After our impressionable four-year-old daughter Carina saw Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Olympics, her favorite game was "gymnastics". She would insist that we watch as she went through various routines involving somersaults and crooked cartwheels. Of course, we applauded and showered her little world with imaginary gold medals and gloriously vivid bouquets of praise!
This lasted until the closing ceremony, whereupon she took up break dancing and learned to spin on her head. In no time at all, she had broken hairs standing up like a baby ostrich. From there it was on to penny drops off the swing and hand stands. So, in order to preserve our sanity and teach her safety and caution, we enrolled her in a local gymnastics class.
Several years later, as a fourth-grader, she made the team, and, although money was not exactly easy to find around our house, we stepped-up practices and car pool negotiations, and some days dragged little sister and baby brother along to the gym twenty miles away. It was thrilling to watch her perform and, like all moms, I was proud, regardless of the sacrifices.
Carina's first real competition was in the city--a couple of hours away. It was going well, and all the moms were beaming as their glitzy little daughters finished the first half. She came running over--all smiles and sparkles.
"Did you see me?"
"Of course. You did really well out there."
"I only have one more element to go--the vault."
"Your coach is really happy with you. She says if you do well on this last one, you will be in the semi-finals and we will come back tomorrow."
She stopped; the smile disappeared.
"Why yes. Don't worry, Dad and I will bring you."
A strange little smile crept over her face.
"Does that mean," that if I don't do well on this last element, I won't have to come back?"
"Carina! You go out there and do your best! Don't even think about letting your team down."
"It's ok, Mom. I'll do my best."
So she did, and they all did, but the team didn't make the next round.
On the way home we had a talk:
"Did you enjoy the competition?"
"It was fun, but I'm glad I don't have to go back another whole day."
"Well that's what it means to be on a team though; you have to be willing to compete."
"I'm just tired of it."
"Do you not want to do gymnastics any more?"
"Mom. I really just want to be a little girl who can go outside and play in the back yard."
And that was that. I wasn't going to spend hours and money to bolster a dream that had fizzled. We quit gymnastics and spent our time at home.
So what was the outcome?
Well it was a great relief for the entire family. Carina was happy and excited. Her little brother and sister were thrilled with her attention, for, of course, all that energy didn't just disappear; she just re-channeled it. Almost at once, Carina became the director of backyard Olympia and orchestrated games for the entire neighborhood of twenty younger children. We had castle and dragon games, Kidville games, spy games, and mysterious island games replete with ragged, raging pirates. Her practice balance beam became a draw bridge over the moat, a fallen log in Sherwood forest, and a plank for punishing nasty, murderous villains.
All the children from that era are grown now, and the neighborhood is quiet, but they still remember that world with a misty fondness--a place they can never re-capture. Ironically enough, Carina and her amazing husband Art bought that house, completely re-built it, and live there today with their two little wide-eyed star gazers.
Her big dream might have fizzled, but her biggest dreams came true.
Our Sunday Scribblings prompt was "Big Dreams"