I took up gymnastics at a young age. For two and a half of my preteen years, I was enrolled in a school called Janine's Gymnastics. Prior to that, I took ballet.
You may infer from the above that I was talented and graceful. However, I will provide you with information that completes the picture.
In third grade, my gym teacher invented a remedial gym class that took place during recess just for me. That's right, remedial gym. And when I replaced my ballet lessons with Janine's Gymnastics, it was not because I only had time to fervently pursue one physical activity. It was because my mother let me quit ballet classes as a gift for my seventh birthday.
As you may have inferred from previous stories about my family, my parents were in favor of monetary rewards. In addition to the Dollar Word rule, my parents and I had a Cartwheel Agreement.
Some of you may be puzzled right now, and I bet you are all Someones Who Can Do A Cartwheel. Someone Who Can Do A Cartwheel believes that everyone can do a cartwheel. Guess what, you Someones? Not everyone can do a cartwheel. All of the Someones Who Can't Do A Cartwheel seem to know this, and be alone in that knowledge, and it's slightly thrilling when we meet one of our own. We exchange a knowing sigh of relief and small smile. It's the same as meeting someone who shares your birthday or affinity for something unusual, like liverwurst or Brussels sprouts. Thank heavens, I'm not alone.
I could not do a cartwheel. I could never do a cartwheel. To this day, I don't think I've ever done a cartwheel. And if I could have, I would have. Because my parents offered me $20 to do a cartwheel. It was a long-standing offer, like The Dollar Word Rule. The Cartwheel Agreement stated that if my parents or a reliable witness saw me do a cartwheel, my parents would give me $20. That's twenty Dollar Words.
Gymnastics class did nothing to remedy the situation. This was not the fault of Janine. My classmates &mdash a group of petite, slim girls whose shiny hair would stay confined to ponytails no matter what &mdash improved over the years. Their tumbles turned to somersaults and cartwheels. Somersaults became backward rolls. Cartwheels became one-handed cartwheels and then aerials. Whereas I:
was a chubby kid, tall for my age, with huge hair. I was clumsy, graceless, and could do nothing that technically qualified as "gymnastics."
Despite this, Janine, a sweet, kind instructor, never made me feel like less of a gymnast than the other girls. Perhaps it would have been kinder if she did. In any case, I was always included in the Saturday morning monthly recitals, a collection of thin, shiny-haired girls with bows in their hair and pretty leotards prancing across the mats, galloping through the air, and performing two-handed, one-handed, and no-handed cartwheels...over something which resembled a slug with an Afro rolling around on the mats. Just rolling around.
Every month, our parents would come a little early to pick us up and stand against one wall of the studio to witness the display. My parents would stand against the wall, stifling giggles and snickers as they watched their daughter flailing, flopping, and rolling on the mats, occasionally springing up with a big smile and arms in the air, like a "V" for victory, which is what Janine told us to do when we'd successfully completed a routine. Other parents would glance sidelong at them, and then turn their heads, and then start to whisper. "How cruel!" "That child is obviously special; what kind of people laugh at someone else's handicapped child?" This only made my parents laugh more.
Can you really blame them?