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Know when to fold ’em

For about three months now, whenever it was time for gymnastics practice, Sonya mysteriously came down with a headache, or a hurt ankle, or was just. so. tired. from Amelia waking her up in the night (side note: Amelia sometimes wakes people up at 3 a.m., and seems to have no remorse about it: is she a psychopath?).

At the end of the summer, I suggested that while soccer was in season, she start going to just one gymnastics practice a week instead of two. The gymnasts are supposed to go to two, some go to three…but I care more about my kid than I do about the rules, so we dropped down to one. That did the trick, for awhile. But then she started getting headaches before that one practice.

In the meantime, she started competitive cheerleading. “Not the kind with the pompoms, mom,” she said, as though I were very stupid when actually, Sonya, I am very smart. I had always been opposed to “sideline cheer” because I felt (feel) pretty strongly that you should be celebrating your own accomplishments, not somebody else’s. Sorry, I’m a feminist or whatever. Anyway, competitive cheer doesn’t involve pompoms (apparently), it doesn’t involve yelling, and instead, it’s a combination of gymnastics and dance, which, even I have to admit, is perfect for Sonya. Sonya never had headaches before cheerleading practice.

But you can’t miss a practice for cheerleading, because a main part of what they are doing is stunts, and if one kid in the stunt-group is missing, none of the rest of the stunt-group can practice, and then the other moms put out a hit on that one mom who kept her kid home for some stupid reason like a headache. So suddenly, between soccer, one day at gymnastics, and not-pompom-cheerleading, we were down to less than zero free time. No time to jump on the trampoline or throw leaves at her sisters, no time to chase the neighbor around, no time to color or read or paint or build things with LEGOs.

Last week, as she came off the bus on Wednesday (gymnastics day), I instantly saw that it was going to be a struggle. “Why don’t you just quit?” I asked. She refused to meet my eye, eventually nodding, barely perceptibly. And just like that, we’re done.

I struggled, a bit, with “letting” her quit. Is this good parenting? Shouldn’t kids stick things through? Honor their commitments? Learn to do a back layout? Didn’t we make promises that we needed to make good on? In addition: Sonya has identified as a gymnast for years, and I don’t say that lightly. She writes about gymnastics in her “about me” essays in school, her clothes all say “gymnast” on them, she has really drawn a lot of self-confidence from her abilities at the gym. Does a good parent force a kid to keep going? I guess it’s a dumb question because it doesn’t matter what a good parent does, because when I look at a 9-year-old with tears in her eyes barely indicating, because she’s afraid to disappoint her non-disappoint-able mother, that she wants to quit , that’s it, that’s the end, we’re done.

I’m not going to lie and say my heart’s not a little (a lot?) broken. I love the gym. Last year, as they were deciding which kids would be at which level, the coach sent out an e-mail to all the families. I’m paraphrasing here, but the message was this: if you’re mad at your kid for not improving fast enough, we have an adults-only gymnastics class, and once you can do the skills you’re asking your kid to do, you are welcome to pressure your kid to be able to do them, too. In other words, “lay off, you hypocrite, and let the kid advance according to their abilities rather than your expectations.”

This kind of coach – one who cares deeply about the kids and their development and wants them to win but also doesn’t actually give a crap if they win – this kind of coach seems to be a rarity, and I’m sad to be leaving her behind. I also am not integrating well with the cheerleading moms (read: I am coming to believe we hate each other), and I one billion percent would rather be a gymnastics mom than a cheerleading mom.

But I’m not. It turns out you don’t get to choose what kind of path your kid wants to forge.

The gymnastics coach has made it very clear that they are willing to work with Sonya if she wants to come back, if she wants to join up again next year. Viv and Amelia are still going to that gym for the classes, so it’s not like we’re breaking up completely. Still, it seems that as a parent, the lesson I keep learning, over and over again, is that I have no control over anything. We’re not slamming this door, but Sonya’s future with gymnastics isn’t really up to me.

What does this have to do with personal finance? Well, the gymnastics team is expensive, and there’s a bit more breathing room in the budget without Sonya’s team fees (about $185 a month, but actually more, because there are competition fees here and there that bring it up; but also kind of less because the other kids get a discount if she’s on the team). Then again, her band teacher strongly suggested she start taking saxophone lessons because she’s a natural (there goes $50 a month), and Sonya asked to start taking an “acro” class at the gym in lieu of the team practices, so.

In the end, none of it matters. None of it matters. I’m supposed to make choices that save money and pay off debt and show my kids how to be frugal and etc. etc. etc. In the end, if cheerleading cost $4000 a month (it doesn’t, it’s $70 a month, plus competition stuff), we’d find a way to make it work. My kids get one childhood, one chance to experience and learn and grow and be kids and feel strong and right and good. This path is a little cheaper, so it’s a “win.” It’s moving us away from an organization that I think is amazing, so it’s a “loss.” It’s what my child, who has agency and control in her life, wants to pursue, so whether it’s a win or loss for me is completely inconsequential.

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