Tuesday, May 22, 2007


A few weeks ago, E and I decided together that it was time for him to leave his gymnastics team.

When I say "together," I mean that I suggested it, and after thinking about it for a few days, he agreed.

I am having very, very mixed feelings about this decision. E too.

On the one hand: E has been doing gymnastics continuously for five years. He is not anywhere near the best one on his team. He is never going to the Olympics.

But he loves the sport and it has been so good for him. Good for his body, certainly, but also good for his mind and his heart. Most things come so easily to him. Gymnastics, not so much. He has had to work for months, even years, to get some of the more complicated tricks. But once he gets a trick, it's his. Progress is measurable and highly visible. E has learned that if you work hard and push yourself, eventually it pays off. In my opinion, he will not learn this lesson so graphically in any other arena, especially at this age.

Plus, in the competitions, he has absorbed the right lessons. He cared little about his teammates' scores; he cared very, very much about his own, but only with respect to how they compared to his previous scores. He looked only for markers of his own improvement. The first meet where he got no white ribbons (the lowest score category) I had to peel him off the ceiling. And the smiles -- four hours, continuously, at each meet. He clearly loved being there, loved showing us the end result of his years of hard work.

On the other hand: Three full afternoons a week at the gym has precluded E from doing many other interesting things. For example, the after-hours enrichment classes at his school. Playdates. Going to the park. Simply hanging out at home, something which until recently E found difficult but which he now craves.

Three full afternoons a week at the gym also costs the family. Mostly time -- W's many extra hours in the car, M's hours driving to and from the gym to pick E up when no other option exists. Also goodwill, for lack of a better term. I am definitely in a worse mood on afternoons when I have been in the car for three and a half hours driving among schools, gymnastics and home.

But these things we've been handling. The final straw was the homework. And this is why I have such mixed feelings.

Should an eight-year-old have to give up an outside activity he has loved for five years because he can't get his homework done? Absolutely not.

But these are the requirements of his school, a private school for the highly gifted. This is what he has to do if he stays there (which is not an "if" for us at all). We love the school. It is the right place for him. It is, I am convinced, the only place we could have chosen for a child who in any other environment would have been a complete oddball. In his spare time, E is writing an atlas. This is considered normal -- even cherished and certainly appreciated -- behavior at his school. He is happy and secure and confident and popular. No, the school stays. And if the school stays, so stays the homework.

I hear it gets worse for the next two years, then better in middle school.

So, while I resent the fact that at eight years old E had to choose homework over gymnastics, so it needs to be. Also I have to admit that E has seemed much less stressed in the past two weeks. Yesterday he came home, had a snack, whipped off his homework (less than usual, admittedly), played outside, and still had several hours to spend working on his atlas. He went to bed happy. He woke up happy. And I feel much less stressed too.

Now the only challenges are 1) making sure E gets enough exercise and 2) helping him adjust his eating habits to account for the decrease in activity. As many of you reading this know, E loves his food.

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