One of the harder things about growing older is that you start to realize that things you fantasized about are simply not ever going to happen. I chose a career as a lawyer when I was in my twenties. Yet I still believed that someday I could be a veterinarian, or a teacher, or an artist. Lately I’ve been fantasizing about being a jewelry designer.
Well, kids come along, mortgages enter the scene, student loan payments seemingly never end. I spent many years at the bottom of the seniority list in my union, and actually received a layoff notice at one point (it’s still hanging on my office door to keep me humble). I hung on and now I am high enough on the seniority list that, unless the entire company implodes, I will not get laid off. Job security is an offer one cannot refuse, with the obligations that come along in life and the creature comforts that we all get used to enjoying (you know, computers, cable TV, addiction to Amazon Prime, haunting consignment/junk shops for treasures). So I’m keeping my day job, I guess.
Not my house, but it could be someday!
The other fantasies COULD be achieved, if I had the guts to make a career change, but one thing I know for sure: I will never be athletic, no matter how hard I try.
I know a lot of people who post their energetic enterprises on Facebook. Many of my dear friends are canoe-ers, marathon cyclists, daily runners, weight lifters and gym attenders. It makes me feel like a slug – no, even slugs are more active than I am. I want to be athletic, I really do, but I have NEVER even been coordinated, much less graceful, so forget athletic. It’s a good day when I don’t trip and fall. Today I dropped the Peter Rabbit dish I bought at Beatrix Potter’s birthplace thirty-five years ago, in anticipation of my children before they were even a concept. Of course it broke and is now in the recycling bin. I long ago gave up getting upset about broken objects. It’s a way of life for me.
I’m way more of a threat to Peter than Mr. McGregor
When I was growing up, boys had to play sports, but girls were generally exempt. However, occasionally girls would run down the block to the ice cream man, or play marathon games of jump rope. I was that kid who got a terrible pain in my side whenever I had to run. I couldn’t get into the jump rope rhythm enough to just leap right in to an operating rope, so the turners had to stop, let me walk in, and then start turning the rope. And even then it was a challenge! I was terrified of Double Dutch.
Run! Run for your life!
Luckily, I went to an all girls high school, so there was none of that team picking where I would have been the last choice. However, gymnastics were a big deal among the girls at my school. For me, having to leap over those horses was equivalent to walking over Niagara Falls on a wire.
Same feeling, right?
If you have no problem ambling down the street without tripping, or you can leap over obstacles like a gazelle, you probably can’t imagine what it is like to feel panicky about such things. I frequently have dreams in which I am required to climb through a small opening in order to get to work or get home or someplace important like that, so I HAVE to do it. It’s truly a nightmare. I wake up with my heart pounding, grateful it isn’t real.
I know grace or athletic ability comes easily to lots of people, and perhaps if I had started young enough and worked hard, I could have overcome these obstacles. But alas, that kayak has sailed.
As a CTWM, endeavoring to exist in the non-judgment zone, I have tried to accept this about myself and forgive myself. This is not about being overweight or out of shape (even though those are also facts). This is about having a body that doesn’t cooperate with the messages my brain sends it. Just as someone who wants to do calligraphy but her hand won’t cooperate or who wants to make a quilt but can’t sew neat stitches, I simply cannot be coordinated enough to be athletic.
I feel sad about the pressure on girls. There are expectations I never experienced, about playing competitive soccer or practicing 5 hours a day to achieve Olympic-level skating skills. In the grand picture, it is good for all kids to try to learn about their bodies and to engage in team sports. But for those of us who just can’t make our bodies be our friends, it’s a scary world.
I write this because I’m concerned about all the little girls growing up now. Please, women and men, listen to your daughters, granddaughters and nieces if they get a tummy ache on the day they are supposed to try out for the team. Tell them, “It’s ok, you don’t have to go.” Then find something they do well and exalt it. Don’t call them clutzy or awkward. Help them navigate a world where athletic prowess is the new “pretty.” Support them if they don’t get chosen for the team.
Childhood is mean enough without finding extra reasons to feel inadequate. Wouldn’t it be great if all parents could discern that one talent that is as natural to their child as breathing, and give the child every possible opportunity to nourish it, even if it’s something the parents don’t understand or enjoy? Who knows, you may even get into it! I learned about so many new things through my kids’ interests: Volkswagens, computer programming, Legos, music, theater, Batman. Encouragement and recognition of unique talents and interests by significant adults is one key to building their self-esteem. Good luck!