Arms up! Feet together! Ta-Da!

>> Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It was a crazy impulse.

As soon as I slid my credit card across the front desk, I thought, I’ve made a mistake. It’s just too soon to register my 3 (almost 4) year-old daughter into a gymnastics meet.

But it wasn’t crazy for the reasons you might think. I wasn’t worried about putting her under too much stress or whether or not she could remember a routine. I worried that she just wouldn’t care and that it would be a waste of an evening and $25. I’m just too busy and have too many financial obligations to squander either.

The night before the event I was tired and over-extended. Nevertheless, Mom and I couldn’t resist reviewing forward rolls, backbends and the all-important “ta-da” with Elizabeth. “Put your arms up, put your legs together, and say ‘ta-da’. That’s it!” I had to admit -- she was pretty damned cute.

At 3:30 am that morning, I finally remembered that it was my responsibility to pack her gym suit, hair bands, brushes, spare clothes, still camera and video camera. As I lumbered to the kitchen and scribbled notes onto a piece of paper, I swore to myself it would be another 5 years before I signed her up for anything.

“Good morning... today’s your gymnastics meet! Are you excited?”

Whoa. Where did that come from? I had only a few hours of interrupted sleep, yet this is how I greeted Elizabeth that morning. Where did I get this sudden burst of energy? And why did Elizabeth and Samantha end up wearing their prettiest dresses to school that day? What was happening to us?

That evening after work, we drove, we ate, we drove again, we dressed, we coifed, and we rushed into the gym auditorium. Bleachers held rows and rows of parents, grandparents and siblings. Little girls in leotards flitted about like fireflies. Dads stood around the perimeter aiming their cameras and mothers pointed towards the main floor.

We were ready.

Elizabeth ran onto the floor to join a group of kids and teachers she’d never seen before. Good for her. They stretched and jumped. And jumped and jumped. In fact, Elizabeth never stopped jumping. We could always find her by looking for the set of bouncing blonde pigtails.

The girls were corralled into four groups and given signs to carry as they skipped onto the floor. Signs like “Caring”, “Integrity”, and “Teamwork”. Good heavens. They walked forwards, backwards and sideways on balance beams. They bounced and frog-hopped down the trampoline. They went up and down, over and under the obstacle course. They said “ta-da” and they looked for their mommies and daddies.

The following phrases echoed throughout the gym:

They’re over there!
Sit on your bottoms!
Good job!
Use your listening ears!
Over here!
The one who goes next is the one who is
Where are they going now?
No, the other way!
It’s her turn!

--all with exclamation points.

Without any rehearsal or experience, Michael and I played our parts with skill. We ran from one corner of the floor to the other, taking pictures, waving, and gesturing for Elizabeth to sit down. She smiled, chatted with other little girls, and jumped.

Suddenly the performances were over and names were called. Ah! Turn on the camera! Take the video camera out of pause mode. In a spirit of chaos and disorganization, T-shirts and certificates were placed in their hands. With confused expressions, each girl made her way to the “platform” (a pyramid of matts), and a red ribbon with a shiny golden medal was placed around her neck. For the grand finale, each girl was instructed to thrust her arms into the air in a moment of triumph. Ta-Da!

Cheers, hoots, applause, flash bulbs! It was right about this time when I started getting verklempt. It was heartwarming to see each family supporting their little darling. A large teddy-bear of a grandpa whistled loudly and his enthusiastic applause thundered throughout the auditorium. In a different setting he could have been cheering a bases-loaded home run in the final inning of a tied baseball game.

But he wasn’t. He was cheering for his blue-eyed granddaughter who beamed with shy pride.

Elizabeth received her award, too, and like all the other girls she couldn’t wait to show it to us. For the rest of the evening she asked,

“Could you ask to see my award?”

“Oh yes! Elizabeth, can I see your award?”

“OK,” she’d say and show it to us and smile.

When she arrived home, she found a special place to hang it in her closet. After they went to bed, Michael and I watched videos and uploaded pictures. We plan to hang her certificate on the wall.

I hear they might be having another gymnastics meet in the Fall...

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