No Longer a Gym Mom (aka: When Your Kid Quits)

Gymnastics Team Coaching

My daughter is the tiny one on the right

My daughter quit competitive gymnastics last year. At the end of a great Level 8 season, she announced, “I’m done.” And that was it. I thought it would be so hard when she gave up her sport. After all, she had been a gymnast since the age of 4 – nearly 8 years. Nearly 8 years of eating, breathing, and sleeping gymnastics. 8 years of living in leotards and eating meals at the gym, and being covered in chalk dust.

But you know what? It wasn’t that hard. My daughter was done. And she happily moved on to explore new things – a soccer team, drawing cute comic books, and playing with her brothers and toys and hamsters more often. Every now and then, she complains that she can no longer do a great split or a standing back tuck. But then…who cares? She is no longer being judged on her ability to do so. And I am no longer shelling out thousands of dollars a year to fund her sport. Which I did, because yes – I thought my daughter had that special something that could take her to the Olympics, or at least a university scholarship. (But then again, she is a disciplined, dedicated, mostly straight-A student. So who needs gymnastics for a scholarship?)

bye bye money

 

It’s funny, how our culture convinces us parents that it is not good enough for our kids to just explore the world. To paint pictures for fun. To try a few different sports for the joy of it. To toss a Frisbee, fly a kite, ride a bike. Remember when that was childhood? But now, ours is a culture of elitism and one-upmanship. Part of it is for parental bragging rights (Look at my Johnny! He just won the state Taekwondo Championship!). Part of it is fear (If my kid isn’t the best of the best at something, she won’t get into a good university).

All of it is rather ridiculous. Because here’s the thing – great universities still accept great students. Good universities still accept good students. And it makes more sense to invest those thousands of dollars into a college savings fund each year instead of throwing it toward competitive sports, hoping for that rare scholarship.

And we parents, we know this. We know perfectly well that if little Jenny never accomplishes much more than a few Girl Scout badges and a season or two of recreational volleyball, then she will not be any less of an accomplished adult than the kid who played first-chair violin until graduating high school (because we also know that hardly anyone continues to play their band instruments beyond high school, even for pleasure). And yet, we persist in our ridiculousness, pushing our kids through the gamut of competitive lacrosse and football and soccer and gymnastics, feeding them dinner in the car, and helping them with homework late into the night. And we assure ourselves that we are creating for our children a better future. competitive running for medals kids lacrosse

So I, too, told myself. Until my daughter quit. And I didn’t know before what a good thing it was to quit, until suddenly, I realized that my daughter has time. She has time to daydream. She has time to finish her homework, then play with her dollhouse, or watch Spongebob, or ride her scooter around the neighborhood. She has time to be a kid who is not on the fast-track toward becoming an elite athlete. And maybe this is what it takes to create for her a better future. Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

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Life Has No Pause Button (a.k.a. Changes)

Everything has its season. Change is inevitable. Of course, of course, like so many others, I am very familiar with these sayings. And of course, they are true. Life has no pause button. Children do not remain small. People grow and change. Our interests and abilities shift as time marches forward. But although we understand these things, when the tide shifts and change arrives, it is unsettling, like walking on wet sand.

My daughter is quitting gymnastics. It is a huge change – not just for her, but for everyone in our family. She has spent most of her childhood as a gymnast, breathing in chalk dust, traveling to competitions throughout the state and beyond, and executing difficult skills as her team and her family cheer her on. She has been our little athletic superstar, smiling for the camera with shiny medals hanging around her neck. Our tiny Olympic hopeful. But now, at the young age of eleven, she has decided that she has had enough. She is currently competing as a Level 8 gymnast (out of 10 levels). This will be her final season.

