"Mom... are you so happy, you're crying?"
This is my daughter to me, in the car tonight as we drove home from gymnastics. It's just a gymnastics class, you might think. What's the big deal? You don't understand. It's the sun coming through after years of a storm. It's that hug that breaks open the floodgates when you've been holding too much in. It's the breath you take after years of holding your breath, without even realizing it.
Two years ago, I posted about a gymnastics class that Elizabeth took. That class, that day, was a ripple that started much more change, much more waking, much more upheaval than I ever thought possible and more than I can go in to. But the hardest thing about that day was having a heartbreaking moment as a parent. Elizabeth was THAT kid. Hyper, unfocused, throwing fits, uncooperative, and frightened of EVERYTHING. It was that moment, as a parent, that scares the shit out of you. This was more than normal fear. This was more than a tendency to be distracted by shiny objects. This ripple led to a tsunami of therapy, classes, tears, tools and scrambling for education... for us all.
In the end, while she is not on the spectrum nor is she necessarily diagnosable as having Sensory Processing Disorder... she rides close to the line. She is more "sensitive" than most children and perhaps is ADHD. We have skin brushes and chewing sticks and have to warn swimming, gymnastics, preschool, etc. teachers that she might be a little harder to handle. But she is not considered as needing special attention or schooling. She's in that nebulous middle ground. The worst of it was the guilt when, during the last session, the therapist said "yes, she's more sensitive, but part of it is anxiety and mom... how do I say this? YOU are very anxious. Are you okay? What's going on in your home?" And as a parent (who already had her son's therapist ask that question 2 years earlier when he had trouble with eating) the guilt consumed me. It was MY fault.
I began all the steps to help her. Help my kids, both of them, and myself with anxiety. I've changed and grown a lot. I've taken some huge steps that are frightening, life-changing, landscape shifting steps. But this isn't about me. It's about why I was crying. Today has been a breakthrough day. So many tiny ripples that has just left me heaving in sobs as I write this. In relief. In joy. In the ability to breathe.
Elizabeth began gymnastics again. Two days ago I signed her up. That first day, I tried to keep quiet. I tried not to let my fears show as she bounded all over the place not listening to a word the teacher said and being afraid to try. Her body stiffening, her voice rising. I panicked. And then... today.
They were over stretching and I kept expecting to see a blonde head bobbing and running around. There she was. Attention FOCUSED on the teacher. Trying every stretch. Every move. Then came the "stations". Bars. Like the beam, they are her nemesis. Bars and beam were mine too. More delicate and more detailed than floor and vault... where energy and strength prevail. The first "station" they had to hang from a bar positioned close to a wall mat and walk their feet up the mat until they are upside down and then try to kick over the bar. Upside down. Not good. Lizzy was up first, walked halfway up and freaked. Walked away. The teacher had to call her back and my heart sunk. The teacher said just walk halfway up and forget it. So she did. The teacher moved on to help the next child at the next station and then, something amazing happened. Lizzy turned back toward that bar. I could see she was talking to herself. She walked ALL the way up and began kicking her feet to try to go over the bar. I stopped breathing. The teacher, not knowing how momentous this was, turned and praised her, but missed, as she turned back to the other students, how Lizzy physically changed. The sun shone on her little face, her shoulders went back, her head went high and she lit up. She tried. Again and again and again. And then she tried each station in turn. No matter how hard, no matter what of her MANY fears that station involved... she tried each one. Red in the face and determined. Not her usual obstinate self who just says "no".
The moved to the beams next. Oh god. Jumping on beams. Balancing on one leg. High beams. Good god, I thought. Today is her nightmare. Yes, she lost focus a couple times. She got tired. But that little blonde rock of a child stood in line (she's horrible at standing in lines) and tried EACH AND EVERY beam exercise. I could see her talking to herself as she did it. I had to walk away. I had to go in the bathroom and cry. You see, this was the 4th time today, my daughter rocked my world.
