It’s been pretty quiet around the bog lately. K and I set big goals for ourselves earlier this year and, frankly, we’ve been falling short the past few months. So what’s been getting in the way?
What else? Life.
Sometimes I watch with envy as my kids watch a movie or play make-believe while I sweep, scrub, and shine the floor beneath their feet. My movements don’t phase them. It’s as if they don’t even see me—in much the same way, I suppose, I was entirely unaware of my own mother working hard in the midst of Barbie pageants and play-doh sessions.
Back then, my afternoons were often spent in the gym, where my biggest concern was the latest new skill I was working toward. All of my focus, all of my energy, went toward conquering a personal goal. Whether it was a new tumbling pass or a new release skill on bars, I grew to love that feeling of accomplishment.
Of course, it was easier then. I was unconcerned with the logistics of how I would get to and from practice. I didn’t have to worry about paying the tuition or whether there would be a new leotard when an old one was outgrown. Everything was provided for. I was capable of boundless energy because it wasn’t being drained by the practicalities of daily life.
The same can’t be said anymore. And while I could go through the litany of reasons why our keyboards have gone silent, the reality is that most of them (on my end, at least) are perfectly ordinary: work, kids, cleaning, sickness. Somehow, I seem to have entered one of those phases where putting one foot in front of the other becomes the goal. But I’ve been here before. I know it is exactly that—a phase—and that, eventually, loads will lighten, a measure of calm will return, and my neglected computer will get some use again.
But, for now, I will listen to my body and try to practice the art of self-care; because when this night owl is routinely ready for bed at 8:30, it’s obvious that something is up!
Although it’s difficult for me to quiet the anxious voices in my mind and “waste” an opportunity to write by choosing to sleep or indulge in a new show (check out The Crown on Netflix!), the truth is, I am only able to do so because of the invaluable lessons learned in that gym of my youth.
To this day, stepping onto a balance beam feels like home. It was always my favorite, though not best, event. I loved the grip of suede beneath my feet and the chalk lines that mapped out the progression of my routine. Any gymnast will tell you that beam is just as much a mental game as it is physical, resulting in an eternal love-hate relationship. But there were always lessons to be learned when stepping onto a beam, lessons that would serve me well long after walking away from the gym. For instance, throwing an aerial cartwheel in competition for the first time was an absolutely terrifying experience. But it was also a formative one, with the subsequent bruises down my legs reminding me that fear can quickly override focus.
All these years later, that four-inch slab of wood continues to be an efficient, if sometimes painful, teacher. When thinking back on how physically exhausted I have been these past few months, I’m reminded that rearranging priorities is nothing new for me. It was ingrained long ago in a park district gym that will always hold a piece of my heart.
You see, beam routines are timed in competition. From the moment a gymnast first touches the apparatus, a stopwatch ticks down to the final salute. A warning bell is sounded as she nears the end but if she fails to dismount within the allotted time, a deduction is applied to her score.
A particularly difficult tumbling connection might require an extra moment of concentration. A large balance check might eat away precious moments, as could a press handstand that takes longer than expected to complete. Endless unforeseen complications can arise in even the most well-planned routine.
So what’s a girl to do? Improvise, of course.
Eventually, this becomes instinctive to a young gymnast. She knows what elements absolutely cannot be excluded, and how to cut out excess choreography. She can adjust her tempo to make up time, or decide to give up a bonus skill for the benefit of a long, calming “I can do it” breath. She rearranges, prioritizes, sacrifices.
Every once in a while, she will fail to fit it all in and end up taking the deduction—and she won’t be happy about it. But more often than not, her feet will hit the mat just in time. She may be annoyed that her well-drilled routine didn’t go as planned. There will always be something with which she finds fault. After all, the competitive spirit is a restless one.
But at the end of the day, whether a medal finds its way around her neck or not, she will have accomplished more than most could even imagine. While a crowd watched her “flawed” routine in awe, she silently chastised herself for a poor performance. It’s an odd dichotomy isn’t it?
It’s something I try to keep in mind in these hazy early years of motherhood: even when I think I’m failing, even when my perfect plans are shattered, my little audience of sticky-fingered minions are watching in awe, amazed at the tasks I relegate to the mundane. Waking up in 2am to quell a nightmare or planning an afternoon at the splash park might seem exactly that. But to them, it’s everything. Everything.
And sometimes it takes rearranging carefully laid plans. Sometimes it means giving myself a breather and letting the laundry linger. Lately, it has meant putting some distance between myself and my keyboard, because I just can’t fit everything into the set amount of time I’m given each day. And when my aching bones signal the warning bell, I cut out the excess elements and put an end to the routine.
These days, I’m only competing against myself and am lucky enough to have the cutest little audience watching my every move. Sometimes I fall and get discouraged but, like that aerial cartwheel taught me all those years ago, success is unattainable without focus. So I try to give myself a measure of grace. I try to allow my body time to heal when it is overworked. And then I get right back at it–because life is one big balancing act and I’ve always loved the challenge.