I have always been a reluctant athlete. In fourth grade, I slammed my finger in a car door to avoid having to play in a baseball game. In sixth grade, I nearly drowned my skinny relay partner during a particularly ill-advised swim team drill. Even now, I get nervous if I have to run for the bus. I mean, I'm hopeless. And the thing I always hated most about being hopeless was my dealing with my dad, who would try his best to encourage me, despite my reticence. Afraid of the baseball? We'll make you catcher--that should help you cope. I know it came from a place of love, but I dreaded his honest, slightly exasperated feedback more than I dreaded the shame of wearing skintight baseball pants in a league full of boys. (OK, almost as much.) So no one was more surprised than I was to discover that I do, indeed, have my own Inner Coach...and I met her at a Mommy and Me class.
Madeline seemed pretty excited for our tumbling class, and I was even more so. Finally, some time for just the two of us, bonding over fun and wholesome exercise. Only, halfway through the first class, Madeline decided that she wasn't a fan of the somersault. At all. And when the tumbling instructor sort of bent her over and guided her into a roll, my hard-headed little darling threw a mini-tantrum and refused to try again.
Now, you'd think that would be fine by me. I mean, after all, who knows better than I do the dread of being forced to participate in an activity that makes you feel awkward, especially in front of a new group of people? But instead of letting it go, I became concerned---no, fixated--on having Madeline do a damn somersault. At home that night, I pressed her. "Do you want to practice somersaults on your bed?" "Hey, show Daddy a somersault!" "You know what I think are so fun? Somersaults!" And, to show her just how much I adore a good somersault, I attempted one myself. Eric said he could hear my neck cracking from the other room. But no dice. Madeline would look at me impassively and then continue about her business, entirely unconvinced by my newfound passion for gymnastics--or my contorted stride.
All week I thought about it. Saturday was looming. What the hell to do about the somersault?! "Are we going to do somersaults tomorrow, Maddie?" I pretty much pleaded on Friday night as we were getting ready for bed.
"Sure, Mommy," said Madeline, and then executed a perfect little somersault across her bed. Success!
Saturday morning, we bop into class, quite pleased with ourselves. Eva, the instructor, walks us through an obstacle course. Step three is a somersault, which Madeline executes with ease. "Yay! YAY!" I cry, as if the kid has split the atom or something. But she's on to the next thing. And the next thing is pretending to be a dog. Across the balance beam, over the horse.
"Madeline, we're not being dogs. We're being people doing gymnastics." I feel myself getting tense about this.
"Arf, Mommy. I'm a baby dog." She crouches on the mat, licking her hand.
"Let's follow the teacher," I say, annoyed. Annoyed because I think someone else might be watching, thinking my kid isn't doing it right. Only no one is watching--one guy is wrestling a sock onto his eighteen-month-old and another is trying to coax her daughter into a handstand. What do they care if I have a kid-slash-dog who sometimes refuses to do somersaults? This whole thing was supposed to be about US. We were just supposed to be enjoying being together, moving our bodies and learning something new. Why do I want to ruin the fun before it's even started?
"Come on, little dog," I say. "Mama Dog wants to bounce on the trampoline."