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Inching Toward Joy

I held my breath and shifted in my seat. The girl was talking to Anna again. I watched as the older girl with the swinging ponytail and black leotard jabbed at the air with her finger, indicating Anna should get out of her way. Again.

Anna stared at the girl and retreated on the balance beam a bit, visibly shrinking, mouth closed tight. I swung my foot back and forth on the cold bleacher where I could only watch from afar and wish that I could will my only daughter courage, and more than a little confidence.

IMG_0453It was Anna’s third gymnastics class. She loved it. She ran, she somersaulted, she jumped, she slid, and she smiled. Oh, she smiled. For a girl who’s only recently begun to smile more often than frown, watching Anna’s joy at gymnastics has been one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. So why was she letting this girl get her down?

I looked across the gym at Brayden, running, jumping and playing with his own class of similarly aged boys. Brayden’s dimpled grin and sweat-mopped brow were on full display as he grabbed a rope and launched himself – “American Ninja Warrior”-style – from one block to another. Sticking the landing, he laughed and clapped hands with another boy standing nearby. He probably didn’t even know his name.

What was the difference, I thought from my perch on the other side of the glass partition. How can he be so unshackled and devil-may-care, so sure that these other boys are friends? I thought back to my own childhood, my own painful shyness in which one less-than-completely-kind word could leave me shattered. I knew Anna came by her timidity honestly, but what could I do to help her?

IMG_0435If only I could harness Brayden’s sociability, I thought. If only I could show her how much better the coming years would be for her if she could face them head-on and fearless. That there’s really nothing to fear. If you believe the people around you are your friends, that’s exactly what they’ll be.

It took me years, of course, to come to that realization myself. Years of self-doubt that crippled me. I would do anything in my power to take away those years for Anna and replace them with years filled with the joy she’s starting to learn from only three classes of gymnastics.

How can I help her?

Fight through it, Anna, I urged from my place at the sidelines, frustrated that my place will increasingly be at the sidelines for Anna in social situations such as these. Don’t let her take your joy.

Slowly, Anna started inching forward again, still not responding to the girl with the swinging ponytail, but moving forward nonetheless. I watched my daughter’s focus, one inch at a time, and I knew her path ahead wasn’t going to be an easy one, but I finally felt able to exhale.


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  1. Lindsay says:

    I just read “The Curse of the Good Girl,” and even though it was written for parents of girls, I felt like it spoke directly to my own experience and was helpful in figuring out why I acted the way I did growing up – and still act sometimes! I recommend it.

    Of course, we all have our innate personalities of being shy or less shy. But girls get such different signals from everyone around them than boys do – even when their parents aren’t the ones sending those signals. For example, when I take my 2-year-old to visit my Grandma’s nursing home, every time he does something energetic, people walking by are like “WOW, HE IS SUCH A BOY.” Really? I’m sure girls like splashing in puddles and throwing balls, too. It just makes ya think about what affect that kind of thing has had on all of us.

    ANYway. Enough with my novice social science. The important thing is that Anna is having fun and doing well and you’re putting her in situations that will help her grow! It must be pretty great seeing all those smiles!

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