I decided to do this month of poetry and parenting because of a Philip Larkin poem. My friend Emily suggested today’s piece, also by Larkin and very different in tone.
I spent this past weekend at my daughter’s rhythmic gymnastics competition. The girls work very hard in practice and the competition is mostly friendly, but strong. Everyone wants to improve, to place, to win. The parents want this for their girls too. They want them to succeed, to shine, to see all the hours of practice pay off.
All of which makes me think of this Larkin poem.
[It's not too late if you have a poem you'd like to share this month.]
Born Yesterday by Philip Larkin
For Sally Amis
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.
But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Catching of happiness is called.
Okay. This is hard for me to admit. I watch Dance Moms. I know, you’re thinking–What? This snob who writes about poetry and claims not to watch TV and eschews so much of popular culture actually watches Dance Moms? Call it a cringing and morbid curiosity. Call it my way of protecting my daughter from the potential evils of reality television. Or just think of it as my experiment in putting down the books, tucking away the computer and curling up on the couch with my girl to watch something sort of alarming.
Why let her watch it if she needs protecting? Well, it’s complicated. I could blame my sister who got us hooked, but that’s sort of a stretch. My daughter is a rhythmic gymnast. She practices 5 days a week, works incredibly hard and competes. It’s a lot of pressure and school on top of that. So we know something about the competitive world of dance that the show portrays. Rhythmic isn’t much like the show and I really wonder how accurate the portrayal really is. I don’t know how much scripting and outlining goes into creating a reality series. But I know that there’s editing, lots of editing involved. As a writer, I know how easy it would be to lift someone’s words out of context and twist them to my own possibly sordid designs. We’re seeing a version of reality– cut down, remixed and pieced together for an effect. I’m always kind of exasperated with myself for indulging in this show and for letting my daughter watch it. I’m searching for the right analogy. Car crash, train wreck, ancient Romans throwing Christians to the lions, moth to the flame? Maybe, but very trite.
I don’t really understand our fascination with these shows. Why take something as achingly beautiful as dance and reduce it down to young girls in lots of makeup being pitted against each other while their teacher screams and their mothers moan, scheme and threaten to pull the girls from the dance company? Is it just that we love intrigue, drama and being horrified by people doing things we might think but wouldn’t act on? Sorry for all the questions. If you’ve got this figured out, please share.
Now on to what I’ve learned. I may come off as pretty laid back, but those who know me well have witnessed the neurotic swish and swirl I can succumb to. And somewhere inside of all that seething lies a competitive and ambitious nature. It’s a small, inside pocket, but it’s there. So I can understand how parents with children who compete in sports and other activities get caught up in the idea of winning. It’s a blessed thing to see your child excel. Perhaps it’s what you wished for during your childhood and never achieved. But blessings can turn to curses if we’re not careful.
So Dance Moms reinforces in me the need to sidestep the competitive madness, and then the focus softens right back to where it really needs to be–on the love my daughter has for rhythmic gymnastics. Amalia is a bit of an enigma to me. I don’t really know what it is about rhythmic that has held her for almost six years now. But she loves it. She’s smart–she doesn’t analyze it. She just gets out there practicing her elements, stretching and improving her routines. She’s fluid and graceful. Dance Moms doesn’t capture much of the devotion and grace of the girls on the show. That’s too bad because at the end of the day, after competition ends and the medals are hung on a shelf, it’s the love and passion for their discipline that our dancers and athletes carry with them.
For those of you unfamiliar with rhythmic gymnastics, here’s a pretty amazing video:
This past weekend the girls and I traveled to Petaluma for Amalia’s Regional competition. She’s now in level 7 in rhythmic gymnastics. Her practice schedule is intense as is her love for her sport. All the girls work incredibly hard, put in long hours at the gym and perform difficult routines. Some even appear to accomplish this with grace and ease. They are athletes–trained in strength, agility and endurance.
Amalia did well this weekend. The first day of competition her routines were clean and she scored well. On her rope routine, she was a firecracker, incorporating a new level of performance and energy into that routine. She told me she decided to just “give the judges what they wanted.” Even though competing is nerve-racking, she’s moving forward by demonstrating the ability to think and adjust while she’s out on the floor. This is fantastic.
Day two was not as good. Her music didn’t play properly and things just weren’t as smooth. When she finished, she worked on her tosses for a while and then came and sat next to me. “I didn’t do so well today, she said. I don’t think I’m going to make JO’s.”
JO’s is short for Junior Olympics. Going to Junior Olympics to represent your region is the coveted prize at Amalia’s level in rhythmic. All the girls have their eye on making JO’s. It’s a goal Amalia talks about quite a bit.
There’s a moment when the girls’ finish for the day and come check in with their parents to get a hug, check their scores, see how their friends did. I love when Amalia comes and sits with me still in her leotard, make up mostly intact, warm and loose from the exertion of practicing and competing. This time though, her disappointment was palpable. I thought she might cry, but she didn’t. She just sat a little longer than usual. She’s an enigma to me when it comes to processing things in relation to rhythmic. She wanted to know if I thought she’d make JO’s. I didn’t know. And then she was gone, off to goof around with her teammates. She didn’t blame the music glitch or beat herself up. She sat and then moved on. An athlete trained in agility, strength and endurance. The practice is mental as much as physical.
Eventually, the suspense ended and Amalia qualified for the All-Stars team. That’s sort of the JV team for JO’s. Her whole team did well at Regionals and will be going to Chicago in June. Congratulations to everyone–the girls, parents and coaches.