I was referred to the meet and greet (part of a promotion by Oscar Mayer Lunchables and the Woodward camps) by LA Mom Blogger Elizabeth Peterson, who knows that I blog quite a bit about my daughter's participation in competitive gymnastics.
On Monday afternoon, just as I was getting ready to drive her to her workout, my daughter dropped a bombshell on me.
"I want to quit gym," she said, tears streaming down her face.
I've written a lot about the sacrifices my daughter makes to participate in this crazy sport. I also confess to a bit of smugness about it, because in contemplating the adolescent storm she has now entered, her dedication to gymnastics makes ME feel very secure. If she is spending 20 hours a week at gym, she won't have time for activities that might get her into trouble.
But I also know that the reason she excels in the sport is because she LOVES it. There is NO WAY you can MAKE a child spend all of her evenings and most of her weekends in a hot, chalky gym unless she or he is having FUN. And I have always known that there might come a time when she might not feel that way about it any longer.
The question is: Is THIS really THAT time?
"It's not my favorite thing any more. I'm not enjoying it."
This statement is flabbergasting to me, my husband, my friends and my family, who have all seen my child at home, practicing floor routines (not just hers but the routines of all her teammates). But if it's true -- if she really isn't enjoying it any longer -- she should be allowed to quit.
But exiting gymnastics would leave a huge 20-hour-a week void in her life -- not to mention the fact that I count on her being at gym during the summer so I can work n peace. I absolutely don't want her to spend her days hanging out at home watching TV or prowling the local mall. I don't think she wants that, either. She has too much energy for that.
"If you do quit, you need to find another sport," I told her.
"I've been thinking I might try track and field. Or tennis."
Now that the bomb was dropped, she went out back to sit on our diving board, dangling her feet in our pool. I called the gym to let them know she wasn't coming -- and why. Her coaches weren't there yet. I was told to expect one of them to give me a call.
I started researching summer track and tennis programs in our area.
I hadn't seen any previous indication that she was tiring of the sport. In fact, she was moving full steam ahead: she had been promoted to Level 8 after just three meets at Level 7 (the third was her state competition). She had momentum. Her coach was training her on tough new skills at advanced levels 8-10.
"I've been thinking about this since just before state," she told me. About a month. Since her 13th birthday.
"I can't do the double back flip on the high beam, and that's what I've been assigned for the tumble-a-thon. All I do is fall and my coach has to catch me. Every time. I hate it."
The tumble-a-thon is our new old gym's current fundraiser. It's like a walk-a-thon, where the kids find sponsors... only instead of paying for laps walked, they have to pay for successful performance of assigned skills. Megan's coach probably thought she was encouraging her to try harder at this skill -- but my daughter's perfectionism -- which is an asset for a gymnast -- may also be causing her a major bout with fear of failure.
In hindsight, maybe her coach should have assigned her a skill she's already mastered -- a conclusion I think she now shares, judging from the chat we had when she called.
"I don't want to talk to her," Megan sulked.
I relayed the information.
"She's 13," her coach noted in a way that seemed to say that explains everything. "Put me on speaker," she said.
Megan scowled and turned her back at me when I pressed the speaker button.
Her coach admitted to riding her pretty hard the last couple of weeks. She told her that she was going to lighten up, and ease off on that double back handspring on the high beam. She begged her to come in -- even if just to talk. She said that they would be having FUN that day.
Megan wouldn't hear any of it. She walked away from me and my phone and locked herself in her room. I thanked her coach for calling and told her I'd keep her posted.
"You are going to have to talk to your coaches," I told Megan.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because you can't just leave without having a discussion. They need to know why. It's helpful for you and it's helpful for them."
"Even when you quit a job, you have to have an exit interview," I told her.
It was obvious that talking about it any more that afternoon was not going to be productive -- so I grabbed one of the gift cards she received for her birthday and took her shopping, which brightened the mood a little. I resisted the urge to make a stop at the gym, even though we were in the neighborhood.
Monday night, Megan received a text message from her coach. "Shavahn wants me to call her tomorrow after school," she sighed. And when one of her teammates called her after practice, we overheard Megan tell her she intended to quit... "unless Shavahn talks me out of it."
Megan also complained that she learned that Monday's workout had turned into a "fun day" - heavy on silly games and light on conditioning. "I didn't want to miss that! WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?" she whined.
So there was hope.
On Tuesday, Megan finally talked to her coach.
"What did she say?" I asked Megan eagerly.
"She said that when she was a gymnast, she almost quit five different times -- but always decided to come back. And it all began when she was 13."
"So what are you going to do?" I asked.
"I guess I'll give it a try. She says that we're going to have a lot more fun days. And that in the summer, we'll have days when we do beach trips or go to Magic Mountain."
So she's back at gym... for now. But she says she still feels confused. I guess that's why I couldn't resist asking Shawn Johnson about it (check out the look on my daughter's face when she hears my question):
See the rest of our interview with Shawn Johnson here.