7 months ago, I finally relented and signed J up for gymnastics classes at the gym closest to our house. One night a week, 50 minutes. After a few weeks she attended a birthday party at the gym for a neighbor, and the coach for the party approached me and said J didn’t belong in the beginner class and would I bring J to her intermediate class? Once a week, an hour and a half. No problem – I was thrilled that someone other than me recognized that J was ready for more. Two weeks after starting the new class, the coach approached me about the Xcel team. 3 days a week, two hours a day. Holy cow.
Now, you have to realize, J was loving every last second in the gym. She was progressing and begging for more time in the gym. Even though three days a week sounded like a lot, I knew she would love it. The clincher was, she’d be competing. Mention the word “competition” and my girl sort of shrunk into herself. When she played soccer last year, she loved soccer practice. Games, not so much. When we talked about her moving up to Xcel she was extremely uncertain about the competitive aspect. Her coaches and I assured her that it would be ok – that it was a performance just like the dance recitals she’d done. We tiptoed around the word “competition,” replacing it with the word “performance” for the first few months of practices.
Then, she started to use the word. And her routines starting coming together. She’d made friends on the team, and most of them hadn’t competed the previous year so she wasn’t alone in her anxiety, and they were all there to support each other. As the first competition got closer, she expressed only excitement about it.
This last week, J was sick and missed the Wednesday night practice. Friday morning, I received an email letting me know that one of the things J missed Wednesday night was an announcement from Coach Mariah that she was leaving the team to start nursing school. My heart sank. Not only is J extremely attached to both of her coaches, she’s also the kid who is completely thrown by having a sub at school, so I knew this wasn’t going to go well. I let her coach know that I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to J before gym, and could she take a moment to talk to her so she didn’t hear it from one of the other girls.
When we got home from gymnastics Friday night, she fell apart. She’d done a great job of holding it together at gym, but when she finally settled, the tears came. The combination of the nervousness and losing her coach came out. We talked for a half hour and she seemed to settle.
This morning, she was back to being excited about things. She got dressed, gave me a thumbs up in her photo by the fireplace, and off we went to the gym. As I started the car, I asked her what song she wanted to hear.
“Brave,” she says, without hesitation. It took all I had not to cry. We cranked up Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” and sang at the top of our lungs. Next she wanted to hear our current favorite car song, “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert. And just like that, the beginnings of a pre-competition routine was born.
We got out of the car and as we walked up to the gym she said, “I have butterflies in my stomach.” I said, “Well, that’s ok, it means you care. And you know what’s interesting about butterflies is one wave of your hand and they’re gone.” We got inside and she took off with her friends. After her floor routine, the first event, she cried. She’d done really, really well. But I think the adrenaline hit her and she wasn’t sure how to process it. She sailed through the other events, even taking a fall off the beam in stride like a pro.
After it was over, she was starving, and trying to figure out how to deal with what she was feeling – having been so scared of something and making it through – that she was a major bear. She was so emotional. I let her pick where to go for lunch and promised ice cream afterwards. She slowly relaxed. She refused to take off her newly purchased sweatshirt sporting her gym’s logo and name all day long. She was hooked, she just didn’t know quite how to deal with all of the emotions. It will take some time for her to figure out that being scared comes hand in hand with the pride she feels at the end of doing the very thing she’s scared about.
But she has so much to be proud of herself for. And I’m so proud of her for getting out there and doing it. I know she’ll be nervous again come January, especially since it won’t be in her gym. I’ve already decided we’ll take a little field trip just so she can see what the inside of the gym looks like because it’s local to us. But for now, I’m going to encourage her just to remember what a brave girl she is.