Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Circus Week

I can't let the Olympics go by without saying something, and these Olympics are special because they're held in my daughter's country of origin. This isn't the China post, though--I'm going to write that one next. But then there's my childlike enthusiasm for all things gymnastics, as well as the alarmingly patriotic feeling that swells in my chest whenever I see a medal ceremony or watch Michel Phelps win, even though I sort of resent my own knee-jerk response. (Heart-jerk response?)

In a fun coincidence, Jarrah attended a week of gymnastics camp during the first week of the Games, her first experience with the sport. I thought she might enjoy a completely new experience, and of course she did. That child is enthusiastic about everything. She attended a local gymnastics "academy" with her friend Amelia, and the two of them were clearly the youngest and smallest in their group--some of those girls were easily 8 or 10. That didn't faze them--neither of them are shy. The camp runs in weekly themes, with this particular week being "Circus Week," though I never really figured out what made it so. The place is a huge two-story warehouse on a street of other warehouses, which sounds kind of grim except that it was also filled with state-of-the-art equipment, and bathed in natural light from the many windows and doors. The teachers, Corey and Britney (you can tell when they were born) seemed very sweet, and Jarrah was sweaty and full of stories each day when I picked her up.

A few times, I arrived early or stayed late on the observation deck upstairs, with a big window overlooking the studio from whence one can spy on the action below. I can't say that I saw much that resembled gymnastics, but I saw them stretching (Jarrah is very flexible) and doing somersaults, playing what looked like "duck-duck goose" and knocking down a "house" built of marshmallow bricks from the foam pit. One day, I saw Jarrah climb up on the regulation vault and leap into the pit below, seemingly without hesitation. It was a long way down, though of course the pit is extremely soft. It did make me wonder if she got her confidence from the hours of diving she and I had watched the day before, girl after girl spinning and tumbling from great heights into the pool below, then showering nonchalantly mere seconds later. Perhaps she's taken a cue about heights from them. Hard to say.

It's hard to say anything, really. I expect some parents wait for signs that their progeny have inherited their belt voice, their handiness with a racket, their fleetness of foot. They might watch to see if their baby is graceful like Grandma or forever knocking things over like Daddy. Perhaps they are smug, or simply satisfied, when their expectations are realized. Perhaps they are secretly disappointed when they're not.

But I don't have expectations about any kind of prowess that might be described as genetic. I can't. And while this makes Jarrah a clean slate where accomplishments are concerned, it makes me the same. She might do anything, or nothing at all. She might do a hundred things with great enthusiasm, or she might be passionate about one thing she's really, really great at. I just don't know.

I've asked other moms, how do you know what to offer your child, what activities to encourage, how to shape nascent talents? They look at me quizzically, with something resembling a gentle tolerance for my ignorance, and they don't say much. I press: did you watch them clinically for signs of genius, musical promise, an amazing throwing arm? They don't answer. The most I've ever gotten is: they tell you. You don't have to convince them; they'll let you know what they like, what they care about, and that is where they will excel.

Really? I think of my own childhood, the years at the piano, that hulking piece of furniture behind which I hid, tonelessly plunking out my required 30 minutes a day. The daily hours in the pool, gasping through workouts, cringing through meets, never finding "my" stroke. I think of how I longed to tap dance, to draw, to learn guitar--stuff that never happened. I really have no idea why I didn't do what I like. I'd have to go back and ask my 10-year-old self what the hell I thought I was doing--or not doing.

I watch Nastia Liukin delicately flinging her weight around the high bar, and wonder if she inherited her father's talent, or just his interest. I watch Michael Phelps's mother, on the edge of her seat, wringing her hands as her boy swims into history, and I wonder if she always sensed he had it in him (and I don't mean swimming ability--I think the mental and emotional strength has to be just as great or greater.) I well up when I see Shawn Johnson's exultant grin as she realizes she is nailing her floor exercise when it counts the most, and it reminds me of Jarrah's beautiful, wide smile as she leaps across the gym mats, when she has no idea that I'm watching.

Will she continue in gymnastics? Or will it be karate? Cello? Watercolors? Soccer? Something I haven't even thought of...beach volleyball? (Why are they in bathing suits?) Will she tell me what she cares about, or will I have to figure it out?

And the dirty little thoughts at the back of my mind...will she simply enjoy gymnastics, or will the world (or some portion of it) enjoy watching her enjoy it? You see what I mean. Is it my job to find her talents and nurture them, or just to stand back and let her figure it out?

