Saturday, January 9, 2016

Children's Hobbies: Contemplating When Passion Might Not be Possible

My sixth-grader, Ari, is a competitive gymnast. She grew up with a musical prodigy for an older sister, but Ari never really had a burning passion for anything.

When she started asking for gymnastics lessons, we signed her up. Ari has always been a free spirit, just sort of floating through life with a smile on her face and sharing her beautiful heart with the masses.

Weeks after her first gymnastics lesson, Ari was moved into the advanced beginner class. A week after that, she broke the growth plate in her foot hopping on the colored tiles at Hannaford and was out of commission. We sort of figured that would be it, that her unreliable attention span would flit onto something else, but we were mistaken.

When Ari was able to return to gymnastics, she was put on the pre-team class. Then she had to have her tonsils and adenoids out, which meant being out of gymnastics for several months.

Despite the setbacks, she quickly became an accomplished gymnast with a sweet and natural form. She competes well (she qualified for the state championship at her second meet of the year), and the discipline she puts into gymnastics has given her an impressive work ethic. Without gymnastics, she would not be a straight-A student or endlessly patient with her younger sisters or understanding about certain financial sacrifices we've all had to make.

Gymnastics has made my sweet, dippy, empathetic, kind, funny, sassy girl into a truly amazing young woman.



At a mid-November meet, Ari tore her Achilles' tendon during warmups. She competed anyway, choosing not to tell either her coach or her family that she was in serious pain. She won first all-around, but it came at a cost--no gymnastics until her injury healed.

This week, almost two months (and lots of doctor visits and physical therapy), she has returned to her gym. She is still going easy, but I haven't seen her smiling like this in months.

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                                                     Ari goofing around on the tumble track.
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                                              First back walkover on the high beam since the injury.

What scares me is what will happen if there is another injury, one that is not as possible to recover from. What would that do to this little girl, to whom being a gymnast has become so much of her identity?

She has two hour classes with her competition team three days a week and goes to open gym on the weekends she does not have competitions. She spends countless hours in the basement practicing on her panel mat and the balance beam her aunt acquired for her in a sketchy CraigsList deal.

Ironically, physical therapy to rehab her ankle and strengthening exercises helped take up some of the time while she recovered, but what if there was an injury that did not allow this?

Gymnastics is a physically grueling activity, and my Ari is tiny and breakable. With this recent injury, I find myself wondering if I should try to downplay the sport's status as the center of my daughter's universe.

I want Ari to see herself as more than a gymnast, talented as she may be. I want her to be able to say, "I am a smart, beautiful, kind, funny, thoughtful young lady".  That she focuses her energy on moving onto the next level of gymnastics instead of loving the zillions of other amazing things about herself hurts me a little.

I love the happiness that Ari has found through gymnastics and the self-confidence and direction it has given a girl who was once kind of a drifter. I love watching her compete, and, yes, I like it when she places.

Sometimes I just wish she'd discover a safer passion.

I never had to worry about Emily breaking her neck on sheet music or falling off of her piano or dropping her bassoon on her head.

What gymnastics has given to Ari is priceless. I just fear that it is temporary, and the cost of that on my little girl would be even higher.