Yesterday was a big day for Maddy, our ten year old daughter, as she had her second gymnastics meet. This one was a huge meet… hundreds of gymnasts from 25 states and 11 countries competing. We have been hyping this meet up… making sure we get her to every practice, allowing her to flip all over the house, and letting her skip school for the meet. We booked an oceanfront hotel room for the night before. We took only Maddy and her gymnast little sister, leaving the other two siblings at home with the grandmas. We did everything to ensure she felt that she deserved all of it for her hard work. We did everything to make her feel special… we even went out on the beach when we got there and the girls did gymnastics on the sand under the moonlight!
The morning of the meet came after one of those deep comfortable-hotel-bed-kinda sleeps and we rushed to get ready. Hair up in sock bun, check. Hairspray like crazy, check. Leo on, check. Warm up on, check.
We arrived at the convention center where gymnasts and their parents were piling in for check in and open stretch. Girls with leos of all types and colors and sequins flooded the huge building. As we walked into the arena, we saw the equipment set up on the floor. It was time. We kissed our girl goodbye and wished her one last “Good luck.”
Her team would not be there with her as they all had different times to compete, based on their level. The other gymnast on Maddy’s level was sick and would not make it. So, it was just Maddy representing her gym today. We watched as they called her gym name and she did a solo salute.
First up was beam. Maddy did great! She scored a 9.125. Next was floor exercise. Maddy nailed her routine so I was shocked to see a score of 8.4 on the score screen. Her coach told us she was missing a few skills in the routine. That was not her fault. But still a let down for her I am sure, considering how well she did. So we moved on to vault.
I don’t know if it was her nerves or disappointment from the floor exercise score, but she scored low on vault. Finally, it was time for her bar routine. This was her BEST apparatus. She ALWAYS nails her bar routine in practice. It’s her favorite. I prayed hard for a good score so maybe she could get at least one medal and feel accomplished. I held her sister’s hand and squeezed tight as she started to jump up on the bar.
Halfway through her routine, she fell off.
My heart sank. I felt her pain and regret and disappointment. I watched her leave the bars, head down, walking back to her coaches who were giving her pats on the back and hugs. I’m sure they were telling her it was okay. But I could see it on her face. The tears started. I could see her wiping them away trying to hide how she felt. I wanted to run across the floor and hold her in my arms like she was 3 again. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to fix this for her. I wasn’t going to be able to just say something to make it better this time like I normally do when she gets a bad grade or a friend hurts her feelings or her sister blames her for something.
I felt helpless. I wanted her to know how proud we were of her… that she didn’t disappoint us. That we love her and will always be proud. I just didn’t know what to do or say to make her realize that.
When I finally got to her, she was no longer crying…even though I was holding my own tears back with everything in my being. She looked strong. That made me want to cry even more. I could see her dried tear streaks through the chalk on her face. I gave her a hug and we told her that she did a good job.
After we sat through the painful medal ceremony, we changed the mood and took the girls out to lunch at an oceanfront restaurant. After we ate, we walked back out to the beach. I sat and watched as both girls tumbled and did cartwheels on the sand like they didn’t have a care in the world.
As we got ready to head home, another family with two small daughters who had apparently also been at the competition, started talking with us. The mother asked Maddy if she did a good job. Maddy’s response with a little smile on her face was “I guess I did ok.” The mother asked her if she had fun and Maddy said yes. The mother looked at her and said “Then that’s all that matters.”
She’s right. This was an experience to add to her list of experiences. She will learn that this is going to happen… in gymnastics and in life. Sometimes we fall, but we have to get back up and keep going and have fun while we’re doing it. She will learn that when we do fall, we hold it together, brush it off, reflect, smile, and hold our heads high. She will keep going. I know she will because she loves gymnastics. And here’s the thing about Maddy… she does gymnastics because it is fun for her. She doesn’t do it to be an Olympian. She doesn’t do it because her parents are forcing her to succeed. She does it because she loves it and she is good at it. She doesn’t stress over her scores or let them weigh heavy on her shoulders after meets. She doesn’t try to be better than anyone else. She does it because it makes her happy. And that makes us even more proud of her.
All we want is for our kids to be happy. They will succeed. They will fail. They will hurt. They will laugh. They will cry. As they break hearts and have their hearts broken, we will be there. Even if we do not know what to do when it happens. What they don’t realize is as they are experiencing heartbreak, we are too.