This is hard for me to talk about. I'm trying to be honest here.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, too. I wonder if she has some hidden amazing talent I'll never notice or encourage because it's something that would never occur to me. And I wonder if she really loves books and music or if it's just being around us that influences her. It's kind of weird and disconcerting and exciting to wonder about her future. And nerve-wracking, hoping I can be the mom she needs me to be.
Mostly, I just want her to be happy and feel loved.
And I am sure Jarrah is happy and feels loved. :-)
Laura

Anonymous said...

But I must say we've already taught Noelle TaDa (arms overhead like a gymnast). The rest is just details.

Mike

Robyn said...

Hi Sam, I only have about two seconds here, but my take on it is that it's my job to introduce the boys to as many experiences as I can and then follow their lead when they discover something they're passionate about. (yeah, yeah..."about which they are passionate"...I know!) :) This includes sports, music, books, museums, travel...well...anything, really. Josh and Jared have both been very good at letting me know when they're definitely interested and when they're ready to move on from an activity. I say keep doing what you're doing. Jarrah is adorable and smart and she's so lucky to have you as her mommy! Hope to see you soon!

xoxox,

Robyn

Anonymous said...

Gosh, big questions! This really got me thinking. But I will say that you already know one thing that Jarrah is really good at, and that's throwing herself into new situations (like the gymnastics camp) with joy and enthusiasm. I don't think that's something that every child has. And who knows if she gets that from her multi-talented mommy or if it's something that lurked in her genes. But you can know that it's a talent that will serve her really well her whole life. xxx lix

Sam said...

@Laura: I can see we're on the same page here! I find it nerve-wracking, too. :)

@Mike: I cracked up about "the rest is just details." I hope you're getting video of the "ta da!" moments. That sounds priceless. ;)

@Robyn: Thanks, bubela. You are always so supportive!

@Lix: Your comment made me tear up a little--how sweet! You make such a good point! And I am grateful for her enthusiasm. It makes my life happier and easier, too. :)

Marlene said...

Thanks, Sam. I'm not sure that biology teaches me much, although family history does seem to do so. I see Jacob as so different from me (while, in some tantalizing ways, so similar to me). Knowing your kid--which you so clearly do--seems key to me. I know Jacob is discouraged by his own fear and occasional grumpiness. He'd never find his talents without encouragement. So I encourage. But he's always going to be the one to make the choices, and, as Robyn says, then the work is theirs.

A kid as lucky as Jarrah--to have a family like you and David!--will find a thousand doors open to her because she is loved and nurtured.
xo

The Wades said...

I LOVE reading what you have to write. And, I'm always so excited when you have a new post. (Two for me today!!)

Do you know how much I love your discussion of all things Olympic? Man, you think and express what I wish I could. (See, even that doesn't make sense.) Your every sentence is eye candy! I brag about you to tons of my friends--you were a topic at our girls night on Thursday. Three of us are faithful readers. Am I scaring you?

I'm going to point out a few of my favorite sentences from this here post? Reckon that would be OK?

"girl after girl spinning and tumbling from great heights into the pool below, then showering nonchalantly mere seconds later." love the nonchalant showering!

"I press:" simple and perfect.

"I watch Nastia Liukin delicately flinging her weight around the high bar, and wonder if she inherited her father's talent, or just his interest." yes, yes! I agree.

"I well up when I see Shawn Johnson's exultant grin as she realizes she is nailing her floor exercise when it counts the most, and it reminds me of Jarrah's beautiful, wide smile as she leaps across the gym mats, when she has no idea that I'm watching." sob sob!

"But then there's my childlike enthusiasm for all things gymnastics, as well as the alarmingly patriotic feeling that swells in my chest whenever I see a medal ceremony or watch Michel Phelps win, even though I sort of resent my own knee-jerk response. (Heart-jerk response?)" Touche, sister!

Perhaps I should have copied and pasted the whole post!

YOU ARE AWESOME! :)

The Wades said...

In the moments leading up to my near perfect dismount, I realized that it was not just interest in the sport, nor was it the passion I feel for it, it was not even the superior God given talent that I possess for swinging on a preschool bar that makes me such a tumbling success....It is the realization that no matter what it is that I do, someone out there will always consider me a "Stone Cold Fox". Thanks Sam. You Rock!!

Cowboy Max

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about the questions you raise here and what my opinion is on the matter. I keep coming back to finding a balance of exposing and nurturing specific interests; instilling confidence and security in the child such that they may see and reach for their own dreams; and thirdly, avoid projecting my own crap which certainly won't benefit anyone.
xoxo
s

Anonymous said...

Sob...I miss the Olympics. It was truly special to us, too.

I know what you mean about talents. I am glad that I can put aside my biological traits/hangups and just watch Joy grow.

I think we all find our best in some way.

oxox,

Mary