Ribbons and Judgement

We are coming to the end of The Princess’s first season of competitive gymnastics – and it’s been a tremendous learning experience. This whole past year has been one lesson after another for the whole family. Lessons aside, we’ve also gotten to see The Princess improve her strengths and skills by leaps and bounds (or rather, roundoffs and handsprings). Her dedication to practice means the living room is impromptu Handstand Land and when I watch her, I can see muscles she didn’t have before – her arms have this tone now – I watched her do chin ups at practice last week and was blown away that she was able to do them. I’m not even sure I can do them.

Along with practices in the gym and in the living room, there have been several meets so far this season. Each meet has been a completely different experience. At this level, the meets are deemed “fun meets” – each gymnast gets a ribbon for each event, though the ribbon color depends on how she was able to execute each routine. My daughter has received everything from a pink ribbon (the time she fell off the beam twice. I wasn’t at that meet. Correlation? Possibly – maybe my presence defies gravity for her) to blues.

At each meet, the set up is a little bit different – the judging is a little different.

As a parent, it’s confusing sometimes – especially when you’re not versed on the intricacies of gymnastics judging. How can your child get a blue ribbon at one meet, and then at another, perform that routine better than you’ve ever seen it… and it’s a red ribbon? How does that work?

This past weekend, The Princess had an evening meet. [As an aside, I’m not a fan of events for the kids that start in the evening. Everything about this meet was a little off… and the 6:30 start time stretched to 7…meaning the meet ended after 9. I think that’s too late for kids.] We’d already attended a meet at this gym before and so we had an idea of the lay of the land. Though things were running late, I really tried to hang on to my patience.

Her first routine of the evening was the balance beam. I nearly cried at how well she performed – legs straight, head up, arms extended just so. She held her balance. She didn’t fall. In short: It was phenomenal and it was the best I’ve ever seen her do.

Red ribbon.

Now, remember, I’ve seen her get a blue on beam before – so why was this, this routine that bettered all of the routines she had performed to date lower?

So, she went through the rest of the events – floor, vault, bars. Each time, I was boggled by her results. I guess I wasn’t the only one.

In the midst of The Princess’s team doing their vaults, a set of parents approached the judge. These are the parents of a girl on my daughter’s team – a girl who not only attends the standard six hours a week of practice, but a private lesson with the gym’s owner each week plus open gym practice time as well. Yes, pretty hard core.

Though we couldn’t hear the conversation, the audience could only assume that the problem was they didn’t like their daughter’s ribbon awarded for the event – that they were disputing her placement. This conversation with the judges held things up for several minutes, held things up while several girls awaited their turn at the vault. The whole while I was filled with this thought, I may not think this judging is fair, but I would never do that. What kind of example does that set for the kids. I mean, sure, they’re not throwing punches or yelling – but it’s the gymnastics equivalent of arguing with the ref! Who are these people? Just because their daughter is in the gym so much doesn’t automatically mean she should score higher. Frankly, if they’re concerned only with her ribbons then perhaps they should save all that money they’re spending on lessons and use it to bribe the judges.

Remember? These are called…FUN MEETS? The Olympic selection committee probably will never see these scores. Ever.

As a parent, I don’t want to become so focused on the winning, on the score, on the ribbon, on the END RESULT, that I take away from the experience of the journey. As a parent, I have to leave it up to the coaches to intervene on my daughter’s behalf with the judging process if they find it unfair (Frankly… I’m probably a little biased. I know, right?). I also need to ensure that I remain a good sport – so my daughter doesn’t get any obnoxious bad sports tendencies from me (that means that I can’t call the judge names – even behind her back).

We drove home from the meet – I was still over the moon excited about how well she did. There’s an excitement and a vicarious thrill of watching someone do something well. Of knowing the steps it took to get from point A to the point where she is. Watching my daughter on the beam, composed with all of those eyes on her. Watching her coach’s face, the gym owner’s yelps of approval when she completed her routine. I can’t imagine all of those things – those things were all there – and as her mom, there’s that automatic fascination with everything she does. Her successes bring me joy.

The next day, she was with my mother – unfortunately, my mom was not quite as fabulous at holding her tongue about the judging (naughty, naughty). The Princess matter of factly explained to her the whys and whats of each ribbon. The white ribbon because her leg wasn’t straight, toe wasn’t pointed, her this or that wasn’t this or that. There were reasons. Legit reasons. Things I might not have been looking for. To me? It was amazing. Knowing the judging criteria, I can still say that my daughter was TOTALLY AMAZING. Pointed toes, pffft.

The ribbons are not what matter to me. What matters is her joy and her accomplishments. I don’t need any ribbons for that.

No Longer Entirely Newbies

Now we know what to expect. Now we kind of know how things work. It’s not this huge mysterious thing that we don’t completely understand. It’s slightly less vague. Less daunting. Less panic inducing.

