Helicopters At The Gym

6 Sep

Photo:Naperville Gymnastics Club

Every Wednesday night, I go to the gym and I sit. Now, I’m not a slug, by any means, but I’m not there to get my weekly workout. I’m there for a different kind of exercise: watching my daughter fling her body around bars, jump in the air over a wooden beam and travel the length of a mat using her arms as if they were legs.

My daughter does gymnastics. My daughter thinks it’s fun, so I ignore the freaked out voice in my head that screams, “She’s going to break her neck” every time she jumps more than one inch on the beam.

I’m not alone, of course. There are all kinds of parents at the gym. There are parents who read while they wait, parents who work while they wait and parents who surf the web while they wait.

And then, there are those parents.

Like “I’m Having A Meeting Here, People!” Mom. Hogging prime real estate in front of the viewing window (parents are not allowed in the gym), she very loudly discusses with her clients how she is going to make right what she has clearly done wrong. I wish she would shut the hell up, but none of the other parents seem to be bothered.

I sort of feel sorry for Binoculars Dad. My daughter is in the recreational program, which is code for these kids are never going to the Olympics. Binoculars Dad has a daughter in “Team” and she’s a Level 10, the highest level you can go in competitive gymnastics. Apparently, Olympic contenders go to eleven.

Binoculars Dad needs binoculars because the team athletes work out on the far side of the gym, “far” as in far away from prying—and distracting—parental eyes. The recreational kids are right up front; no one cares if they get distracted.

I feel sorry for Binoculars Dad because, well, he needs binoculars to see his daughter practice. Team gymnastics costs a butt load of money; the compulsory leotard alone is $140. I feel his pain. Every month, I give a lot of money to Hix Brothers music for my son to have lessons in guitar and drums. This has been going on for years; I have heard my son play guitar three times. He insists he practices in his room, which shall be the subject of another post, but I’m thinking of bugging the place for proof.

My favorite parents, though, and I mean that in the “Oh, man, these people are un-freaking-believable” sense, are The Sports Announcers.

This couple follows their daughter’s progress around the gym, providing commentary on every aspect of her performance, the coaching, the other members of the practice group and what they’ll do with the intel they’ve gathered when they get home alone with their kid.

Let’s say their daughter, Stephanie, is practicing with her group on the floor exercise mats.

“Oh!” says Mom, “he’s having them do back handsprings,” referring to the move the coach is having the girls do. “Stephanie should be able to do that,” says Dad.

“Oh!” says Mom. “Cara did a nice one. Stephanie’s turn!”

“Ok, Stephanie,” says Dad. “Don’t lose focus.”

A minute passes.

“She didn’t do a back handspring,” says Dad. “I wonder why.” Like me, Stephanie’s mom clearly doesn’t care; she’s busy analyzing the team.

“Oh!” says Mom, because she starts every statement with “Oh!”, “there’s a new girl.”

“And a new boy,” says Dad. Both parents are clearly disturbed that Stephanie’s universe has been invaded.

“I wanna know her name,” says Mom. “I wanna know his name,” says Dad. I want you to shut up, I think, but by now I am drawn into the play by play of Stepanie’s practice session. I decide to move closer to the viewing window to watch my daughter. She sticks her landing and we flash each other a thumb up.

The Sports Announcers follow me. Stephanie’s group is now doing front handsprings or back walkovers or front-to-back walkover springs. I have no idea what the names of all these moves are but I’m sure the Sports Announcers will let me know.

Unfortunately, the Sports Announcers have become distracted by Stephanie’s hair, which seems to be coming loose repeatedly.

“Oh!” says Mom, “her hair is loose again. Look! Coach is telling her to put it up again.”

“Is her hair too thin for a Scrunchi?” asks Dad. This stops me in the middle of thinking Will you shut the hell up? Sports Announcer Dad has used the word “Scrunchi” appropriately. My husband probably thinks a Scrunchi is an Italian appetizer.

Mom ignores the Scrunchi comment; it’s Stephanie’s turn.

“Oh! She’s really focused. Oh! She did a back handspring.”

“It wasn’t very good,” says Dad. “Just like with bars. It took a while so we’ll work on this now. We just have to get her to not put her head on the mat. We’ll talk to her when she comes out.”

I decide I must see this Stephanie child, so pull my eyes away from my daughter’s group. I scan through the practice group next to hers, looking for a seriously focused athlete with scrawny hair. I find her.

“SHE’S FIVE!” my brain screams. It can’t be true, I think. I’ve made a mistake. That taller, ten-year-old must be Stephanie. But it’s not. Stephanie is an adorable five-year-old girl with a sweet smile, a chubby little tummy, really fine hair and parents from hell.

