The Post About Hair

We tumble out of the car after church and rush into the house, a bundle of nerves and excitement.

“I’m scared,” she says, her eyes a little bigger than usual. “What if I mess up?”

“Go put on your leotard and your warm ups and we’ll talk about it,” I answer.

Ten minutes later she sits at the table and I begin brushing her long, kind of thin, white-blonde, mousy hair. Bless her precious little heart, she is the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen, but she definitely drew the short stick when it came to hair.

As she talks through the nerves she feels about competing in her very first gymnastics meet, I deal with my own nerves. Naturally, I was a little nervous for her, but my bigger issue came in the form of what on earth should I do with that hair?

See, I read the team manual. I know the rules. That hair has to be up and back and off the face and it cannot come loose under penalty of death. Or loss of a few tenths of a point. Whatever.

The point is, getting the hair right for a gymnastics competition is of the utmost importance.

And we all know who gets judged on the hair – she’s seven, folks. I’m on the hot seat for hair that refuses to stayed tied tight.

IMG_1788“Let’s put your hair up in a bun,” I suggest, and she immediately balks. I forgot to mention – she hates having her hair done. It ranks right up there with getting a shot. She does it because I say she has to, but she’s not happy about it.

I pull her hair back as tight as possible when it’s spun of pure silk and tried to secure it in a ponytail holder.

“You’re hurting me!” she wails. She grabs at the bottom of her head and yanks a chunk of hair out of my fingers.

“It’s supposed to be tight,” I say through gritted teeth.

“Well I don’t want it in a bun!” she cries. “My hair doesn’t work like that. I have small buns!”

I snicker as I tried to regroup the hair on top of her head because the twelve year old in me cannot hold back.

“Well what about braids? Your coach said braids are a great way to keep your hair out of your face.” I set to work weaving her hair into tight braids down the back of her head as she whines and groans about how much I’m hurting her and it doesn’t have to be that tight and sweet mercy if this child ever decides to become a dancer, she’s going to have to employ her own hair dresser because I will not survive such shenanigans!

I tie the braids, but they hang funny over her shoulders. It’s a bit Pippi Longstocking, and while I find it mildly adorable, I can envision her lying on a counselor’s couch one day lamenting the fact that she could have been an Olympian if only her mother had been able to come up with an acceptable gymnastic’s meet hairstyle.

I fold the braids under and secure them with ribbons and enough hair spray to chip out a small hole in the ozone layer, then tell her to do a couple of back walker overs and make sure it will work.

“It hurts! It hurts so bad! Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow! Why is it so tight! It hurts.hurts.hurts.hurts.hurts!!!”

It’s at this point I begin humming Jesus Take the Wheel while wondering what she would look like with a shaved head. (She’d look precious. I’m sure of it…)

She waffles back to the kitchen table, clutching her head as though I had woven thorns into her braids and we set back to work. The only issue is I’ve put so much hair spray into it, that it’s not going anywhere. So I twist, pull, tug, and pray until I have it tucked it in a way that allows her full movement of her head. She hops off the table and rolls her neck around.

tia meet

“Fell better?” I ask. She nods and runs to the bathroom.

She looks in the mirror, side to side, then looks at me.

“I look weird,” she says.

I drop my head, shrug my shoulders and wave her outside where I spray glitter into her hair because glitter covers a multitude of sins. 

And we’re on our way.

She ended up tying for third in her meet. It’s probably easy enough to attribute her success to her hard work and dedication, but after the fiasco we went through to get her there, I’m going to take full credit for her success.

Gold medal for Mom.

We decided to say Yes

We knew early on that Tia had a knack for gymnastics. Remember when I walked outside and found her like this at three years old?


Shortly after taking this photo, we signed her up for her first gymnastics class. Within a year she was selected for a special developmental team and we slowly tip-toed our way into competitive gymnastics.

