My son was born a gymnast. He was so still in the womb, I was constantly afraid there was something wrong. My first pregnancy I carried a boy who never stopped moving. They switched at birth. My oldest after birth was content to sit for hours and play beside me as I folded socks. My second son came out with two pushes and was not content to sit still, ever. Before he could even sit up, he would roll and roll till he hit a wall or something else he could not move and then roll the other way till he was stopped again. The first time he crawled he went out the nursery door, across the hall and down an entire flight of stairs before I could even react. I screamed in horror, and his reaction, when he landed at the bottom was a smile. Till I freaked him out by screaming, then he cried. It was not his last trip down the stairs or up the beds, over the crib, under things, over things, life was often seen by him upside down because he would stand on his head.
When he was two or three years old, my mom put him down for his nap, came back to check on him later and he was not in his bed. He was not in his bed, he was not in his room, he was not in the hall, he was not as far as we could tell anywhere in the house. We looked for what seemed like forever and were beginning to panic, the pattern with this child you will see is… panic. We went to his room one more time, before I could begin to dial ALL the emergency numbers, and heard a sound. It was a little giggle, and then another one. I looked, up, yes, up.
And there sitting on the top of the door was my son. Grinning from ear to ear and beaming with great pride and joy, not that he was able to climb an 8 foot door, no, it was I gotcha. The years that followed were full of stories much like this, whatever he could climb, jump, flip over, that was him. When you wanted to find him, you looked up. He was just built differently, from the first day. Life was full of challenges, that had to be met head on.
There was no fear, except from me. I remember the day I realized I had to let it go and came to understand that it was not my job as a mom to change him, but to figure out why he was made that way, how he could use it for good and how we could both survive. We were at my oldest sons’ baseball practice and I was nursing my daughter and suddenly heard a scream, followed by shouts of “whose child is this?” I looked up to see, my son at the top of the backstop fence. I placed my daughter in her car seat, walked over to the fence, asked my son to please come down and proceeded to go back to my chair. I was met with a barrage of comments from bystanders including, “what kind of a mother are you?” I turned and said, “the kind that knows that all kids are unique and yelling at one at the top of a 18 foot fence will likely do more harm than good.” I determined then and there to find something, where my son would feel at home, be safe and not feel like there was something wrong with him.
So the journey began. We tried, football, soccer, baseball, fencing, cooking, art. In baseball they had to catch him at third base because he wasn’t suppose to steal home. In football, he would line up and then do a backflip just before the hand-off. In soccer a summersault usually came with throwing in the ball, front flips to do basketball, you get the picture. Then it happened, we moved and one day I found my son and the little girl next door sitting up on the basketball net. Her mom came across the yard, looked up and said,” Its time to get down.” No panic, no shock, no “what is my child doing up there with your child?” Her daughter had always been this way, the solution, gymnastics. I was thinking… padding.
I called around and found several places that wanted to see him. They led him out onto the floor and put him in the team group, so he could try out. He was almost nine years old, as I sat there some people asked about my son. They were quick to inform me that at nine, he was really too old to start this type of sport. I watched, he was not able to do the flips they way the rest of the boys could, but he sure did try. In fact there was not anything that he wouldn’t try. He climbed the ropes, he ran, he jumped, he flipped… he smiled. When it was done, my husband and I walked over to meet one of the coaches. I held my breath, I just knew that his would be so great for my son, but would they see what I saw? Was I fooling myself? Maybe it was too late. The coach shook our hands, smiled down at my son and then said, “we would love to have him on our team.” I am not completely sure how to tell you what my mother’s heart was feeling, but it was a lot like gratitude, a little peace and whole lot of joy. I watched him everyday grow more in love with the sport and with each day become content, happy, and excited. He found friends, and a place to belong, who doesn’t want a place to belong?
It would not be honest to tell you we lived happily ever after, because gymnastics is a hard sport. It requires every muscle in your body and hours and hours of training. We have had our ups and downs. Gymnastics like many sports can be a hit or miss depending on the day. Unlike other sports, you only get one chance in front of the judges for a few seconds to show them what hours and hours, sometimes years, of doing the same skills over and over has taught you. And as you propel your body into the air end over end and if your feet are not pointed the right way or you bend your knee, after flipping 2 1/ 2 times, they will deduct. The judges will point out each way you missed the mark of perfection and the coaches will tell you too. But, if you ask my son if he wants to quit, even at the lowest moment, he still says no. He won state and regionals for level 5, the second year he competed, then went to level 7, won state and regionals and we are now in level 9. As I write this I am at the Men’s Jr. Olympic Nationals, awaiting the competition to begin. I do not know if this will be a good day or a bad one, what I do know is that there is no other place my son would rather be and for that, I will sit here, cheer him on and tell him that he is a champion to me no matter what the score says. My son was born a gymnast and I am grateful to be along for the crazy ride and grateful that I am his mom.