April 4, 2010

in no manual for parenting


I don’t know where my oldest gets his athletic prowess. I guess we lucked out.

He started gymnastics at our park district when he was three years old because I did not like the idea of sitting in the sun, the rain, or the cold for ball games. When he was seven, he was asked to join the newly-formed Boys Team  and he started his “career” in competitive gymnastics. It did sound impressive when I told people that he went to the State Championship. I am not one of those pushy and hyper-critical parents. I am amazed by the gymnastic moves my oldest can do, with ease, and most of the time, with grace. But I will be completely honest: there will be no Olympic medals in the future. He is good, could definitely do better, but not that good.

We attend his meets and hold our breath and watch, ready to comfort him or to cheer him on. It is getting harder and harder to sit in the audience since every event now involves the risk of him falling off or falling down. I don’t think I will be able to watch without having a heart attack as they start doing more and more dangerous “tricks”.

How do parents of Olympic athletes quiet their hearts when it is happening? What happens if something wrong happens to your child’s routine? How do you stop the ache in your heart, fortify it, and find the right words to comfort your heart-broken child? I used to wonder about that.

As my oldest reached the higher level in gymnastics, the routines became harder. Because he grew in height without packing on the pounds, his muscle strength (or lack of) does not allow him to perform as well as before. This became very obvious when he attended his first competition this past season.  Less then half way into his floor event, he fell, sat heavily on his bottom, not once, but twice. I could hear the gasps from the audience even in the noisy gymnasium. I will be brutally honest with you: it was painful to watch. I wanted to turn my head and close my eyes. NOT because I was embarrassed, please believe me when I say this, but because the urge to go to him right away and hug him was so strong that I physically felt ill. I had to sit on my hands to prevent them from flying to my mouth or chest and bite my lips so I didn’t break down and cry.

But he got up and finished his routine. He was not frazzled. Much to my surprise, when he exited the floor, he was neither in tears nor pouting; he walked back to where his team was sitting and fist-bumped his coaches.

THAT was one of the proudest moments I have had as a parent.

He has learned to fail. Or rather, he has learned the ability to not get bogged down by an accident or a mistake and forge ahead. He has learned the ability to remain calm and focus on what is ahead. An ability that I am sorely lacking.

Several days later when I was sure it was safe to touch upon the subject, I asked him with a frankness bordering on admiration,

“What was going through your mind when you fell and sat on the floor? How were you able to get up and continue with the routine? How did you find the strength to be so brave?” I was truly amazed by this young person’s (“My own son!”) will power to remain poised under such duress.

“Well, it’s nothing really. The coach has always told us to NOT think about what has happened and just focus on what’s next in the routine. We just need to focus and finish the routine. I don’t notice the audience when I am doing the routines. I just focus.”

Focus. Grace under fire. I believe these are the things that make athletes such special people. Any athletes, no matter the rankings or the scores. They don’t become broken-hearted by a single setback. They just do it again, and again, and again.

At his second meet when my son once again did not place and I once again agonized over what the right things to say to console and encourage him, he bounded to the bench where I was sitting in just one stride, plopped down, and before I could say, “I am sorry honey…”, declared with a smile, “I have achieved my three goals today.”

“I was telling everybody this. I have three goals for this meet and I reached all three of them:

1. I had fun
2. I did better than last time
3. I was not physically or emotionally scarred permanently.”

I laughed and slapped him on his back.

THAT was another one of the proudest moments I have had as a parent.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

April 5, 2010 at 5:28 am

this is inspirational to me as i recently had a set back at work and i need to focus on the future.
sports are a great thing! and thanks to all the great coaches out there
.-= rapjack´s last blog… =-.


subWOW April 5, 2010 at 7:06 am

You are right: thank you for the coaches, esp. Since many of them are volunteers when the kids are young, and our coaches work for the park district so I don’t think they even get health insurance!


Maureen@IslandRoar April 5, 2010 at 6:36 am

Wow, clearly an admirable young man with a good head on his shoulders. Someone obviously is an amazing mom!!
.-= Maureen@IslandRoar´s last blog…Where’s My Horse?? =-.


subWOW April 5, 2010 at 7:10 am

Thank you! You are too kind! I know that people sometimes get frustrated with me because my “inability to take a compliment” LOL! But I do believe giving credits where credits are due. I was so amazed because I honestly never taught him something like this: not being an athlete myself I was really struggling with what to say/do. I truly believe this is why it does take a village to raise a child: none of us knows all the perfect or wise answers, and the kids need to draw inspirations and lessons from wherever they can!


Vintage Christine April 5, 2010 at 7:18 am

To say kids are amazing is totally inadequate. I hope your son keeps that attitude because it will see him through a bunch of stuff down the road. My niece somehow discovered she can pole vault like nobody’s business and has become something of a state champion. We are still scratching our heads over this since the women in the family have not an inkling of athleticism (I just told the phys ed teacher, “Hey, just give me an F in this freaking class and leave me alone”) and have come to the conclusion that her mother was impregnated by aliens from the planet Butch when she was passed out yet again in back in 1994. It is so refreshing to read about a kid (and his mother) who seem to be doing a sport just for the fun and challenge it offers and I wish him all the luck in the world!


subWOW April 6, 2010 at 7:48 am

Thank you! And I failed Phy. Ed. In HS too!! Also in college. Sigh. I didn’t realize this when I signed him up many years ago, but being able to deal with pressure with such calm is indeed the most valuable lesson. I too hope he continues to mature and learns to apply this to all aspects in life. Keeping my fingers crossed.


Merrilymarylee April 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

DANG! Let me write those down! Those are life lessons!

What a great attitude he has and a mind that can focus like that is truly a gift.

(And cheers to the coaches!)
.-= Merrilymarylee´s last blog…Behind Those Walls =-.


subWOW April 6, 2010 at 7:43 am

We are relieved since we were worried that he’s going to be some video-game-online-game-Nintendo-iPod-wii-obsessed slacker. Well, he may still be. He is uber focused when he’s playing a game…


Jennifer Lynn April 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

AWESOME!! I am still learning to fail….and not NEARLY so gracefully.
.-= Jennifer Lynn´s last blog…Beauty: Lurch and Asymmetry…..aka Pitiful Plumage. =-.


subWOW April 6, 2010 at 7:53 am

Thanks! Well, this does not apply to all things: for some reason, he is super competitive when it comes to games with his father. Many times tears and accusations were involved. Sigh.


Jen @ NathanRising April 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I can’t even do a cartwheel to save my life. Kudos to your son for having such an awesome attitude even when he doesn’t do something perfectly! You’re doing this whole parenting thing right!!!
.-= Jen @ NathanRising´s last blog…Because It’s Hard To Be This Cute =-.


subWOW April 7, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Me neither! I can’t do anything athletic-wise. I will be the first one to die if aliens invade the earth because I’ll be the slowest!


Falling April 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Wow. This is amazing. My admiration for all three of you (you, your son, and his coach) knows no bounds. I actually welled up a bit just READING about him falling, because I would also have trouble staying put in the bleachers and not running to his side. Way to go, mama, for conveying so much faith in your son. Lucky boy.
.-= Falling´s last blog…In Case You Want a Reason To Scratch Out Your Own Eyes =-.


subWOW April 7, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Thank you, you are too kind. I think my husband and I are the lucky ones. :-)


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