Why gymnastics? Strength. Power. Determination.

A good friend said one morning after we returned from traveling to the other side of Pennsylvania, “Well, that’s a lot of travel for gymnastics competitions and I’m not sure I’d want to do it.”  Yes, I agreed, it sure is a lot. And it’s particularly awful when you have a 7:45 check-in time on the morning of spring daylight savings time change! Given where we live, this sport does require quite a bit of travel. And yes, it does get expensive.

As we talked, I wondered about when you are single parenting three boys, how do I make decisions about the limited resource of money? After all, there was a recent new roof to be put on the house. The Little Guy needed an expander for braces. And there’s other sports and activities. On top of that, these boys seem to be constantly hungry and want food!! It made me reflect a bit about whether gymnastics is worth the time and money I put into it for this Little Guy.

On the surface, I kid with people that he’s in gymnastics because if he was home those two evenings a week and on Saturday mornings, he’d be stuck on a screen. At least for seven and a half hours a week, I’m not spending a lot of negative energy trying to get him off a screen. And I joke that when people tell me, “Don’t let your kids play ice hockey – it’s too expensive,” I reply, “Have you tried competitive gymnastics?”

So for me, here’s why I sink time and money and energy into this sport.

Strength. You should see the muscles on this little man. A fellow gymnastic mother lamented the other day that her 6-year-old son’s cute little baby belly had flattened into a strong six-pack. I agreed it was surprising to see the definition form. The Little Guy’s six-pack and biceps are the envy of his 11-year-old brother and all the kids in the neighborhood. And, this physical strength has done him well. The summer after his first competition season, The Little Guy became an amazingly fast swimmer on the little community swim league. He had perfect form. His arms motored him from one end of the pool to the other without effort. His body is toned, his coordination is extraordinary, and he’s able to easily pick up other athletic skills.

Power. More than the physical strength, though, this Little Guy has developed an amazing emotional strength and confidence. Mind you, he already exuded far more confidence than you’d expect out of a tiny human being, but he has honed that into a confidence that explodes when he walks into a room. A few weeks ago, he decided to do a “dance” for the school talent show. He didn’t practice at all. He didn’t see the need. He walked onto the stage and did whatever dance moves came to him. He has developed an inner power that makes him invincible.

Determination. There’s one thing that hours and hours of practice promote and that is a strong sense of determination and independence. The gymnasts are taught a certain skill and expected to work on it on their own. They are given a routine and are expected to practice it until they have it down perfectly. They are expected to remember how many swings to do before doing a release move on the high bar. They must remember to hold their legs exactly 90 degrees straight out in front of their body while hanging perfectly still from rings suspended in the air and not forget to point their toes. Not only is their brain remembering all this, their muscles are remembering all this and their bodies are aching. At one point toward the end of last season’s competition, the Little Guy had “rips” (torn skin in the palm of his hands that start with a blister and can tear open and bleed). Nonetheless, he wrapped sports tape around his hands and competed through the pain. At the age of seven. Pushing through difficulty, showing up, controlling his impulses, representing his team, trying his best. There are tremendous life lessons that he’s working through.

The thing is, I realize that his competitions also pull at my competitive nature. I start feeling frustrated and disappointed that he’s not “doing better” or “getting a better score” or remembering to point the toes. I have to step back and remember that there’s very few…very very few….8-year-old boys who can do this at all and who are willing to make this commitment. In truth, he is utterly and entirely amazing as are all the gymnasts.

So, I try not to think of the money. I try not to be tired of driving back and forth. I try to decide what is best for my boys. For now, gymnastics is nurturing and shaping this amazing little 8-year-old. For now this hard work and learning from tough coaches is important for him. For now, the comaraderie of his teammates and the great group of parents is an important part of our family life.  He might not continue after this season. We’re on break right now due to the coronavirus (and he was sad Saturday morning when I told him gymnastics was cancelled even though he’s usually begging to “skip” a practice). And he’ll take a break over the summer to give his brain and body a rest. But I sure will support him if he wants to continue. And we’ll keep using those long drives to competitions as opportunities to explore our region (visiting Gettysburg and Philadelphia have been quite fun!) and to bond as a family.

For now this sport is worth it. We all know life changes rapidly!

 

 

Parenting Boys 101: The Cup

“You are going to wear a cup.”

His eyes went wide as his brain tried to figure out how a drinking cup was going to go on his body. We stood in the “baseball” section of Dicks Sporting Goods. His younger brothers raced around the aisles and in and out of the baseball pants neatly organized on baseball
circular hangers. They each held a $19.99 pair of red baseball gloves that they were sure Mom was going to purchase for them as soon as she finished some eye-to-eye conversation with Super Tall Guy.

“It’s called a cup. It’s protection for your balls.”

Blank stare as he contemplated how a baseball had anything to do with this and needed to be on his body.

“Super Tall Guy,” I whispered, “boys wear these shorts when they play baseball. There is a hard piece of plastic called a cup which is to protect their private area from getting hit with a ball.”

I’m NOT wearing that!” he stressed.

“Oh yes, you are.”

No way – it will make me look big down there. I don’t want to be big. People will notice.”

I laughed inwardly, “Honey, apparently guys want to be big down there” 🙂

“Now into the fitting room.”

I’m NOT trying that on.”

“Oh yes, you are. And hurry up, we’re going to be late for your second practice.”

Tell them to get out of the room.”

Right – you want me tell wild, maniac 4- and 6-year-old dudes to sit quietly outside the fitting room door (without peeking under the door)?!?  “Okay, Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy, sit here while Mom helps Super Tall Guy.”

“Now, honey…quick….put this on.”

His dark brown skin turned a nice shade of pink.

It was Friday evening, the first day of baseball practice. Shelley, the assistant coach, was taking a break and we stood together at the fence talking about boys. She has three as well, though her youngest is eleven. We commiserated a bit before I asked her what my son will “need” for baseball (and what items are “nice” but not essential for the burgeoning kid-sport budget).
  1. Cleats – right….because those are different than soccer cleats (which we have) and football cleats (so that parents can spend a fortune if kids play different sports!)
  2. Baseball pants – huh, don’t have any of those yet…
  3. Glove – got that! (birthday gift this year just for fun)
  4. Bat is not essential but most boys bring their own – got that! (from the birthday. It’s metal, it’s dangerous and has sat in a closet for months to avoid concussing other children)
  5. She didn’t mention ball cap, but from the look of the field, Super Tall Guy is the only one who’s mother can’t remember to grab one from the house!
  6. And cup. “Okay, tell me honestly about that,” I said. “Because I’m clueless.”  She laughed, “I was too.”

I love parents. I love parents of boys, especially of just boys, because they get it!  They know that the kids are dusty because they just somersaulted down the hill. They know that I just opened the minivan door in the parking lot and found the younger two buck naked in there! They know that we spent the entire beach vacation arguing over who was sitting beside whom. They know that I search for a Mute button while pointing a remote at the boys. They know that the couch pillows are torn and duct-taped together from pillow fights and couch trampoline events. They just know. And I know to turn to them and start the conversation because sometimes I need to be reminded that yes, the boys are “normal” and “going to be okay” and will “eventually grow up.”

My job is to love and encourage and protect (every inch of them) along the way!