I look away just in time to see a girl do three perfect back handsprings in a row. Her coach runs up to her, grabs her under the arms and swings her around and around as they both laugh. And then, the session is over.

My daughter runs out of the gym and meets me in the viewing area. I see Stephanie greet her parents, bouncing up and down, but I don’t stay to hear what they say. I give my daughter a hug, ask if she had fun and kiss the top of her head. Next week, I think, I’ll bring my headphones.

16 Responses to “Helicopters At The Gym”

  1. Kathy Eynon, RN,CCM, CTACC September 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    I remember when my son played soccer at the age of 5 (the only year he played) and there was one father that everyone else watched. He spent the entire time on the sidelines yelling and screaming and I remember thinking that he was going to have a coronary right there on the field! Good grief! Maybe he was reliving missed opportunities from his youth?? But seriously…….

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      I was probably pretty obnoxious when my son was in T-ball; I really got into it, but I was rooting for all of the kids.

  2. societyred September 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    Wow this brings back memories. My daughter chose dance when she was young, I remember those parents. I love your descriptive writing. I don’t know how you can keep quiet around those parents but I think headphones will definitely help 🙂

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Thanks! Typing down everything I overhear helps keep me from shouting at people, but I have to keep my laptop screen hidden so no one knows I’m spying on them. Makes it more fun for me!

  3. The Waiting September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Poor Stephanie. Poor you. There are no winners when your parents are insane.

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      Remember that for when Miss C is in gymnastics, or ballet, or Tball, or soccer, or . . .the crazy parents are the same, it’s only the sport that changes.

  4. dinnerversions September 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    This is a great post. We’ve been pretty fortunate for the most part that our 7 yo’s peers’ parents are reasonable and actually let coaches coach but he has one friend with the most critical parents ever! They just complain about their kid to whomever is listening and then just tell the kid to try harder. They pick sports the kid’s likely to be good at rather than what their child might enjoy. Sigh.

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

      I’ve let my kids pick their sports/activities. My son played so many different things for about a week, then moved on to the next. ADHD much? Daughter is very consistent; gymnastics is the bomb. I try very hard to be mellow about it all, having embarrassed myself during son’s T-ball games. In my defense, I was not being critical!

  5. nevercontrary September 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    I was a competitive gymnast. Made it to level 8. My parents never watched practice. Don’t think they enjoyed watching me cry and break bones then beg to go back to practice the moment we left. advice totally stop watching, go get a manicure and come back 🙂

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      Wow! Level 8! I’m impressed. I wish I could afford that manicure! I’d love to drop her off and come back two hours later. She’ll probably let me do that soon, but she was adopted and can have some separation issues. When she finally lets me go, I’ll post that!

      • philosophermouseofthehedge September 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

        Whoa been there – gym, dance, riding, swim team, football….no matter the sport/activity or age group, the same parent behavior is seen. There’s bound to be middle ground between helicopter parents and MIA ones who child rides with other kids to class.
        Reading book / computer is great…really don’t advise leaving.
        First there’s the safety thing – you need to be aware of why the wrists are hurting (new stunt – it’s probably normal; ice.) or if you need to keep an eye out after the head got bashed. If you aren’t there you are working in the dark with those…and you can’t trust the ability/skill of coaches always these days to have best interest of kids at heart (and verbal abuse isn’t really necessary for growth…presence does moderate that some – not at elite level, but that’s different completely – must build mental toughness there).
        Also I have seen kids really hurt – like call 911 – and it’s best to have parent there.
        Besides you get to know all the kids your kid is around – and that’s pretty nice, too – pays off as they get older (funny as they get into their 20’s the kids remember and mention you were one of the “good parents” that showed up and was interested – but didn’t add pressure or bother the coach or criticize everything – just cheered and supported all the kids on the team.)
        Besides you’ll get some real interesting characters for your writing

      • jmlindy422 September 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

        Philosopher, I never would have had the verbatim dialogue I captured if I hadn’t sat through the entire session with my laptop. Thanks for flying by!

  6. todadwithlove September 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Love the title. Thanks again for another piece of lovely writing.

    • jmlindy422 September 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      You’re welcome and thanks for the compliment.

  7. scribblechic September 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    You gathered all of us into a room with you, making us familiar with the colorful cast of characters that accompany childhood athletics while giving voice to a little girl lost in her parents’ expectations. Sad and lovely.

    • jmlindy422 September 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

      What a nice compliment. Thank you so much.

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