We went to a gymnastics meet at the U of I and were going to take part in the clinic afterwards. All the girls from her Girl Scout troop were going, and I thought it sounded like a nice Sunday afternoon event. Taylor has wanted to do gymnastics for a couple months and I haven’t been able to sign up yet. I thought this would be a good way to show her what she’d be working towards, and then give her a chance to try it out.
We got there, got registered and waited for the rest of the girls. We start our ascent up the bleachers and Taylor starts getting shaky. Crap… she’s afraid of heights and I hadn’t thought of it. I should’ve suggested to the troop leader that we sit further down. But she presses on, gathers her inner strength and follows the rest of the girls to the very top row. She joins the girls on the benches and I sit with the moms. After about 10 minutes, she decides she’d rather sit with me. Tip off #1 that she’s feeling antsy.
This meet is set to last about 2 hours because there are 3 teams. We watch for 45 minutes and Taylor turns to me, worry in her eyes, and says “I just can’t handle all this loud-ness.” Crap… she’s just like me when I was little. I never liked being in the gym with tons of people or indoor concerts. Something about the combination of being somewhat confined and loud noises always made me really nervous and she’s the same way. I deal with it better now as an adult, but I had neglected that fear of hers too. I immediately start beating myself up… Why hadn’t I remembered? She’s not afraid of much, but I had managed to put her in a situation in which she’d be uncomfortable for 2 big reasons. She’s looking at me for direction and guidance… what am I supposed to do? She covers her ears and buries her face in my abdomen. This is her safe place. I wrap my arms around her while I formulate a plan. I can scoop her up and get outta here in minutes. Maybe I should escape.
I raise her chin so that our eyes meet. “Do you want to leave?” I can tell by her face that she doesn’t want to go, but her anxiety in this situation is eating at her. She asks “Can I just try to take a nap on you until the end?” I really don’t want her to miss it, and I don’t want to make a scene leaving. Suddenly, something I call “Mom Genius” pops in. “How about this, bitty: we’ll cheer with everyone. When you’re cheering, you can’t really hear everyone else who is cheering. We’ll cheer on our Illini or whatever gymnast we like and before we know it, we’ll be ready for the clinic!” Her eyes light up. It’s amazing what a mom in love with her baby can think of when the pressures mount.
The rest of the meet goes by quickly as we cheer for the girls swinging on the bars, flipping on the balance beam and dancing on the big blue mat. She doesn’t know what to say so she cheers “Blue mat, blue mat!” and “Bars! Bars!” Others probably wondered why she was saying that, I just rejoiced that she could enjoy this experience. She rejoins the rest of the girls, reassured that she can beat her fear by taking control of it. She plays and laughs and takes a trip with them to the bottom of the bleachers to color gymnast pictures. At the end of the meet we’re on our way to the clinic and she swings and jumps and smiles- worry free.
It occurs to me as I watch her with pride from the mom area… this is parenting. Those few moments summed up the work I’ll likely do for the rest of my days… knowing when to hover and when to guide and release, when to leave the situation and when to reassure and endure, and teaching how to overcome some of life’s not-niceties along the way. And then stepping back and watching her put the advice to work.