My daughter loves going to our weekly Mommy-and-Me gymnastics class. It is the only place where I see her let a non-family member help her, even touch her, while I just watch for much of it. She climbs eagerly onto the mat to reach the lower of the uneven bars, where her teacher helps her do flips. She goes almost fearlessly into each activity and talks about what she did for the rest of the week. The class is pretty much the same each week, and I know that is a large part of the appeal to her. Most toddlers thrive on routine, and she knows the sequence of her class so well that she has tried to lead her brother and daddy through the entire thing at home.
Her enthusiasm was no different this morning. She was ready to leave ahead of schedule, and she talked about how she would hold on tight to the bar this time: a few weeks ago, she was so excited to see if her grandparents were watching her do a flip on the bar that she kind of forgot to keep hanging on. Thankfully, her teacher caught her by her feet and averted a fall onto her head!
Then, something happened that I knew was bound to happen sooner or later–her teacher was not there! There is another toddler class that meets on Thursdays, and the instructor who usually leads that class would be filling in for our class. I explained that this teacher would be just as nice and know all the things the regular teacher does. My little girl seemed ok with this, but I could tell she had tensed up a bit. As the class started, and we did the first few usual activities, everything was fine. This teacher seemed happy and kind and ready to help the kids. Then, she did some things “out of order”. I could sense that it took my little gymnast a while to compute these different commands, and I could almost hear her wanting to say, “no, we do the bars before we do the balance beams!” But she plugged on, and when we were about halfway through, and it was her turn on the bar, she climbed up onto the mat to reach, stood up quickly, and hit the very top of her head on the bar. That was it. Bring on the tears, the panicky cries for Mommy, the refusal to do anything but sit on my lap and just breathe. She was done pretending she didn’t mind having a different teacher, done trying to do things in a strange order, done going with the flow.
I’m not sure what made her cry more, the bump on the head, the fear that goes along with little ouches like that, or the discomfort of change. If she’s anything like me, and she most certainly seems to be, it was “D”, all of the above. I really couldn’t fault her for crying, and I actually was pretty impressed she had gotten that far. I have to say I don’t embrace change. I crave routine, control, and knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, those elements are frightfully rare in life, especially as a parent. Who am I kidding? Why would I dare to think that “my” way is always going to happen? In hindsight, of course I’m glad in so many ways that my way often gets uprooted. At the given moment, though, I behave barely better than my toddler. I get cranky, edgy, snippy, frustrated, bewildered…a real delight!
Back to gymnastics. As I held my sobbing girl on my lap, I wondered if this would be the first week we’d have to leave class early. Would she forgo the joy of her favorite activity because of her fear and disappointment? Sadly, she missed out on all of the bar exercises. By the time the others had finished that part, though, she was ready to go on to the next element. My heart was so glad, so encouraged, because I’ve been seeing great growth like this in her lately. Her other big (for her) accomplishment last week was staying in the toddler room at church and actually playing happily for fifteen minutes without me (then she heard a baby crying, which got her to start crying, at which point she was inconsolable until I came for her). Little steps? Yes. As long as they are in the right direction, though, I’ll take them and help her take more little steps. As for me, I’m also praying constantly to “enjoy the surprises”, or at least take them in stride.
One of my favorite parts of the Bible is the description of “the wife of noble character” found at the end of chapter 31 in the Book of Proverbs. There is a verse about taking things in stride, and it comes to my mind often as I’m taking in opposition from my children, or a change in my husband’s schedule, or an unexpected expense, or anything for which I was not expecting or planning: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” In reading the rest of the passage about this woman, one can see that she is not ill-prepared or foolish; she just keeps herself ready for whatever may come. That’s who I want to be, and that’s who I hope to help my daughter become, too.