Soccer was the family sport. And, although I knew deep in my heart that I was never going to “bend it like Beckham” and score that game-winning, killer goal that defied every rule of science and gravity, I welcomed the sport as much as I could. That was until I said “hasta la vista” to soccer and dove head on into my newest athletic endeavor: gymnastics.
Early on in my childhood, I developed an obsession with bathing suits. Not your skimpy one piece that searingly sexualized children in the most inappropriate ways possible, but the sporty ones that proudly displayed a manufacturer tag, boldly claiming, “Swim Faster Than Ever Before”. And, in all honesty, it was the gymnast apparel that intrigued me. Not only was this a sport that proudly showcased my favorite article of seasonal clothing (or as close as I could come without addressing my fear of water), but the art of the competition seemed to be ridden with grace and poise; definitely not the sport for the child who tripped on invisible shoelaces even when wearing slip on shoes. But I knew no better.
“Mom, I’m gonna do gymnastics,” was the nonchalant bombshell that I dropped on my poor mother who wanted nothing more than her 1 hour of “Mommy Time” to indulge in her favorite soap opera and eat her chocolate without her daughter’s grubby hand begging for a portion. While she pretended she hadn’t heard my latest endeavor and continued to focus on her dramatic montage, she mistakenly took me for a child that was content with being ignored. I, Vanessa Kash, needed to bet heard. I yelled, “So, GYMNASTICS!”
After pleading with me to not make a hasty decision and to truly maul this catty idea over, she knew she would be utterly defeated and promptly enrolled my spry self into the coveted sport. Of course, no gymnast can be official without a proper leotard. My mother had clearly lacked knowledge in the gymnast department, as she quickly drove me to our nearest Target to purchase me what she believed was the “coolest outfit”. It was a girls Speedo swimsuit in a searingly bright red. Of course, being a child, I didn’t know the difference from a bathing suit and a leotard, essentially left ecstatic when I realized I was being gifted with another bathing suit to add to my collection. In hindsight, I’m sure the other gym moms were certain I was a poverty stricken child whose parents repeatedly attempted to rid me of energy with every sport imaginable, dropping me off for a gym session in a bathing suit to blend with the fancy leotards their talented girls were sporting. Little did they know, I had the latest Furby, a Tamagotchi collection, and I never stopped moving.
With that, so began my gymnastic career. And it was hard. But, of course, I did my very best and genuinely believed I was one of the greatest on the team. However, I sucked. I was godawful. As my friends continued to excel to the more intermediate courses and lessons, I was continuously held back. Growing frustrated, I asked my instructor, “Why haven’t I moved up to the big kid’s class yet?” She calmly responded, “I like having you here because you’re so good at teaching the other kids that come in to learn! You’re my little helper!” That answer was just enough to shut me up for a few more weeks, as I gloated to the other kids, making extra sure that they knew I was the team helper.
After weeks of training, I was ready to compete. Or so I thought, and I waited eagerly for the day my coach would invite me to the gym competition in which all of the gymnasts would compete within their division for a day of tricks, fun, and athletic back stabbing.
One Monday morning I arrived at school when a fellow gymnast bombarded me with her plethora of medals and awards. “I got these at the competition on Saturday! I was so good!” My heart sank. Why hadn’t I been invited? Wasn’t I a gymnast, too?
That’s when the devastating truth hit me; I wasn’t a helper because I was good, but because I was terrible. While I couldn’t help but admire my instructor for her witty lie, my heart couldn’t help but break for the once-excited me that was so determined to find my niche in the athletic world.
However, despite my moment of sorrow and self-pity, my mind quickly transitioned to my mother and father. Initially, I was filled with immense rage. Why hadn’t they told me I was terrible? They embarrassed me! As I reached the verge of tears, I began to think of my two doting parents who willingly not only brought me to every practice, but waited for my session to be over while watching my progress (or lack of) the entire time. Instead of pretending to not know the awkward 2nd grader who was mostly legs and bad jokes, they sat there proudly amongst the other parents who did have something to genuinely be proud of.
My heart continued to shatter as I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t give them anything to be proud of.’ As I continued to tear myself up over the sports venture gone terribly wrong, my father’s voice rang in my head. “I will always be proud of you if you do your best.” My dad was always certain that everything he had ever said to me went directly in one ear and out the other, but for the first time in my life I had managed to remember a key bit of advice that has not only gotten me throughout my youth and beginning of adult life, but that applied perfectly to that devastating situation.
While my parents could have easily pretended to claim a talented child or perhaps one that didn’t talk nearly as much and spend hours attempting to find a rhyming word for “orange”, they proudly claimed me. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that despite our age, hobbies, or even political preference, we all just want to be claimed. Whether that is an act of self acceptance and coming to terms who you feel you are genuinely meant to be, or finding the love if your life to sweep you off your feet and claim you as “the one”, we all want to feel a sense of belonging.
And as I headed home that day, I walking into my house with my head held high and my heart filled with the love that my parents had instilled in me, although it took a bit of effort for me to adequately notice it. I stumbled upon my mom in the living room, calming folding laundry as she greeted me with a warm smile and inquiry as to how my day went. Now, I thought about expressing my gratitude and letting the stream of tears flow down my cheeks, but I decided to chalk this one up as a lesson and focus on how I can help repay my parents for their exceptionally kind gesture.
“Mom,” I started. “I think I wanna play baseball.”