Many parents want their child to be just like them. I fear it. Childhood was not easy for me. I was shy. Introverted. Socially awkward. I stood out. I had many fears, a wild imagination, was highly sensitive and was often told I could not focus. I was distracted. Talked too much to my classmates (nervous habit). Couldn't sit still. I was clumsy, I lost everything, forgot everything and was such a little stress-ball that my stomach always bothered me. My son got my stomach... Lizzy, I often fear, may have gotten the rest. But I try not to pin my fears on her. I try to relish her originality. I try to joy in her efforts to go against the grain. I try to laugh at her horribly messy eating (I am the same) and her ability to walk into a wall that's right in front of her.
I had to work hard to reign in my "differences". While I was desirous of positive reinforcement, attention embarrasses me. Like Lizzy today, that reinforcement from the teacher was desperately needed, but had the attention come from the whole class, she would have shut down.
So why did this little nymph, this crazy, frenetic, mini-me rock my world today? Because she did what I was not able to do. And saw what I was not able to see. She became my teacher today.
Time 1 - We were walking out of preschool and mid-parking lot... she danced. A rather graceful dance for my little tornado. Complete with leaps and pointed toes. For no reason other than to make me smile. And because SHE wanted to. She didn't care about who saw... in fact, she had tuned them out. "Lizzy," I said when we got in the car, "you make me think I can fly. You make me think anything is possible." The pause made me wonder if that was too much for a small girl to understand until I heard this quiet reply, "I'm so happy mommy, because that's how you make me feel. You make me feel like a bird. We make each other feel like our feet touch the air and not the ground."
Time 2 - We are walking to her brother's baseball practice and she says, "Mommy, nobody is perfect... but you are perfect just the way you are." I have no reply. I'm just trying not to cry. After a few breaths I manage "You are right, Lizzy. We are all perfectly imperfect."
Time 3 - My fearful daughter and I are on the playground by her brother's practice and there is a suspended "shaky" bridge about as wide as 2.5 gymnastics beams. It's suspended by cords that allow it to rock a bit, but not flip over. She wants to try it and then refuses. I try to encourage without pushing. She gives up and we play fairies... but she keeps coming back to it. And finally she says, "hold on mom, I have to do something." I'm checking my phone for the time because we have to leave for gymnastics soon when I hear "I can do this, I can DO this. No looking down, no looking back" and she talks herself into scooting all the way across this bridge. Snaking her legs past the cords. Bit by bit. There's no "mommy look". I'm not even there to her. This is all for her. When she reaches the other side, she has that "waking" that I know well. I can often tune out everything and then I suddenly wake back up to my surroundings. She looks at me, high fives me and says matter-of-factly, "I did it mom. I made it. I told myself to not be afraid." "I know," I reply, "I saw." She is non-plussed and we continue to play. But my world is rocked.
Time 4 - not only the gymnastics class, but what she says to me when I tell her in the car why I'm crying. I'm so utterly happy and proud and mostly INSPIRED by her bravery. I tell her SHE has taught me a lesson. She looks confused and says, "Mommy you are very brave. You know what I said to myself all class? I just said, body, I know you're afraid, but you're going to do this anyway."
I cannot speak. I'm driving in tears. Shaking so hard the man in the car next to me looks at me. Two years ago, during that horrible class as everyone in the gym stared at my daughter who had to be pulled off the mats to be calmed, I would not have envisioned this day. I had no idea the tsunami of change that one day would start.
Lizzy once told a story about me and her in "the land of hearts." She said she would mend hearts because that's what I do. She said I mend hearts. She said I make people happy. She often tells me that I am brave, that I am strong, that she wants to be like me.
But today I had the thought that she was wrong. That I am merely a piece of glass and what she is seeing is her own reflection. She makes people happy. She tries to mend hearts. She is the bravest little thing I know.
As a parent, you want to teach your child. But in the end... I think Lizzy is teaching me.