My eight year old daughter is obsessed with gymnastics.
She took classes here and there since she’s been little but this past year, something clicked — she developed a passion for it.
For months and months, she’s been practicing her flips at home, her cartwheels over and over again in our living room. She watches YouTube videos to teach herself new tricks, like a backbend flip-over (so hard, trust me). She is constantly begging me to send her to a ‘professional’ gym. She even leads gymnastics classes at school during recess– hey, if you know a somersault, then teach a somersault.
Her main focus is perfecting her split: she went from so-so flexible to all-out silly putty, creating a beautiful linear line with her extended legs and toes. I watch with utter entrancement as she works so diligently to get her split just right, practicing every day without fail.
How much devotion and commitment to honing a new skill. I have a lot to learn from her.
As a kid, I loved tuning into the Olympics, especially the summer ones. Diving, swimming, volleyball, gymnastics. Such grace. Such power. And those medal ceremonies… So much pride.
But I never imagined myself as one of them. Never dreamed I’d grow up one day to be an Olympian. Never felt so passionate about a particular sport or competition.
Yet still, to this day, I enjoy following them. They inspire me, a hint of what’s possible when we aim high.
“Mommy, can we watch the Olympics together? I want to watch the girls gymnastics.”
Darn. How do kids know everything?
The truth is, I was thinking about whether to view the Olympics with my daughter. I imagined how she’d love witnessing these professional gymnasts with such incredible strength and form. How inspired she might be when encountering people so good at what they do- especially something she loves so much. How her eyes would twinkle as she’d gaze at those athletes, years and years of practice paying off in such a meaningful way.
“Look at what’s possible,” I’d exclaim to her. “Just look.”
But then, I played out the rest of the scenario in my head.
What if watching the Olympics together would spark something in her, something I cannot control? What if, unlike me, she would watch these perfect gymnasts in their perfect form in their perfect leotards and want to be like them one day? What if that world would entice her — worse, what if the world of girls with sparkly leotards and glittery makeup and perfect splits would be more attractive than the life I attempt to seduce her with every single day?
Is watching the Olympics with my daughter a tease? I mean, would I support her if she wanted to hone her skill to this level? The grueling competition? The unforgivable schedules? The little leotards?
How cruel is it to dangle this life, these goals, in front of my Orthodox Jewish girl?
In the end, I set up my laptop, picked a video of Aly Raisman hitting of one the hardest vaults out there, and invited my daughter to join me.
We each are presented with moments that force us to make a reckoning with our Judaism. To dig deeper. To look for the nuance. To synthesize the world and all its parts into one cohesive story that reflects our soul’s callings.
And these moments build character — and renewed commitment.
And I will not shield my daughter from that opportunity.
Aly just hit the ground after a near-perfect vault, her arms held high in a V, her face illuminated with an infectious grin.
“Mommy, can I compete one day?”
Here we go.