By Deb Levy
About the Writer:
Deb Levy is a writer, graphic designer, mother-of-three and devotee of hip-hop dance.
After my fifth-grader’s school gymnastics show last month, my first-grader decided he wanted to do gymnastics, too. Maybe it was the ninja on the “Hillside Breakers” t-shirt all the gymnasts wore during the performance. Maybe it was the cartwheels and flips that appealed to his desire and need for constant motion. Whatever it was, my 7-year-old wanted in.
My 10-year-old takes gymnastics during his PE class, but my middle guy doesn’t have that option. So I sniffed around for afternoon programs, trying to find something that wouldn’t cost a fortune, and even more important, wouldn’t have me schlepping all over northern New Jersey. And then the flyer came home in the backpack announcing that the town rec department would be offering a gymnastics class at the school. Perfect!
Here’s the not so perfect part: the class was gymnastics and cheerleading.
I don’t have a daughter. But I always thought that if I did, I would never let her take cheerleading. Cheerleading is for bimbos with no ambition or skill, sex symbols destined to sit on the sideline, popular girls who wouldn’t let me in their club, despite the fact that I spent weeks and weeks practicing splits on my driveway. No, my daughter would be the one in the center of the field, the one for whom everyone else would be cheering. Okay, so I don’t have a daughter. But why should my son be held to a different standard?
And then I took a few steps back and realized a) he’s seven, b) learning to clap and step in rhythm would actually be very good for him and c) this class is at bargain-basement prices and will allow him to try out gymnastics to see if it’s even something he likes. I wrote the check and got over my indignation.
My middle son gets nervous in new situations, even under the best of circumstances. So when he walked into the first class, he was a tad hesitant. Of the nearly two-dozen children running and jumping and twirling around the bouncy floor, my son was the only boy, the fact of which did not go unnoticed by him.
Nor did it go unnoticed by the program coordinator, who immediately saw his concern and scanned the list to look for other male-sounding names. There were two. “You’re not the only boy!” I said, helping my son take off his socks and shoes. “You’re going to do great!”
My encouragement, nee, just my presence, offended him greatly and he shooed me out of the room with a look of mortification and panic. “Go!” he mouthed, shooting daggers out of his eyes and showing me the back of his hand.
When I returned 45 minutes later, I peeked through the window of the doors to the gym and saw 20 children facing 20 different directions manipulating their bodies (or not) in 20 different ways. I also saw that my son was still the only boy. The coordinator came out of the gym and assured me that he had been having fun. I watched him through the window and could see the many ways he got the oochies out of his little body – rolling down a cushioned ramp, standing with his arms stretched out above his head before thrusting himself into the air like a letter “X”. He seemed to be with the program.
I turned to my fifth grader and said, “Not a word about him being the only boy, you hear me?” He understood.
The class ended and my middle son bounded out of the gym. He began twirling cartwheels on the concrete floor of the school hallway. Clearly, he enjoyed himself. But on the car ride home, he told me he was shy about being the only boy. I reminded him that on his big brother’s hockey team, there was one girl – the goalie – and it might have been uncomfortable for her at first to be the only girl. But everyone on the team loved her, thought she was great, and probably respected her even more for having the guts to be the one girl in a locker room full of smelly boys. Thankfully, my oldest son concurred.
I took this teachable moment by the horns and continued to run with it - speaking of courage and confidence, teamwork and perseverance, pride and being a little different - until from the back seat a little voice said, “O-kaaaay, mom! Stop it! You’re making me shy.”
The part I left out, the part that would mean nothing to him now, was this: Don’t worry son. If you really enjoy this and stick with it, here’s what you have to look forward to in ten years. While all the cool jocks are getting their brains mashed up on the football field, you’ll be grasping the hottest girls in the school by their inner thighs.
Hip-hip, hooray. Now let’s work on those pike and eagle jumps.