I first heard about trapeze school from a friend with older kids, and was curious. So, over a weekend when my husband was away and I found myself faced with the luxury of an entirely empty Sunday, I signed us up -- me and my two kids, ages 6 and 8 at the time. The woman on the other end of the phone assured me that a they would be fine. I imagined something gentle, made easier and less scary for children.
That morning, one of my friends texted me to ask if we were going skiing. "No," I wrote back. "We're going to trapeze school!" I could practically hear her laughing through the phone when I read her response: "Oh. I didn't realize you were a circus family."
We showed up at our trapeze lesson on Sunday morning at 10 a.m.. The teacher gave us a very quick introduction, strapped us into safety harnesses and sent us up to the platform. I looked around as we ascended a seemingly endless set of rickety metal stairs. Had they noticed how small my children were? Where was the JV version of this experience? I glanced at Grace and Whit, found them unperturbed, and continued climbing.
Finally, we reached a carpeted platform. A smiling young woman stood at the edge of the platform holding the trapeze bar. I craned my neck to look over the edge and saw the net that we'd watched people dismounting into. The helper woman saw me staring and shook her head. "Better not to look," she laughed. I swallowed and turned to look at my children.
"I think I should go last, so I can watch you guys go," I offered, and they both nodded. Grace decided to go first. I watched her as she stood on the edge of the platform. The woman holding the trapeze guided Grace's arms to it, murmured a few words in her ear, and then stood back. We all watched Grace jump. My eyes filled with tears and my hands gripped Whit's tiny shoulders as we stood and watched her flying through the air.
I was pretty sure Whit would refuse to go. He wouldn't even go on the spinning teacups the first time we went to Storyland. I was shocked, then, when he gamely approached the platform edge and reached for the bar. The woman standing there had to hold him off the ground so that he could reach the trapeze. And then he, too, flew.
It was my turn. I could see the small faces of my children tilted up, watching me from the folding chairs next to the base of the stairs we'd climbed up. Grace smiled and gave me a wave, and I could see her lips form the words "It's fun!" I held onto the trapeze and leaned way forward into empty space against the weight of the helper, who held my waist belt.
This was the part I found scariest: jumping into thin air with only the trapeze bar and my faith to keep me off the ground. Later, I learned that the thing Grace and Whit were most afraid of was the dismount, which involved letting go of the bar and trusting that the belt and safety ropes would help you float down to the net rather than plummet to the ground.
Once I'd tumbled awkwardly to the net, it was time to bound up the stairs again. The three of us went again and again, learning to hang from our knees, to do a somersault in thin air and, finally, to be caught by another person on another trapeze. It was flat-out amazing. By the end of two hours, my hands were callused and my children were exhausted and grinning. At one point, after Whit had finally figured out the knee hang, he smiled up at me and said, "Are you proud of me, Mummy?"
Oh, yes, my little man, I thought. I was and I am. As we drove home, Grace announced that she realized how good it felt to do something even when it seemed scary. I had expected an adventure that Sunday morning, but I did not realize that once again my children would astound me -- and that we would learn yet another lesson about what it is to live this life.