Tag Archives: teachable moments

My seventh grade history teacher ruined my childhood dream.

gymnastics hershey beam awards medal

my first year of competitive gymnastics

When I was thirteen, perfection was just a misspelled word on a t-shirt from a gymnastics catalogue. Perfec10n, the shirt read.

Perfect 10.

I was obsessed with the way the phrase rolled off my tongue so easily. Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Now those were girls who knew how to work hard.

I thought that if I pointed my toes hard enough and stayed at the gym extra hours, working on stretches until my arms and legs were sore for at least two days straight, I could make it to the Olympics.

But then I went to seventh grade and my history teacher told this other girl that she was too old to be an Olympic gymnastic. And since we shared a birthday, I knew what that meant.

It didn’t matter anymore if I was short and skinny and ready to dedicate my whole life to being America’s next Shannon Miller. I was already too old.

I remember looking at her from across the classroom, my pulse skyrocketing as I thought quickly before he reached my desk in the back corner. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t know. I didn’t even remember what I’d packed for lunch.

From then on, perfect was unattainable. Out of my control. Sure, I could spend 20 hours a week caked in chalk and sweat until I literally couldn’t smell myself anymore. But that wouldn’t be enough.

And so began the pattern of always being perpetually behind.

My coach would make us do five perfect beam routines in a row. No falls, not even a wobble. For some of the girls, cleaning up minor missteps on a dismount or over-rotations on a front tuck was easy. They’d focus and knock all five routines out in no time.

Me? I’d do one or two then fall. Two more and another fall.

And then, of course, I’d be late to the next event — uneven bars — which was, consequently, my worst event.

It was a cycle that drove me crazy. And I watched the rest of the girls master it, so why couldn’t I?

What I know now is that perfect’s just the accumulation of mistakes we make leading up to a self-determined ‘final destination.’ I was so busy being paranoid over the notion of “5 perfect beam routines in a row” that I couldn’t focus on the block of wood under my toes.

When USAG stopped handing out 10.0’s like candy, I’d already quit. Not because I wasn’t perfect, but because I couldn’t accept that fact. I drove myself (and my parents) crazy when I played mental games, reverting back to basic skill levels like a child forgetting how to walk and talk.

On those nights, I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, because at least I didn’t have to think about how to wash my hair. But the truth was that all I needed — and all most of us need at one point or another — was to be shaken and reminded that perfect’s boring.

And really, perfect is a lie. USAG decided that for me. Not long after my seventh grade history teacher.

Even if you're freefalling, at least you can update your Facebook status.

On Monday morning, I stood in a hotel elevator with five strangers, hands gripping the railing. At any moment, we might have freefell.

my sister drinking a frappuchino from Starbucks in an elevator

my sister drinking a frappuchino from Starbucks in a hotel elevator

Down at least twelve floors. Down only twelve floors. And secretly, I prayed that we might be stuck in that encased glass room for more than the five or ten minutes it took to get us out.

I am not claustrophobic. I’ve squeezed myself into tight quarters during games of hide-and-seek. Held my breath under a bar countertop and inside linen closets. I’ve suppressed bouts of giggles rather than panic attacks. But I do not like getting stuck in elevators.

This time, though, I thought it might be a learning experience.

When you’re surrounded on all sides by five strangers who are trying their best to grin and bear it, despite the overwhelming urge to panic, you try to see it as a teachable moment. I thought, for some ridiculous reason, we might be friends.

Walk out of the other side with a newfound appreciation for our lives.

You always hear about the people who spent a day or a week or a month trapped somewhere and emerge on the other side of the experience with a glow about them. They walk a little lighter, smile a little bigger and laugh a little louder. It changes their whole life.

I stood in that elevator and waited for my very own life-changing experience. Squeezed the railing until my hands turned white. And all the while, I felt calm.

When we jolted downward for a split second, my knees gave out. But in my head, all I could keep thinking was this:

I’m in Elevator K. Is that significant? What if we’re stuck here for an hour? Oh well, I’ve got two hours to kill.

Oh, well? Oh well.

I think it was a lesson in patience and handling chaos. I don’t walk; I pace. I don’t talk; I ramble.

Don’t all of us? Don’t we start pushing buttons and raising our voices and banging on the hard glass? We whip out our Blackberry or iPhone and start sending e-mails.

“Might be late for that meeting, Bill. I’m stuck in an elevator.”

“Can’t get a Starbucks coffee with you, Emily. I’m wedged somewhere between the 11th and 12th floor of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.”

There’s still service in a broken elevator. Even if you’re freefalling, at least you can update your Facebook status.

Maybe there shouldn’t be. Maybe we should all be sitting around chatting about existentialism or the apocalypse or What This Really Means for Us. Maybe God’s angry that we’ve turned Sunday into just another workday.

Slow down. Grab the railing. And breathe.