Balancing on the balance beam

I love my daughter to pieces, and naturally, I respect her decision. Gymnastics is one of the most demanding youth sports, and one of the most expensive in terms of money as well as time. Unless a child dreams of obtaining Olympic gold, or at least university scholarships, there is not much point in continuing at the highest levels. But still, I will miss it. I will miss seeing her do amazing flips across the balance beam and swing around the bars in her adorable leotards. I will miss her huge grin as she salutes for the judges and earns high scores. I will miss the proud idea that she is The Gymnast of the family. Oh, change is hard. Boo, change!

Swinging around the high bar

But on the other hand, change can be a very good thing. No more gymnastics means no more scheduling our family life around her 25-hour per week sports schedule. It means no more cooking dinner before two in the afternoon and packing it in thermoses and containers for her to eat at the gym. It means no more silent homework times in the car during the long commute, no more missing out on birthday parties or school events, and more time for her to play with her brothers, and maybe make a friend or two.  And perhaps best of all, no more gymnastics means more money in the family budget. Wow – money to save for a new car, money to replace our aging household furniture, money to save for family vacations – money!

“What would you like to try after gymnastics is over?” I asked my daughter, because with her natural athletic ability, it is impossible to imagine that she is not doing some sort of sport. “Perhaps a dance class or swim team?”

My daughter’s next words completely shocked me. “I think it would be fun to play soccer. I’ve never done it before, but it looks like fun.”

Soccer? Soccer? My daughter is ready to quit gymnastics and try playing soccer? Wow! Okay, change isn’t such a bad thing after all. Hooray for new beginnings! Open the door; bring on the change!

Medals for gymnastics winners

Life on the Scales (aka Parenting is a Balancing Act)

My daughter likes to watch her brother’s soccer games on one of her only days off from gym.

Today, I am being a bad parent and a good parent at the same time. You see, I am letting my 11 year-old daughter play hooky from school. I know, I know…what an irresponsible mom! But I do have a good reason. My daughter, who is now a level 8 competitive gymnast, is almost never home. Since she is required to train 22 hours per week, nearly every moment of her time is absorbed by school or training for her sport. Even when we do have moments together, driving to schools or the gym, she is usually doing homework. The sacrifice? Time together to swap jokes, talk about books, or learn how to French braid hair. Time to be silly and play pretend or even watch her pet hamster run around his cage. Sit down and eat family meals together? Ha! Five evenings per week, I hand my daughter an insulated thermos full of food to eat during her break.

Sometimes, I feel terrible, as though my kid is missing out on a normal childhood. Her brothers get so much more time to play with friends, to daydream, to bake cookies, and to lie about watching Spongebob cartoons. They get so much more of my personal time and attention. It seems so uneven.

“I don’t mind, Mom,” my daughter told me the last time I expressed these concerns. She is perfectly happy to eat from a thermos and breathe chalk dust 22 hours per week. She would rather swing around the uneven bars or do flips on a balance beam than daydream and play with friends. It is a sacrifice, but for her, the payoff makes it completely worthwhile.

This week, due to the time and financial commitment to her sport, she was unable to join her sixth grade classmates at science camp. So, rather than force her to go to school and be the only kid there, playing hangman and watching movies with a substitute teacher, for today, I decided to let her stay home. What a great morning it has been! We built structures together with Kapla blocks, did housework while listening to music, and then lounged around on the sofa, watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Then I taught her how to make the perfect cup of tea, while we discussed the book she is reading, Anne of Green Gables, and we ate warm slices of fresh, homemade bread. Next, we are going to paint our nails and practice French braiding hair. Bad parenting? Maybe. As for me, I call it balance.

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Onigiri — IKEA-Style (My Version of Fast Food)

So our family does a lot of sports. At the moment, my 10-year-old daughter is training to compete in Level 8 gymnastics (22 hrs. of training per week!). My 12-year-old son plays soccer almost year round and practices 2-3 times per week. My youngest starts soccer again this summer, and I play indoor soccer three times per week.

