Sitting behind the colossal observation window outside the gymnastics room, I quietly read to Owen while sneaking peaks at Zoe during page turns. We've been coming here three years and I'm still one of the hovering parents, watching as if not doing so will mean missing her childhood altogether. I'm so stereotypical it's pathetic, but I don't care. I love it. I love watching her work hard at something she loves as much as she loves gymnastics.
This day is like the rest. She listens well and has fun with the kids in her class. She is confident but doesn't show off. She does well with some things and fumbles through others. The transition she just made from the "little kid" program to the "big kid" one doesn't seem to be phasing her in the least. If anything it's made her more confident, as her teachers have started telling her (and me) she is a talented beginner gymnast. They want her to keep coming and growing with their program and she knows it but hasn't let it get to her head (too much).
After stretching, her group heads to their first station of the day, the balance beam. They have some high beams and some low and I see her eagerly raise her hand to start on the high ones. They all pop up on their beams and start walking except Zoe, who is uncharacteristically scooching along on her bum. She makes eye contact with me and smiles an embarrassed sort of smile before looking at her teacher, who has just said something to her. She comes up to her hands and knees and freezes, face hidden from view behind her falling hair. Her teacher goes to her to take stock and I see Zoe is crying. Hard. Her teacher gently coaxes her to her feet and holds her hand until she reaches the end of the beam and gives her a high five. I see that Zoe is trying to compose herself but she can't shake it and is still crying.
It takes everything I have not to run in and hug her. She is right in front of me, but on the other side of this big pane of sound proof glass and it's breaking my heart. Even as I feel this urge to run to her I know doing so would be the absolute worst thing for her in this moment. So, I keep my eyes glued to her, waiting for our eyes to meet again so I can flash a warm, encouraging smile. I get my chance and, to my dismay, it doesn't help. In fact every time she looks at me, she gets teary again. I can relate. I get like that when I'm upset. I can't handle people being nice to me because it makes me cry.
I can't leave my baby in this moment though so I change tactics, reminding her to take deep breaths. It seems to help a little and she does really well, accepting her teacher's helping hand in some moments, waving it off in others. My heart soars with pride as I see her standing tall, chin up, legs kicking out and forming beautiful straight lines while holding back tears. At the same time I know her pain and feel a sadness at knowing she is in the middle of a difficult lesson. That sometimes the best stuff has to follow some really hard stuff. That the coming out of the hard stuff part is exactly what makes the best stuff so great.
She eventually shakes it off and the rest of the class goes predictably well. When she comes out afterwards she collapses into my open arms and buries her face in my jacket. I ask if she wants to talk about it and she shakes her head. I tell her she can talk to me about anything so whenever she is ready, I'm open. This makes her cry a bit more. She wants to leave. To move on. I completely understand.
We get in the car. There are a couple of things I want to be sure to tell her before we move on though. That I'm proud of her for continuing on after feeling scared. That everyone in that room, including the coaches, can relate to how she was feeling. As soon as I start talking, she hides her head under her jacket. I go on anyway. One of the things I tell her is it can be helpful to write down difficult thoughts. Stuff you're not sure you want to share with anyone. I tell her all about diaries and how no one but the person writing in it is allowed to read what's inside. Even Mommy and Daddy. This gets her attention so we make a plan to head to Target to pick one out.
As the tension subsides and the tears surrender, Zoe perks up and excitedly chooses a diary. She writes a version of what happened right before bedtime and decides to show me. I thank her for sharing it with me but remind her she only has to do that when she really wants to. She happily drifts off to sleep but I sense a new element of maturity mixed in with the innocence that's always been there. I realize this is how it happens. Little by little, until twenty years from now when she and I are marveling together at the swift passage of time over a glass of red wine.
I realize, on this day, it was a colossal sound proof window but in the years to come it will also be my seat in the bleachers or a dark auditorium. It will be a boyfriend or girlfriend. It will be a verbal request to mind my own business or impenetrable teenage silence. It will be a driver's license and a party. It will be physical miles between us and a life of her own. As she grows up, the window will become tinted and scratched but I will never step away. I will forever wait by that window for my chance to make eye contact.