I have always been seriously uncoordinated. Apparently it's a spatial awareness thing, but I didn't know that until recently; I just thought I was clumsy and awkward (which I still am, but these days there's nobody next to me in the locker room combing her perm and adjusting her Forenza sweater and Tretorns to witness me bashing my forehead into my locker door.) As an adult I've accepted that I am not a good person to have on your team in volleyball, I simply cannot hit the ball super-far in baseball, and it's highly doubtful that I'll win a medal in a relay race any day soon. No college sports recruiters ever knocked on my door.
This time you're gonna hit the ball
When I was 12, though, these facts really, really upset me. I would swear to myself in the locker room: This time you're gonna hit the ball, you're gonna pay attention to the game, you're gonna do a super-good job!!! You CAN do it, Julie!!
All pumped up and ready to win, I'd watch the other girls with their seemingly-effortless grace (and looking cool with their scrunchies and Camp Beverly Hills shorts) smash the volleyball over the net, but when it came near me I'd instinctively either duck or hold up my hands to protect my face. The looks of utter distain could probably still wilt me even 25 years later.
By the time I was a teenager, though, I'd learned something: I was kinda' funny and could make light of my failures in gym class with humour. If I pretended that I didn't care or that I wasn't really even trying in the first place, my goof-ups and mis-steps and missed hits wouldn't matter. I could be the loveable goofball comedianne on the court, not the aspiring Olympian. Running hurdles in gym class? No problem. I'd knock over every single one and laugh cheerfully to mask the fact that I was so deeply upset and ashamed that I couldn't jump over the damn things in the first place. I'm goalie in soccer? Fun! I'll pretend that I'm not paying attention when I should be protecting the goal from a flying ball that terrifies me - because it would hurt if it hits me, and there's no way I could kick it out while it was moving that damn fast in the first place.
The Forenza-sweater-moms won't be on my holiday card list.
But now as an adult with a husband and children, the only volleyball I have to play is by choice, and I have the wisdom and maturity to just admit that I'm really bad at it and you probably don't want me on your team. But our friends shake their heads and laugh - it's just a game! Come on!! And if they do get peeved that I'm bad at it, well, I guess we won't be invited to any more of your barbeques. The Forenza-sweater-moms won't be on my holiday card list.
So now my daughter is taking an after-school ballet class. I sit on the sidelines with the other moms, watching our daughters jump around in their leotards and $17 ballet shoes. I get tight-chested and panicky with worry: is she graceful/elegant/poised/coordinated? I watch the little girls and wonder why my beautiful and sweet daughter isn't leaping and doing jetes and plies and all those elusive french things that never worked out for me. I watch her in her crazy striped tights and sparkling tutu (a ballet-class uniform she chooses to wear because it's fun and bright and interesting) and envy willowy girls in her class with their simple black leotards and white tights. I am awash in shame that we wore the wrong clothes, have the wrong body type, we're just wrong wrong wrong, and I feel 14 all over again.
During class one day, they learned a simple routine and divided into two groups. The idea was that group one would do the first steps while group two waited in First Position, then group two would do those steps while group one waited. Most of the little girls didn't understand this concept and would just do all the steps regardless of which group they were in or when they were supposed to dance. As my daughter danced (during group one's time) the tall girl beside her glared and whispered something to her. My sweet, charming and funny daughter's face fell, and she stopped dancing and stood there, clearly confused and conflicted. I felt the anger bubbling up inside of me. She started dancing once again. And that little brat beside her raised her hand and actually tattled on her. The teacher assured Miss Nosypants that it was okay etc etc, but Bossy then gave my daughter cues and fiercely whispered "DANCE!!" at her when it was her turn.
It's time to come out swingin'
The seething rage and utter contempt I felt for this girl was wholly unhealthy and probably a sign of mental illness. With each order she gave my daughter I resisted the urge to roll up my sleeves and come out swingin'. I looked around the gym to find her mom, incredulous that I hadn't already heard "Honey, leave that girl alone. Worry about your own steps, okay?" But I could account for which child belonged to which mom, so her mom must have been one of the Drop-Off Moms who leave before class begins and come back once it's over.
I was overwhelmed with anger and sadness for my daughter and felt like a mama bear protecting her cub. I was fully prepared to come up swinging to protect her from having those feelings of raw inadequacy I'd had for so many years.
We project so much on our children - and I think it's far worse with mothers and daughters than with mothers and sons. I find myself biting my tongue when she asks for another snack; I've battled my weight my entire life, but she's not heavy and probably just wants another yogurt after a long afternoon at school. I cringe when she writes a letter backwards because I want writing and language to come easily to her. Whatever damage our own parents did to us, and whatever damage we did to ourselves, is so difficult to avoid repeating; I want her (and my boys, of course) to grow up healthy, confident, happy and secure instead of over-compensating with humour and a smart-ass attitude and even smarter mouth.
As ballet ended my daughter and her friend came skipping over. I noticed a fancy-jeans-wearing mom enter the gym with (literally) her nose in the air. Sure enough, Bratty Boss ran over to her, and mom turned on her expensive designer heel with a "let's go!" and a quick march out of the gym.
And walking out to my minivan with chattering little girls beside me, I thought about that mom, and I couldn't help but wonder how many Forenza sweaters she has in her closet.