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September 17, 2008

Hockey Moms Have Nothing on Gym Moms

GymnasticsVice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's best line in her acceptance speech was her joke about the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull. (The answer was "lipstick," for anyone so out of touch that he or she hadn't yet heard.)

This got me to thinking: If hockey moms are pitbulls, what does that make the group I belong to - gymnastics moms?

I think you could make a case for us being like Pomeranians: small, decorative, harmless looking creatures who nonetheless manage to get their way through whiny, yappy persistence.

I'm only talking about the mothers of girl gymnasts. The boys team moms I meet at gym tend to be pretty-laid back. If I was going to assign them a dog breed, I'd have to go with affable, friendly Labradors. The atmosphere on the boys team and the one on the girls team are like night and day.

I didn't understand why until I worked the first boys meet at our gym. I knew our own boys' coaches managed to keep the kids in line and still have fun with them. But I was shocked to discover that the other teams were the same way, and actually friendly with one another. And the judges offered words of encouragements to the young participants.

This is so not how it is on the girls' side of the gym.

Our girls are instructed to smile as they balance precariously on a 4" piece of wood.They are not only expected to tumble and flip with precision and power, but they must also be graceful - and keep in time with the music. And above all else, their hair must be perfect. They get points off if they lose a hair clip. They get points off if their leotards ride up and they have to adjust them.

My daughter once got points off during a difficult bar routine, because she stuck her tongue in the corner of her mouth while she was focused on getting her body over the high bar.

Is it any wonder that gymnastics moms can get a little crazy?

Like me, right now. Only it's not the gym that's sent me around the bend.

My daughter just began her fifth year as a competitive gymnast. I am now resigned to the fact that her afternoons will be spent training, our weekends will be devoted to meets, and I have to run interference with all of her teachers, explaining why she doesn't have as much time to work on their assignments as the students participating in less demanding sports.

How I wish I could give her the gift of time. An extra hour each day might make the difference between waking up at 5:00 a.m. this morning to do her homework or getting a good night's sleep.

She can't train less. Believe it or not, the amount of training she does is about average. She's not aiming to be an Olympian (most of those girls train for 30 hours a week). But she's not ready to quit. There are things she wants to accomplish in her sport. And I don't think it's fair to ask her to give them up.

I wondered if we could carve out some time for her by opting out of school-based Physical Education (with that workout regimen, there is no question that my kid is fit). She doesn't need an hour of PE. What she needs is an old-fashioned study period.

Her school shot that idea down. Students in intensive after-school athletic programs USED to be able to waive the PE requirement, but I was told that the state law changed JUST before my daughter started middle school. So I resigned myself to that fact and worked instead on getting the teachers to assign less homework.

But this year, we are attending a new gym in another school district and guess what? All of the kids who attend the other district schools ARE being allowed to waive formal PE class for gymnastics "independent study." And suddenly, the argument that the state won't allow us this common sense solution doesn't make any sense.

I met this week with my daughter's school counselor, who was sympathetic and helpful. She thought she had come up with a solution to the problem; one that would satisfy the law AND allow my daughter some breathing room to get her studies done. But the following day, I got a call from another administrator, who apologized and told me that the school district has a written code that won't allow it.

"A district code, or a law?" I asked.

"It's a written code. And the law," she said.

Since then, I've been on the phone with the school district's "ombudsperson," who also cited state law and has no idea why the school district in the next county seems to have found a loophole in it. She's calling the other school district (and I have my fingers crossed that I have not ruined it for them by telling our district about them).

I have a feeling this will be a long, hard fight.

But that's okay. Because even angry Pomeranians know how to bite.

Original post for LA Moms Blog. When she's not so fired up, Donna Schwartz Mills writes about mellow Southern California life at her personal blog, SoCal Mom.

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