I'm sitting at a local trampoline gym, the smell of dog food from the factory next door seemingly permeating the glass doors mixing with the smell of dirty feet, watching my daughter who had scoliosis surgery back in March jump for her first time again. She's almost 16. A competitive dancer. Competitive period. A strong athlete. She's with a group of close girlfriends and I watch their animated teenage actions, listen to their laughter and observe them enjoy each other's company. It's great, wonderful really, to see your daughter have such a strong core group of friends. Yet I watch her throw the occasional glance at the other jumpers. The ones who are flipping. Like she used to do. She casts those glances with such a longing it's palpable.
It's not that she physically can't do it, though she may need to work on her technique more than she used to. It's the voices in her head telling her that it might not be possible. That she might not do it like she used to. That she might not be able to do it to her high standards. That she might 'fail'.
So she jumps and laughs. And casts those glances, the internal struggle screaming like a siren that only I can hear because I know her so well.
I want so badly to call her over and tell her what I see. To tell her it's ok to try -- and possibly not get it right the first time. Even though she's known how to flip since she was five. Though I know in her mind those words are empty. But I hold my tongue and watch, each glance bringing me closer to tears as it tears me apart to watch my daughter struggle and not be able to do a thing about it.
She's always been my cautious child. Not careful, don't confuse the two. A looker before a leaper. A ducks-in-a-row, all Ts crossed and Is dotted kind of cautious. If all the stars are in alignment and the wind is blowing in the correct direction she has no trouble taking calculated risks. But the consequences weigh heavily in the back of her mind, her level-headed side at constant battle with her free spirit.
I remember watching her learn to walk at nine months. She had two older brothers to keep up with so she was determined to make the transition from her knees to her feet as quickly as possible. Yet she was not careless in wobbling on weak ankles, having to get up from falling. She would stand, then stop to catch her balance. Take a step. Balance. It was like she knew that if she just went about it Harry scary, stumbling and falling, she would waste precious time picking herself back up, so instead, every step was calculated until she trained herself not to wobble. It wasn't long before she was racing ahead of her brothers.
So here we are again, wobbling. But this is a mental wobble with more risk than anything she's ever had to experience. I can feel the struggle she's experiencing by just watching her.
And then she turns her head and catches me watching, catches me with 'that look'. She smiles and waves, pretending that neither she nor I are aware of the battle raging between two of the most powerful forces anyone can harbor within themselves. She begins walking over to me.
"It's ok." I tell her. "Start out slow. Maybe try a front flip first?"
She's not surprised that I know what's going on.
"I just don't know if I can do them anymore. Should I even try one? Is it safe?"
I just shrug, knowing that she knows what the surgeon said- 'released to full, prior activities, minus diving.'
She turns and heads back to her giggling group.
And then it happens.
She waves everyone back and takes her stance. She bounces twice. Stops. The pattern starts over. And she stops. She does this several more times, the battle brewing mightier than ever. Just as she takes her form once more the whistle is blown and their time on the trampolines is over.
Her stature droops, her eyes shadow. She realizes her chance is over. She will never know what could have been.
Then, on her way off of the trampolines, I catch the fire in her eye. And without thinking anymore about it, she takes her stance, runs and flips forward. A bit rusty, a bit wobbly, but a battle won. With that spark in her eye and chin jutted out, I can hear her free spirit hooping and hollering. She walks off the mats like nothing happened, but very pleased with herself. She looks at me, smiles, then heads over with her friends to grab belongings.
Well done. Well done.