Friday, April 25, 2008

grace and muscle

Were you to emblazon my daughter’s approach to life across the front of one of those cute, trendy little t-shirts, it would read: “If a little is good, a LOT is BETTER!” She comes by this honestly—I didn’t learn moderation myself until, well, I’ve never learned moderation. So it shouldn’t surprise me that my daughter goes at gymnastics just as hard as she does everything else in her life.

When it comes to flipping and flopping, my daughter has the power and the raw talent, but she lacks the self-control. “My hip bones hurt, Momma,” she tells me one morning after practice. They have been doing their “strong arms” on the bar and practicing “popping” their hips off the bar. Popping for most girls looks like rising two to three inches off the bar five or six times. Not my daughter. My daughter takes popping to a new level. Literally.

My daughter pops so high and so fast that she is nearly flipping herself over the bar. This is a clear snapshot of her personality—unchecked energy run amok. Her little face red and sweaty, her muscles taut and twitching, her body in constant, exaggerated motion. This is my daughter, every day of her life.

The cheerleaders at our high school chant, before taking the floor, “Grace and Muscle, Hunh!” My daughter asks me, one day, what this means. We talk about the balance between strength and beauty, between power and control, between energy and discipline. She wrinkles her nose at me. “That doesn’t make any sense,” she says.

No, to her, I imagine it doesn’t. She comes by all-or-nothing honestly, and that will take some time to deprogram. Her teacher, fortunately, is graciously patient, guiding her along that narrow beam. Teaching her to listen to her body and to know how much is too much. Teaching her how to sustain her energy for the long haul. Teaching her how to moderate her impulses. Teaching her self-control. Oh, how I wish I’d learned these lessons at her age.

Over the course of the morning, she has already improved. Her teachable nature saves her from rampant impulsivity once again. I am relieved. She beams as she crosses the gym, leaping and bounding, all arms and legs and energy again. But there was a brief, fleeting moment there—back on the high bar—when grace and muscle came together, and I could see into her future. And it was a beautiful thing to behold.

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