Yeah, I’m talking about gymnastics competitions.

(Overdramatic much? Yes. Yes I am)

The Princess made the team this spring and since she got accepted, it’s been a pretty straight shot of six hours of practice per week to get ready for these competitions. My living room has become a practice ground for handstands, I often hear roundoffs over my head as she thumps into a landing upstairs in the playroom. I’ve seen her floor routine so many times I’m pretty sure I can tell you where all the little dancey flourishes go.

And yet?

Seeing my daughter execute her floor routine, her beam routine, her bar routine and her vault in her shiny competition leotard with her competition hair do and her poise and her (where did that come from?) confidence – I was just stricken by awe at this eight year old child WHO IS MINE.

Blown away.

I had been extremely nervous going into the weekend – how would I feel about someone judging my daughter, what were their criteria, was she going to measure up? I kept my mouth shut and fortunately didn’t transfer any of my chaos to her.

She had been talking to me about which ribbons she wanted to earn in each event, and I kept thinking, “What if she doesn’t earn the ribbon she wants? Will she be devastated? And if she’s devastated, how do I let her know that this is totally okay – it’s not the end of the world, and that as she keeps practicing, her skills are going to keep sharpening and she’s going to get better?”

And none of that mattered because in the moment, she had the best time. She performed better than I’d seen her do before. I watched her on the balance beam – the musicality of her arms and the precision of her movements and thought to myself, When did she learn this?

And then I watched her do her floor routine – getting to see her round off back handspring (with a spotter) for the first time – as she’d only started mastering that stunt a few days prior.

I mean, shoot. A few months ago, her cartwheel was still kind of sloppy.

Before my eyes, I was getting to see just what The Princess could accomplish – what rewards her hard work would reap – the joy she had in a routine well performed.


I didn’t expect it would be so exciting.

We drove home with four lovely ribbons and a readiness for the next one. Back at it in January.

Thursday Ten: Le Fou I’m Afraid I’ve Been Thinking edition

1. The past few days, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the things I enjoy doing, the things in which I excel. What I have found is that I am halfway decent at several things but don’t feel like I have focused on any ONE thing quite enough to say that it’s where I shine. Have you ever really thought about where YOU shine? What are YOU really good at?

2. The Princess was invited to try out for the gymnastics team and SHE MADE IT. The program sounds a bit intense – and yes, there will be a competitive aspect… however, this kind of goes back to the first point: what are you really good at? Gymnastics may or may not be something she wants to stick with – but right now, she’s enjoying it a lot. I want to give her the opportunity to see where it goes, as long as she wants to. When she decides she’s done, she’ll wrap up whatever season she’s in – and that’s it. No pressure. I’m kind of curious about this road we’ll be traveling.

3. Last night was the May meeting of our book club. We discussed the book selected for last month, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, shot the breeze a little bit and then? Picked next month’s book. A book by Nicholas Sparks. How did we go from FGM and human trafficking to Nicholas Sparks?

4. Because “Half the Sky” was such a HEAVY read (good read, but definitely heavy), I decided to lighten things up with Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, which is a much lighter read. Also, it cements the knowledge that I have no desire to learn French cooking. Too many livers and lobsters.

5. My guitar lesson went well today – fortunately, my sister was able to hang out with Pumpkin so I got to go solo. Finished working on the Taylor Swift ditty, and went back to Pearl Jam. It was a little easier to work on something without making sure Pumpkin was entertained. And she had lots of fun with her aunt and took a nice nap and spent lots of time singing “Down by the Bay”.

6. I went through Pumpkin’s backpack the other day to sort through all the work and art work she brought home from preschool/daycare and recycled several art projects. Mind you – I LOVE to keep artwork created by my children. However, I don’t love to keep artwork that was clearly cut and assembled by the teachers. And I can tell. The work our kids do is perfect in its imperfection. I wish the teachers would leave it alone.

7. Is it raining where you are? DAYS of rain in Michigan. It’s making me cranky.

8. American Idol’s Final Three – are you happy with the final three? Are you even watching? I loved Lee and Crystal’s rendition of my favorite song – “Falling Slowly” – and yeah, I downloaded today and have listened several times.

9. And since I’m talking about TV, I’m gonna kick on over to Glee and say first of all, I loved Wednesday’s episode. I love the storyline with Kurt and his dad (“Fine doesn’t sound like that song was sung”) — but when they sang U2’s “One” and called it classic rock? I had to hit the Google. “One” was recorded in 1991. I was in high school. So, stuff from my teen years is classic now? Since when? Also… feeling old.

10. Just a few short weeks until the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I am SO close to my goal – and I appreciate ALL the support and love I have gotten. But, if you still want to support the cause (and really, you should because it’s a great one), feel free to share the donation love with my teammate – her link is here. If you donate to her, and write in the message that I sent you, I’ll send you cookies. (Offer limited to the first five peeps to donate).