This has been one of our tougher parenting decisions, honestly. It’s been hard to know how much to allow, how much to push, how much of her time to commit to a sport that she likely won’t be able to stick with long term. We held her back for a long time, not pushing or allowing her to move too quickly for fear it would be too much.

This year it finally came to the point where moving her up in the sport was inevitable. We either needed to make the commitment or pull her from the sport and guide her in a different direction.

We decided to say yes.

Tia is currently training three days a week for a total of 11.5 hours. It’s a big commitment for a seven year old and it isn’t one we made lightly. I still have worries and concerns about the time it’s taking, and yet…


She really loves the sport. She loves the challenge of it and the thrill of getting a new skill. She thinks the beam is fun, which is just crazy talk if you ask me. And she runs so hard down the vault runway that she scares everyone but herself.

There are times when I drop her off for one of the four hour practices that I wonder why on Earth we are doing this. Is it foolish? Should she be at home with her family? Are we stealing her childhood? Will this affect her relationship with her brothers?

Then I laugh and shake my head. I think the time apart improves her relationship with her brothers. Also, we live in an amazing neighborhood full of kids, half of which spend most of their afternoons playing in my backyard.

All of them are boys.

There aren’t a lot of little girls running around our neck of the woods beach, so gymnastics is, for Tia, a crucial time of socialization and girl time. It’s where she’s learning all those cute little girl chants and clapping games that every single girl has played since the beginning of ever.

Summer-09-179Gymnastics is not only making her stronger and more confident – it’s also giving her the perfect outlet to be a silly little girl and I really love that for her…even if the sassy hip pop makes me want to roll my eyes.

I have no idea how long she will want to stick with this sport. The time commitment is so intense and it makes for some really long days. But in the long run, we finally decided that whether she does it for a year or five, these hours in the gym won’t be wasted. She can take the skills, both physical and mental, that she’s learning on the blue mats and apply them to any other sport and experience in life.

Parenting is so hard. We are given these children for a short time and we begin to recognize talents and gifts and suddenly the pressure to develop those gifts, to point them in the direction that will best suit them, gets all heavy and freaky and you find yourself wondering if you’re really helping them or if you are forever screwing them up.

Then you breathe in. You watch a beautiful vault, hear the crack of the bat, scream as the ball soars into the net, shriek when he runs the ball in for a touch down, and you breathe out again.

And when she walks out of the gym and collapses in a heap of tears because the workout was so hard that night, you wipe her tears and tell her to stick with it, because you know it’s important to fight through the pain.

You also know that the day will come when she’ll turn and look at you, holding a ribbon high with a joyous grin plastered across her face and in return you’ll give a huge thumbs up and clap louder than anyone else at the accomplishment.

Those are the moments we wait for as parents. Those are the moments when we’re glad we said yes.


What about you? Have you made big extracurricular commitments with your kids? How did you make the decision to commit your child’s time to a single activity?

All I know about gymnastics I learned at WOGA

update: We attended a different gym yesterday where Tia was evaluated by a new coach. It was a wonderful experience for me and for her. This coach was extremely encouraging and kind. He actually smiled and praised Tia. Thank you for your encouragement and prayers. Now I have to have the unpleasant conversation with her current gym about why we will be leaving.

Good times…

“You want a job?” he asked in his thick accent and I blinked in surprise. I had only stopped by to meet some local Russians so I could have contacts that would help me practice my language skills. I hadn’t even been thinking of asking for a job, but as I looked around the building I could see something special there so without missing a beat, I answered.


It was August of 2000 and I had been married all of one month. Neither Lee nor I had jobs when we got married. It was very exciting then. Or stressful.

Depends on who you ask.

We moved to Dallas after marriage because we thought Lee had a job lined up there, but it fell through on our honeymoon. I had just graduated from Baylor with a degree in English Professional Writing so it only seemed natural that I should work as a gymnastics coach.

