This week, Ray started gymnastics class. And he’s in love…
It all started this summer when I was looking for a week’s worth of summer camp after we came back from New Mexico. I had started working, but the children were not yet in school, so I was on the hunt. The local gymnastics gym offered weekly programs, so I parked the children there, knowing that Elizabeth would be happy- and Ray? Ray would just have to suck it up.
Only it didn’t quite work out that way. Elizabeth liked it, of course. She’s double-jointed, ridiculously flexible and has loved gymnastics since she was a baby. And she’s good. Really good. Really, really good. For a brief few months when she was four, we were involved in competitive gymnastics, but she twisted her knee and that was the end of our Olympic dreams. Elizabeth’s level of sensitivity is a problem in this sport. When she gets a scrape, she carries on as though her skin were being flayed. Ability to handle pain is a requirement for competitive gymnastics. It’s not really a world that I wanted to live in. I realized early on that Elizabeth’s autism would impact her in ways that I hadn’t quite imagined, but this was one of those missed opportunities that I didn’t spend a lot of time crying over.
It does mean that she gets to take recreational classes, amaze her teachers, and feel good about herself. So, they went to gymnastics summer camp, and I expected Ray to fuss about it and be sullen for a week.
Only he liked it. He complained about his sore stomach until I said that his muscles were getting stronger. He liked holding himself on the rings. He liked flinging himself around the pommel horse. He liked it.
When I suggested that he and Elizabeth take some classes for fun this fall, he resisted it, though. If it means a change in his schedule, Ray resists it. On Thursday, I signed them up, and informed him that we were going. He went straight into “Ray’s Black Hole” of dark looks and angry resistance, screaming “You can’t make me!” I informed that I could indeed “make” him go. “Well, you can’t make me do it!” he yelled back at me.
“That’s very true,” I said, as calmly as I could. “You are more than welcome to just sit and watch. Whether you do it or not is entirely up to you. But you will go.”
When I asked him to change his clothes into t-shirt and shorts, he fought me again. “I’m only going to watch! How come I have to change?”
“Because I want you to have the option of changing your mind. I understand that you’re only going to watch, and that’s fine. But if you should want to change your mind, you need to be able to have the option. That way, you can do what you want.”
I knew there was a chink in his resistance when he then went- quietly- and changed clothes.
Once we were there, Elizabeth was up first from 6:00-7:00. She was doing one-handed cartwheels, showing no fear of the beam, and just generally looking like a star in the making. Ray sat in my lap and drew miniscule pictures on a teeny piece of paper. Hundreds of little people in a little army, fighting the enemy from my lap.
When his turn came at 7:00, he willingly joined the group. When they started jumping, he made enthusiastic frog jumps. When they moved to the rings, he was in heaven. He did the repetitive exercise of swirling his body in a circle. He had to be told to get off the pommel horse because he was still swinging himself from side to side on it- trying to master the swing. He asked for extra help as he perfected a headstand. I watched his whole face light up for joy every time he did something new. He was incandescent when the class was over. “Mommy, it’s GOOD to be small in gymnastics! When can I join the team?” he demanded.
What makes me especially happy for him, is that we have a role model. “Pete”, a son of a friend of mine, is the Florida state champ for 12-year old boy’s gymnastics. And Pete is small. And Pete is a BOY. And… Pete has Tourette’s. Ray doesn’t know it yet, but he and Pete are going to be friends- soon.
Tucking the tired children into their respective beds, Elizabeth moaned about how it hurt on the bottom of her foot. Ray looked up at me with glowing face and said “My stomach muscles are sore, which means they’re getting strong! I LIKE gymnastics.” They both rolled over and fell asleep instantly.
Maybe I should dust off those Olympic dreams after all.