An amazing thing happened.
A local Special Olympics gymnastics team that normally has a minimum age requirement of eight decided to change the age to five so that Rhema could participate.
This past Saturday was the first practice.
I was excited about this opportunity for Rhema, and also nervous because of our last experience at a gym. I had no idea how she was going to behave.
I tried to prep her by telling her where we were going, but I don’t think she understood what I said. As we were walking into the building, Rhema smelled a rat. She did The Flop. Also known as the I’m-not-going-to-walk-anymore routine.
So I carried her in, and we passed other parents in the foyer.
We were a minute late, and the rest of the team was already on the floor warming up. As I opened the door to the gym, Rhema let out a blood-curdling scream.
The whole team turned around to see their newest member clutching the sides of the gym doors for dear life.
“Hi!” I said cheerily over the screams while prying my kid’s hands off the door. “We’re just going to sit on the bleachers and… um… take, take everything in.”
We made it to the bleachers, and Rhema wailed into my chest, with her back to the team. If I so much as shifted positions, she would launch a new, higher-pitched cry. I tried to calm her down, talking to her softly.
There we sat. On the bleachers. For 45 minutes Rhema babbled loudly in discontent and repeatedly wiped her snotty nose back and forth across my black shirt. A coach came over to say hi and ask her if she’d like to join them. But Rhema did not seem to understand a word.
With ten minutes left to go, I started having a little chat with God.
God, this is not a big deal, really. I know. I just know she can do this and would enjoy it so much. Can you help me? I just want her to at least go down on the floor.
I managed to disentangle myself from Rhema without too big a scene. I went down on the gym floor and called for her to come to me. (My method was inherently flawed because she does not always respond to her name.)
But I could tell that deep down she really wanted to play. She used to go to an open gym every weekend and LOVED it. Only recently has she developed this aversion to gyms.
After a lot of coaxing, Rhema finally came off the bleachers. She was walking with her feet scrunched, toes curled under. Cautiously, she approached the edge of the mat I was standing on.
Dear God. Lord. Just let her take one step.
When Rhema put one foot on the mat, she shrieked and recoiled as if she had stepped in hot lava. She scurried back to the bleachers.
A light bulb went off in my not-so-bright head. Oh. The mats. Something about the mats was bothering her. I’m not sure if it was the chalk on the mat… Or the color of the mat (some are light blue, some are dark blue, some are black). Or the fact that the mat feels cold on her feet. Or the fact that some mats are soft and some are hard.
I don’t know, and Rhema cannot tell me.
Hhhhmmm. For a minute, I toyed with asking the coaches to remove the chalk and remove the mats from the gymnasium. Nah. I don’t think they’d go for it.
O.K. Well, Lord. I asked for one step. But I didn’t mean literally… one step. And I know I’m always saying how small steps are big steps… and one step at a time and Neil Armstrong and “What About Bob” and all that. But really I’m not good at this baby step stuff. I’m impatient and I want more… (Sigh). But I’m going to be thankful. Because she got off the bench. She took a step.
(Amazing what an attitude change can do. In times past, I would have cried all the way home. Lately, I am grateful for the fact that my children are blessed with life and the ability to walk, run and play).
As if on cue, Rhema came down again and scrunch-walked her way over to a corner of the gym. She managed to get there without stepping on a single mat. For the remaining 5 minutes of practice she climbed up and down a wall ladder with a big smile on her face.
She had fun. Even if only for 5 minutes.
As we were packing up to go, the head coach walked over to us. She handed me a piece of paper to fill out and bring back next week. It was for recording size measurements.
She smiled. “These are for the team leotards.”
Like I said. An amazing thing happened.