I always said that if I had a son, he would not play football. In my mind, the risk of concussions or serious injuries far outweighed any potential benefit. Well, I do have a son and still stand firm in my conviction.
Gymnastics, however, was not a sport I thought much about – that is, until my daughter deemed it her most favorite after-school activity ever.
See, I grew up with a mother who worked as a hospital nurse and then as a school nurse. She forbade my sister and me from ever jumping on trampolines or even sharing food with friends, regularly citing emergency room and school clinic statistics. My high school friends laughed at my toilet hovering techniques. I went – and admittedly still go – to safety and sanitary extremes. For me, football always fell into a category I deemed too dangerous to even try. Gymnastics did not.
I began taking my daughter to a gymnastics class when she was six months old. Obviously, the class was more for me than it was for her. I used it as an excuse to get out of the house and meet other moms. As the years progressed, however, the classes began to transition from ball tosses and coordination exercises to actual gymnastic stunts, which my daughter – to my horror – eagerly embraced. Yep, she was that two-year-old swinging from the bars or hanging upside down on that 1980s beehive-looking playground equipment at the neighborhood park. She lives for adventure, and dares are her thing. She regularly asked me to show her how to climb a tree – like I knew how to do that. Who is this kid, and where did she come from? I may have birthed her, but her fearlessness certainly is not from me.
I was a dancer. Dance is safe. The most I ever saw in dance were sprained ankles and broken toes. Okay, there was that one time when a girl on my drill team broke her leg, but a broken leg pales in comparison to what could potentially happen when, say, flinging oneself off of a balance beam.
So I enrolled my daughter in dance. Yet, tutus and tap shoes weren’t her. For more than two years, she begged me to put her back in gymnastics and all the while, continued to practice stunts without the direction or supervision of a coach. I hesitated then finally relented, cringing at every practice.
Then, of course, I happen to stumble across a news story about a five-year-old girl who is now paralyzed after over-extending her back during “a simple backbend.” The article did refer to the girl’s injuries as an “uncommon occurrence,” but all the same, proved the risk does exist.
So again, I find myself straddling the beam on whether or not my daughter should continue with this pursuit. Her passion is so strong, stronger than any passion I have ever known. She loves the sport and practices every day. Yet as her mother, my job is to protect her. Would I be doing that, knowing stories about paralyzed gymnasts exist?
If I do take her out, would I – or would she – live with regret? What if she was supposed to be the next Simone Biles, and I kept her from that? I wonder how Simone’s parents felt as their daughter propelled herself into infinity during the games this past summer.
Should I stand by my daughter or by my gut? Who chooses your children’s activities – you or them?