The plan was for me to work at the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy for a little while until I found a full time job, but unexpectedly, coaching at WOGA wound up being the best job I’ve ever had. I loved it so much, in fact, that I continued to work there for two years. While I interviewed for some real, big girl office jobs, I just couldn’t leave the gym.

The environment was so electric that many days I went into work early just to watch the girls train. I watched Carly Patterson learn her famous Arabian dismount and and marveled at a teeny tiny Nastia Liukin flipping up and over the vault.

You never knew who else would be at WOGA, either. Some days you might walk in to see the cast of the Cirque Du Soleil warming up and practicing. Other times I came face to face with five time Olympian Oksana Chusivitania. It was always a surprise coming to work and I loved it.

One of the saddest things about moving away from Dallas was having to leave WOGA. It wasn’t just my work place. The coaches all became dear friends. Because I spoke Russian, Lee and I spent a lot of time with Evgeny Marchenko, Valeryi Liukin and the many, many other wonderful Russian coaches. For me, working there was like a dream. I was paid well and I got to speak Russian every single day.

Having grown up around gymnastics and working in that environment, I have a pretty good understanding of what good coaching is. I watched two All Round Gold Medalists train in their early years and I was mentored and guided as a coach myself. I know what good coaching looks like.

Unfortunately, for the last few months I have had my daughter in a bad coaching environment.

Tia is very good at gymnastics, but I’m a realist. Her daddy is six foot two and I’m five six so math tells me that she is probably going to outgrow gymnastics pretty quickly. I’m not looking to create a champion, but I do want to give her the chance to succeed in a sport she loves for as long as she loves it.

Sadly, the coaches at the gym we’ve had her at have almost killed her love of gymnastics.

Never in my life have I witnessed coaching like this, particularly from a head coach in charge of running the team program. I should have pulled Tia out of this program months ago, but I kept talking to other parents who would assure me this woman wasn’t that bad and she really was good with the kids and everyone who gives her a chance ends up loving her.

I gave her a chance for three months. It’s not working. Every time we need to leave for gymnastics, Tia develops a stomach ache and gets very weepy. She is terrified of this coach – and this woman doesn’t even coach Tia’s team. But she’s in close proximity screaming and shouting at other girls. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it and I worried it was just me.

Maybe I’m too judgemental? Maybe my experience at WOGA turned me into a coaching snob. Nobody else seemed as offended by this coach’s cruelty, so what is my problem?

Saturday I volunteered at a meet at the girl’s gym where I watched the little ones, levels two and three, compete. They didn’t do great, but it was their first meet and good grief they were cute in their little leotards and sparkly hair. As this coach walked by, I remarked, “The girls are doing great.” She cut her eyes at me and shrugged. “Your job is to be encouraging and tell them they’re great,” she said. “My job is to tell them they are never good enough. Unless they make it to State. Then I can tell them they’re good.”

And then I scraped my jaw off the floor, picked up my things and began researching new programs.

Yesterday I called another gym to talk to them about their team program. I wanted to be sensitive to the situation. While I find the coach’s methods at our current gym just short of abusive, I am not going to bad mouth her around town. So I delicately asked, “Do you all make gymnastics fun? Because my daughter is five and I just want her to enjoy it, not spend an hour and a half doing sit ups and pull ups and being barked at to suck in her stomach.”

“Aaahhh…” said the coach on the other end of the phone, “You must be coming from —. We have 2-3 new gymnasts enrolling in our gym every week who are coming from that gym and I can promise you, we do things differently here.”

So it turns out I’m NOT the only one appalled by bad coaching.

If you feel so led, please say a prayer for my sweet daughter’s heart as we try out this new gym. At this point, I think she may be slightly traumatized and we’ve already decided that if we need to pull her out of gymnastics for awhile (or forever) we will. While good coaching can take little girls to the gold medal platform, bad coaching has the power to kill their dreams altogether.

I’m kicking myself for waiting this long.