I used to be a gymnast. My mom will tell you I was the youngest girl to make the tryouts for the Yellow Jackets mini-team. I attribute making the cut to the freakish upper body strength I had at a young age.
I loved gymnastics. The variety of events appealed to me, as did the ability to cartwheel and back handspring into a room. I loved competing in the meets and pushing myself to physical levels I didn’t think I could reach. I loved that it was an individual sport in the context of a team.
As I progressed, the frequency and duration of practices increased to four times a week for a few hours a pop.
I stopped loving it. In fact, I dreaded it.
One day, my father drove me to practice, and he knew something was wrong.
“What’s the matter?” he asked as he pulled into the parking lot. The car was idling. So was I.
“It’s not fun anymore,” I said.
Without speaking, he backed the car up and drove us home, mercifully ending my gymnastics career.
My mother was not pleased with this turn of events.
“But, Tom, she is GOOD!” I remember her responding to his explanation of why I walked in the door with him.
“Joni, she doesn’t enjoy it.”
Childhood memories are skewed. I have no recollection of whether I had previously shared my discontent with the increasing intensity level of the sport. I do not remember dinner table conversations about whether I should reevaluate my commitment at the end of the season. I do not recall whether my parents had to drag me to practice upteen times before this particular one. I have no idea how far into the season I was or whether my departure let down the team.
What I vividly remember is my father communicating in one swift action that I was free to let go of what no longer served me, and the relief I felt that I did not have to do something that brought me stress when it should have brought me joy.
(And, not to paint my mom as the villain, I remember her faith in my athletic ability. I was not Olympics-quality, but had she responded with, “All right – she wasn’t very good anyway,” it would have sent an entirely different message.)
I have been mastering the “let go” concept of late, from leaving an organization with which I was employed for 12 years to finally ditching a sweatshirt I’ve owned for 18. I feel the same relief I felt in the Yellow Jackets parking lot almost three decades ago.
But I have not been as intentional in teaching this concept to my children, and we have reached a breaking point in my house.
My kids are lovely people, and one of their more endearing, and sometimes annoying, qualities is their refusal to be overscheduled. If we have more than one activity on the calendar for the weekend – even if the events are fun, social ones – they stage a mutiny.
So when my daughter was sitting at the kitchen counter studying her theater rehearsal schedule, thinking out loud how she was also going to fit in her other activities, I was surprised when I added up those extracurriculars: 5, at least a few of which I do not believe bring her joy.
I have told my gymnastics story to her many times for different purposes, and today is the day we will reenact it. I will play the part of my father. She will play the part of me. We will see what improvisational differences this recasting brings to the scene.