Saturday, July 26, 2014

Decisions, decisions

It's that time of the year again. As the last month of the summer draws near, we start to assess how much her extracurricular activities are going to cost us (actually, me) -- in time, money, and emotional turmoil.

And Earbaby has finally decided that it's time to let gymnastics go -- this time for good.

I'm a little sad about it. I loved gymnastics, the meets, the friends we made through them. But times have changed. Her best friend from gymnastics left the gym more than two years ago when her family moved out of the area, and even though they see each other once in a great while, the real closeness they had is gone, a consequence of distance and circumstances.

EB went back to the gym last year. She didn't miss the competition and the meets, but she did miss the strength and flexibility the workouts gave her. She was given special dispensation to go only one day a week instead of the minimum requirement of two three-hour evenings, but because the hours had changed from 5-8 p.m. to 6-9 p.m., that came with special problems of its own. She always had a lot of homework, and because she couldn't go early and do it there (no place to sit and concentrate) she missed many days. She couldn't make it up the following week because the other day she would have gone she had committed to a dance class, that she grew to hate (more about that later).

In the meantime, the social landscape had changed. Much of this particular gymnastics team experience came from the relationship with the other teammates. But since she had been pretty much gone from the gym for a year, and off the team for almost two, her friends, those few still around, had become acquaintances. "No one talks to me," was a frequent complaint. I found myself paying a monthly fee for her to only go once or twice instead of four times. Which was frustrating for both of us. She would complain to her dad I was making her go, and complain to me that her dad was always telling her to quit. Both of those things were true to a certain extent. She would tell me she really wanted to do it, but would tell her dad she was stressed from the homework. Finally I told her to stop complaining to her dad, and told him to stop encouraging her to quit every time she complained.

This has been the push-pull of the last school year. Summer came, and she decided she wanted to go back to team. Again. But after she pulled another "I want to go Mom, Mom's making me go, Dad," I told her I wasn't spending another dime on gymnastics (I pay all bills for extracurriculars). If she wanted to go, she had to convince her dad to give up the money. So she did. He paid for the month of July, whereby she immediately decided that she wasn't getting the workout she wanted. It was two mornings a week and one evening of three-hour sessions. But the mornings started at 8 a.m. and depending on who showed up, it was less workout and more game-playing like summer camp. The night session she loved, it was hard conditioning, which was what she signed up for. So once again, the complaints started. But this time, she realized it's just time to call it a day. Most of her friends were quitting too, she said, although they wanted to finish out the summer.

I am sad to see that chapter end, but also relieved. And let's face it, she was pretty good, but not college scholarship good. She's a little too tall and thin for what a school would be looking for, plus, she doesn't really have the competitive fire to put the real work in. This activity has just run its course.

EB took last week off from gymnastics to attend an intensive dance workshop at a new studio where she'll be studying in the fall. She also decided it was time to leave the hip-hop studio she has attended for the last three years.

EB has been dancing since she was three, and at one time expressed desire to dance professionally. She's still assessing her options now, wondering if she can make a living at it, and if she wants to put the work in (she admits to being basically lazy). But last year's dance classes at her second studio (the first one she plans to stay at until she graduates) ended with bad feelings all around. She took three classes, including a company class for one of the dance crews, but grew to hate the politics of the studio. The mean girls ruled, there was no accounting for the overt and covert bullying, the teachers either encouraged it or simply looked the other way, the classes and studio were in constant chaos, and she felt humiliated and marginalized. She honored that commitment to her classes because she had begged to take classes there, but knew she didn't want to go back.

But she wanted to take hip-hop with good teachers (there is no strong hip-hop class at her original studio). So I reached out to a friend who runs another studio and it looks like EB has found another place. She still has complaints, her ballet isn't very strong, so she will have to take two classes a week to build up on that fundamental, but she does get a really good hip-hop teacher. In the one week she found only one dancer who was less than friendly, one of the "stars," but there's one in every studio. There's more discipline (when the teacher says to switch lines, the kids actually switch instead of the mean girls staying in front and the teachers not making them move back). When she moaned about how bad she was in ballet, one of the other girls assured her that particular class was at a higher level, but her class wouldn't be as hard. She made friends the first day, so was comfortable enough to befriend another newbie who came in later in the week.

But EB has more decisions to make than giving up one activity and switching studios. She also has to decide how much commitment she is willing to make. These classes don't come cheap, so I don't want another year of whining, passive-aggressive dawdling when it's time to go (she invariably would make me late for work), or picking hanging out with her friends instead of being in dance class. She'll be a sophomore, so there will be times when she'll have lots of homework. But her schedule will be structured so there will be few late nights (her last class on any given night will be over before 7, not starting at 7:30 like last year).

In years past, EB has participated in dance, gymnastics, step squad, dance team, cheerleading, piano and voice lessons, and baton twirling. Anything she wanted to try, we let her give it a shot.

But as she grows older, it's time to narrow her focus. Most of her activities have become more time-consuming and more expensive, hence the frustration of paying for something only to have her undermine me by complaining to her dad (who was never much of a joiner, so quitting is always his go-to advice).

I also have to remember to respect her when she decides to drop an activity. I have to let her make tough choices and stand by them, not go back and forth and play one parent off the other. Figuring out how to spend Mom's money isn't the hardest decision she'll have to make. It's just practice for when she's the one footing the bill. That's when the real tough choices have to be made. By then, I want her to have learned how to make them.

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