I did gymnastics for a good chunk of my childhood.
Sometimes people ask me if I’d put my kids in it. There were quite a few years I was like “hell, no” (though I generally worded it a little differently). The hard times were the memories that came to mind most often; I cringed to think of my children going through similar stuff.
Like the time I got back from an away meet and my coach spent 45 minutes at the first practice after yelling at me. The gist of it was that my performance (which hadn’t been great) was an embarrassment to her; I was an embarrassment to her, the gym, and USA Gymnastics. She concluded by telling me that she had been waiting several days to yell at me and now felt much better. Ah…okay, then.
Or being told to eat a maximum of 1200 calories a day, that crying wasn’t okay (actually, just don’t show emotions), or that we should keep what happened at the gym at the gym (don’t tell parents!). A few times I got kicked out of practice because I wasn’t able to get a skill right quickly enough. I was glad to be kicked out — it was better than being left on an event for hours and hours, being periodically told I couldn’t do anything right or being ignored.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to flip the bird and walk out. I never saw anyone do that (Contradict a coach? No way!). I bet it would have led to something interesting.
For many years, whenever a painful memory or feelings of anger came up, I’d side-step or push it down, telling myself I just needed to be over it and move on. You’re an adult Robin; that was a long time ago. Just let it go. But I somehow couldn’t just “let it go”and move on. I wondered what would happen if I actually entertained the feelings. Would they spiral out of control? Would I lose it? The idea of feeling angry felt scary.
This past summer, for whatever reason, I decided to let myself feel angry about the crappy times for the first time. I vented, spewed, growled, and bitched to my husband for about 30 minutes. And then you know what? Instead of growing, the feelings started to dissipate on their own. Yes, the memories of the hard times were still there. However, they didn’t sting quite as much.
Maybe what was a little more surprising — I started to feel a touch of compassion for the coaches I’d felt most angry towards, like the one I’d embarrassed so greatly. Not that I agreed with decisions or methods, however, it dawned on me that they were people too, and man — I wonder what sort of crap they’d had going on in their lives.
I remembered some of the rumblings I’d heard over the years. Considering from an adult perspective, I suspect some of them were really struggling. One thing I’ve learned: hurting people hurt people. And in a way, I’m grateful to them for contrast: I learned a lot about how and who I didn’t want to be, which continues to help shape how and who I do.
As the sting lessened, the positive memories also started to come forward more strongly. I remembered the perspective of another coach: while she was disappointed for us whenever we fell at a meet, she knew we weren’t trying to fall and feedback wasn’t personal. I thought about the teammates I’d met over the years, so many kind and beautiful souls (some of whom are close friends to this day). I remembered highlights from my best meets; I remembered the thrill of nailing a routine. When I watched some old videos, it struck me how cool it was that I was able to do the skills I was able to do. I truly could flip with ease.
Getting back to my kids and gymnastics, if it’s something they’re into (and I think my son might be), I’ll support them. Yes, I’ll be there checking out each and every gym and coach to make sure I feel good about it all (and really, I’ll do this for any sport or activity they want to do). I know nobody’s perfect and right all of the time, and also that it’s okay to disagree with a coach (or anyone else, for that matter). I also know that my kids have their lessons to learn in life, as we all do. And it won’t always be easy, shiny, and bright. There will be times it hurts — pain is part of life and to try and protect them from doing anything because I had some hard times wouldn’t be fair to them. I’ve got to allow them space to learn and grow.
In any case, I’ll be there loving them whatever direction they go. And if that turns out to be gymnastics? It’ll all be okay.