By: Barbara Matousek
Usually we are the second family to arrive. We walk in as a dad in sweats leaves his daughter alone waiting for class to start. We met them the first week, chatted as Sam removed his boots and I tucked Eva’s carseat in the corner. Sam’s first official extracurricular, potential-for-overscheduling experience. Tumbleweeds. This week we arrive to a room full of moms and dads and siblings pressed against the murals painted on the wall, digging cameras out of their bags and watching as children run around the room, jumping on the trampoline, sliding along the balance beam, zipping down the giant yellow slide or tackling each other martial arts-style and yelling “hi-ya!” Graduation day. The day we finally get to see the deep dark secrets of toddler tumbling that we were not previously allowed to witness.
Eva has been left at home with a friend, and this morning is to be all about Sammy. He stands close to my side, his hand clutching my pants leg, and I lead him to a spot on the wall where a rainbow grows out of the top of a giant castle. Near big foam blocks stacked in front of the trampoline Sam takes off his boots and sits on the mat. I encourage him to run and play with the other kids, but he is sizing up the crowd, looking at all the people.
They say the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and as we stand there I realize that I am becoming my mother and Sam is becoming me.
“Nobody is watching you,” I say. “Just Mommy. Everyone else is just watching their own kids.”
I think back to how much I celebrated being able to finally see him do “gymnastics”, how excited I was, what a big and special day it was. This is the moment I find myself NOW trying to back track and convince him that really it isn’t that big of a deal.
My sister and I had the same parents, and you’d think we would have essentially the same memories of our childhood. But we don’t. She remembers we had a dog. I don’t. She remembers me holding her down and spitting in her face and threatening to throw her beloved Bunny out the car window. I remember her reading my notes from friends and borrowing my clothes and always being mad that I never wrote anything about her in my diary.
Ten years ago she told me that she wished she’d have gotten more pressure and direction from our mother, that she never felt like she knew what was expected of her. I could only sigh because I had always felt nothing but pressure. Ann always hated that teachers compared her to me, told her that she should be more like her sister. I always hated that no matter what I did academically, she was the one with the higher IQ, she was the one who won the UWGB summer camp kids’ golf tournament, she was the one who got on the basketball team and in the band and on the cross country team. She was the one that did everything. I was the one who did nothing. After I didn’t make the cuts for 7th grade basketball or 7th grade volleyball, I never tried out for anything again, afraid of rejection, afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing my parents. Extracurricular stuff was terrifying for me but for sister it was where my sister could escape comparisons to me.
“It will be fun, Sammy,” I say. “Look. There’s Nico.”
“I don’t want to. I want to go home. I don’t like tumbling,” he says.
I’ve read so much about what to do and what to say and how to handle your children in different situations. I’ve learned something from almost every “expert” from almost every position on the spectrum. I’ve listened to the Tiger Mom and Michelle Rhee talk about assuming our children are strong and expect strength from them. I’ve read books and blogs telling me to get down to my child’s level and reiterate what they’re feeling and give them control. I’ve read about building my child’s self-esteem and teaching boundaries and accountability and understanding omnipotence and interdependence.
Standing there next to my child, my back against the big grey castle with the rainbow leading up into the sky, I felt the same pressure I did when I tried out for 7th grade basketball. I felt like everyone in the room was watching, and I was so afraid of failing. Of being the mom that everyone would say “Did you see what she did? How she treated her son? How she failed her son?” It was one of my most challenging moments as a parent, not because of anything my child did, but because I had to in that moment let go of my own feelings, admit my own fear of failure, and focus on Sammy.
I walked Sam to the corner of the room where the kids were doing mat exercises. We watched as they stretched their hands towards the ceiling and then as they sat on the ground and stretched to make pizzas in between their legs. I asked Sammy questions, tried to get him engaged. “Can you do that? Do you want to do that?”
He put his hands on the floor and did the donkey kick with the other kids but stayed outside the circle. And then as the group lined up behind Carrie, Sam joined in and followed the line to the trampoline. Eventually he even walked on the balance beam, his arms stretched wide as his little blue socks slid along the wood.
“I did it, Mommy,” he cried. “I did the airplane move!” He beamed at me as he ran back to me after the class demonstration was over. He kept his arms spread wide and I picked him up and hugged him as tightly as I could and I felt myself exhale. “You sure did, Sammy. You sure did.”
[Photo Credit: A Child Grows]