Today, I believe a Russian gymnastics coach implied that I’m a poor mother. Let’s unpack this…
Many months back, I wrote a post about my daughter’s gymnastics classes and how I never imagined that I’d be one of those activity-crazed mothers running their child hither, thither and yon in pursuit of excellence. Remember that?
Well, Hailey was in a pre-team class, which meant spending more time at the gym than I was comfortable with, and under the tutelage of a strict Russian coach – it’s sounds so cliche, but I am not kidding. But Hailey seemed to do well with the setup and was undeniably talented – she was attentive in class and looked forward to going each week. I wrote, way back when, that it was like watching a baby bird learn to fly.
As the year wore on, the hustle to get homework and play time and bath time in around gymnastics classes started to wear Hailey – and me – down. I watched her at the gym, and she was having no fun. She never smiled (somewhat like the coach) and took every admonition by the coach as proof that she was personally horrible. (Wonder where she got that trait from…?) In the car on the way home, she cried and said she never wanted to go back to gymnastics class.
What’s a parent to do? My first instinct was to tell her to suck it up and stick it out. Jon and I agreed that she would have to keep going to classes for four more weeks, and then we’d reevaluate. I mean, this was sure to blow over, right? We couldn’t let our kid quit something at the first sign of adversity, right? What kind of lesson would that teach her?
Four weeks went by and Hailey had had enough. It was decision time. Would we let her quit and teach her that when things get hard, you just walk away, or would we realize that she’d already shown remarkable persistence by participating in every class, even though she was having a miserable time?
If she was going to excel at gymnastics, she had to be ready to be instructed and spend a lot of time at the gym. Not every teacher is going to match her personality – we should keep pushing her to go and learn the life lesson that sometime things are tough.
On the other hand, she’s seven, and we’re not trying to raise the next Mary Lou Retton. We chose gymnastics as an extra-curricular activity, not a life sentence.
In the end, we chose to move Hailey to a regular class with other girls at her skill level – just once a week, with a coach who has been known to smile and be quite pleasant.
Trust me, I get that sometimes kids need to be pushed to do things they don’t want to do – go to school, clean their rooms, brush their teeth, do their homework. But we signed Hailey up for gymnastics so she could feel strong and have fun, and she was doing neither. I’ll admit that I was flattered that she’d been asked to be on the pre-team, and I really wanted to see her succeed. But my definition of success got tangled up in my own ambitions for my daughter.
Which brings us to today, when the Russian coach found me on the bleachers with the other waiting parents and wanted me to explain why Hailey was no longer in her class. I thought I was quite diplomatic in explaining that Hailey didn’t wish to have the pressure of being on the team and gymnastics had ceased to be fun for her. I explained that Hailey had a tendency to cry a lot after practices and Hailey had the impression that she was no good at doing what the coach wanted.
Conversations with this coach tend to be difficult, as her English is good but not nuanced, and conversations where she questions your parental judgement are even more difficult. She made it clear that it was my job to make Hailey come to class, and tell her to get over it, that everyone has stage fright or tough times or whatever. Moreover, I was teaching her a bad lesson, letting her step down.
She didn’t realize she was saying everything to me that I’d already said to myself.
‘You the mother, you the mother’ (Imagine that in your best Russian accent.)
‘Yes, I’m the mother, and my kid won’t be in your class anymore.’
Well, I didn’t say that exactly, but that was the gist of it. When someone who does not care about your child calls your parental decisions a ‘mistake’, it tends to rouse the mother-bear instinct. But I did not strike this woman or curse at her in a flurry of English that she might not have understood. I pointed to Hailey, out on the gym floor with her new class, jumping up and down in excitement and said, ‘I’m just looking out for her.’
And who knows, maybe it is a mistake. Maybe Hailey will have commitment issues for the rest of her life because, at seven, we indoctrinated her with the value that extra curricular activities should be pleasant, god forbid.
But for just a few hairy weeks, I became the driven mom who cared less for my child’s contentment than her success. She was going to be a Hot Shot, by god, come hell or high water.
Well, I’ve stepped back from the edge. I’m sure that coach is going to tell her husband all about my soft, decadent Western parenting and the big mistake I’ve made.
But you know what? It’s not the end of the world.
*Jon wanted me to title this post ‘I’m the momb’. Leave a comment if you get that joke…