at night. Her daughter had started classes at 3 and was selected for team at age 9. Apparently her daughter would like to do soccer or other activities, but all she can do is one week of gymnastics camp, due to the intense commitment of being on the team. The mom summarized: “It’s all or nothing.”

Walking outside with my three girls, I had a hard time imagining what it would be like for our family, if one of our daughters practiced so intensely. Sure it would cost us money, but I was more concerned what else we would pay, especially in time. What kind of gymnastics we’d have to do as a family to accommodate this training. No more dinners together every night. And to do it year round – the cost was too much for us already, even to imagine. I bent back.

Abigail, as we walked back to our house, said, “All I was thinking about was stickers, getting more stickers!”

I laughed with relief.

Back at home, as I made lunch, Abigail started drawing on a piece of paper.
“I’m drawing someone dancing, ” she explained.
“Because it’s fun.”
“Which is fun?”
“Dancing AND drawing. Both.”

And I want it to stay that way.

Tags: family

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Beth // Feb 3, 2004 at 9:55 am

    Ummm…i dont agree with you. i am a competitive gymnast and i have every snice i was 8 i do not have an eating disorder or anything like that i a belive gymnastics adds good character and i thimnk it has helped me through some difficult times.