(Dec 2015) Yesterday I woke at 5:30 am. Cleaned the kitchen, brewed dark coffee, and made a hot steamy pot of oatmeal. I didn't really have to get dressed I had slept in my work clothes (right?) which happened to be perfect for the day's errand. Then in the cold, I scraped the frost off my car windshield and I drove across town to sit on a slim wooden plank for 6 hours straights.
If you aren't dying of jealousy perhaps you should be. It's hard to see when it is framed in the sleepiness of snowless December morning. It takes the right mirror to see the beauty here.
6 hours on the bleachers trying not to spill coffee, topple purses, or drop cameras to the floor below... yeah that sucked. But it was also wonderful. We are some lucky parents!
I spent the first part of the morning with the moms and dads of level 8 and 9: Veterans Parents of the gym life. We chatted easily with families from other gyms. The second half I sat with the parent's of the 7's, a lot of them new to Optionals. I listened to the parents and coaches moving around us. I watched the girls, "ours' and "theirs".
Somewhere in that window of time, I had a moment of clarity about the whole gym mom thing...
Last week after working all morning at the gym I traded my spot at the front desk for a seat on the parent bleachers hoping for a little time to watch the last hour of practice. It wasn't long after I had gone up that one of our girls heading from beam to break stopped to call up to me, "Hey Mom, did you see it?! I landed my double-down-double-down!" yes, I did see it, and yes she called me mom.
Now the reason they call me mom is because I am there for them. What I do is very simple: I listen to them. I listened when they are so excited about something they can't stand still. I listen when they are trying so hard not to cry you can't understand the words but you know the feelings. I listen when the stories trail on too long and the gym phone is ringing. I listened when every word is told through a single expression, a frown, a smile, a nod. We have a few clear rules and a whole lot of respect for each other. I enjoy each of them for who they are, no agenda, no strings attached, just love.
Wouldn't I be so wonderful if I was always the person I am for them? I would be the best *gym* mom.
There is some good advice floating out there on how to be just that a good Gym Parent. It's worth reading. In fact, I found one a few years ago that about what to say. I followed it religiously; "I am so proud of you." "I love watching you do gymnasts", "Have fun."... But last year outside of Regionals my kid turned to me and said, "You always say that it's getting old. Find something else to say."
So I said, a little too loudly, "Go in there and win or you are walking home!" My child laughed and said, "Thanks, mom, you are the best."
She did "win" but she also had to walk home, well back to the hotel anyway it was only a couple of blocks.
Although the advice is good I would warn trying to fit into some preset behavioral mold that isn't genuine will never work. Our kids are too smart to fall for it. They can see straight though Critical Mom's smile and read her disappointment. They know when a parent doesn't have time to make a meet and when a parent isn't making time to make a meet.
See my kid knows me too well too. She knows what I really want to say I'm not saying. If I was being honest with her I would say "I love you such much I would be happy to watch you do anything but I hate gymnastics. Well, floor is pretty cool and bars is kind of okay and now that you aren't doing that stupid front hand spring vault I guess vault is kind of cool too but fuck beam you should never do beam it scares me." and "I don't want you to ever be sad...wouldn't you rather be a ski jumper?"
Never would I have picked this sport for her and yet...
I am so far from perfect but I am trying my best for her; trying not to let her down- not the other way around.
Every hour I work goes straight towards her gymnastics.
I almost never turn down extra shifts to ensure she can follow her passion.
I cheat the grocery money to save for travel expenses.
And carrying the weight of monetary stress &/or sacrifice is not part of their job, that's all on us.
I learned to do meet hair.
I learned to see the beauty in the work instead of finding fault in the art form.
I learned that she is going to struggle, fall, cry, be sad, and it has nothing to do with me.
She is going to grow, win, and get back up, and that has even less to do with me or who I am as a parent.
There is the clarity. We as a society, as parents, don't need to police our bench or sideline behaviors we need to be better in the big world. Not just about sports but about school, about relationships, about our bodies, about our differences, and about kindness.
We don't need our kids to do better for us we need to be better for them. Gymnastics is more than a sport; it is a teaching tool for success that our daughters will carry with them long after they retire. As a parent you can't simply try to talk the talk on game day, you have to walk the walk inside your heart.
Going to church on Sunday does not make you a better person, being a better person does that. So saying all the right things in the car on the way to a meet doesn't make you a good gym mom, being a good mom does that.
And it may sound like I encountered a ton of ill-behaved parents yesterday, I didn't. In fact, I found almost the opposite some really great parents watching some really great kids. That is what started me thinking about what it takes to be a good gym mom. And that is the reason I have given up scoring meets. Yep, take the gym part right out of the equation and it is simple: love, listen, and learn.
Just in case you were wondering I did find a new catch phrase to use before a meet. I found it at Brestyan's when Beach was sick, getting sicker, and it was late, getting later. We were all tired and full of doubt. I turned to her to say the only thing I could, “Go to your people.” And she did.
To The Parents of GTC:
The man leading our daughters is the kind of man who takes the time to celebrate our girls for their differences. I watched him yesterday be the first to offer hugs, the first to laugh, the first to smile.
I watched him jump to save a girl falling from bars even before her own coached reacted. I watched him unable to hide his excitement when one of the girls cast to handstand on bars and then cast over destroying her bars routine & score and yet having a personal victory in getting to handstand for the first time in a meet.
I watched all our coaches meet the needs of our daughters as they competed. They were honest, positive, & strong. Offering support and correction and most importantly a mirror for our daughters to see themselves as the capable young women their coaches know them to be.
We are so lucky to have these amazing men and women in our lives and in the lives of our precious daughters. As a gym family, we are blessed with diversity, kindness, and good humor. I love us. I want all of you to know that I am so grateful to be traveling this journey together.