Sports, I love. Kids’ sports, I love. Feeding my family fast food? I loathe. With a passion. I’d much rather throw together a bunch of homemade bean and rice burritos than swing through the drive-thru of Taco Smell. I prefer to prepare and freeze a dozen healthy mini pizza calzones to warm up on the run, or even pack good old-fashioned sandwiches for dinner. And here is one of our family favorites: Onigiri. But, being a true Californian, we had to turn our Japanese favorite into a fusion dish by adding some frozen meatballs from our friendly-neighborhood IKEA store. Ta-daa!! Swedish Onigiri! Here’s how we do it:

STEP ONE:

Throw some Calrose Rice into the rice cooker (the good, sticky Japanese sushi rice works best, although we have tried this with Thai glutinous rice, too. Totally different awesome fusion dish). While the rice is cooking, warm up your meatballs. No IKEA where you live? Any basic 1-inch meatballs will do. When the rice is cooked, line a small cup (like the one on the right) with plastic wrap and add some rice. Make a little “nest” in the center for the meatball.

STEP TWO:

Easiest step of all. Add the meatball to the nest. Cover with more rice (not too much, or your onigiri will be huge!)

STEP THREE:

Lift the saran wrap from the cup and twist around until very tight. If you can stand the heat, then use your hands to shape the onigiri into the perfect ball (or whichever fun shape strikes your imagination).

STEP FOUR:

Unwrap onigiri and sprinkle with salt for flavor and to reduce the stickiness. Best way to eat it? With the hands, of course, especially while sitting in the car driving kids to sports, or while sitting in the stands and watching. Also works well for school lunches, and probably even the dinner table. But who has time for that?

Not Your Typical Soccer Mom

I am definitely not your typical Sports Mom. Yes, my three kids are all involved in sports. And like plenty of other parents, I drive them to practice (yes, I confess it, in a minivan), pack on-the-go dinners, and cheer for them like crazy at games and meets. But I am not your everyday, ordinary soccer mom.

I am a soccer-soccer-soccer mom.

I love soccer. But I do not only love to watch my sons play. I also play soccer–on four different indoor teams at the moment. Yes, it is a sickness! But it is such a rush, and always an incredible workout.

I am also a huge fan of professional soccer. I know, I know…this is so un-American of me. Especially since my favorite team, Manchester United, is part of the English Premiere League.

"Chicharito" from Manchester United -- One of my favorite soccer players.

Or maybe I am actually a trend-setter, leading the charge of Americans rushing toward a sport that the rest of the world discovered long ago is the Best Sport Ever. They don’t call it the Beautiful Game for nothing.

My boys, who are 7 and 11-almost-12, play recreational soccer.

Soccer game day from August 2010

Sadly, neither one of them is particularly athletic. Yes, I love and accept them no matter where they excel or struggle. But I also confess: I am one of those awful sports parents who expected all of my kids to be coordinated and fast and aggressive little athletes, and sometimes it is painful for me to watch my sons play sports. Especially when my 7yo insists on chasing dragonflies across the soccer field instead of the ball (Really, kid? Come on–kick the darned ball! Please?) But the point is not for them to be soccer superstars. The point is for my kids to enjoy being active, to be part of a team, and to learn new skills.

Then there is my 10yo daughter.

Daughter at a Level 6 meet last spring

The polar opposite of her brothers, my daughter is a natural athlete. She competes on a Level 7 gymnastics team and pretty much lives at the gym, where she swings giants on the bar, flips handsprings and layouts across the floor, and breathes chalk dust 16 hours per week. She does all of this without complaint, despite sore muscles, lack of leisure time, and paper bag dinners four times per week.  If only I could be so dedicated! Well, I guess I am dedicated in the financial sense. This month, I spent around $1300 on my daughter’s sport (competition leotard, warmup sweats, new workout leotard, partial annual team fees, and tuition–approximately $275 per month!!!). Coming soon is competition season, during which I must be dedicated to lots of traveling, hotel expenses, and sitting on hard bleachers for hours every Saturday. But that’s what it takes to be a super Sports Mom. And for my kids, I am all in.