Walking into the gym last Friday for our daughter’s weekly gymnastics lesson, I anticipated an hour of uninterrupted time with free WiFi while our four year old somersaulted herself into a state of delighted exhaustion. I did not expect to hear that voice – deep, melodic yet unequivocally shrill.
“Put your feet apart and stop talking so much,” he yelled at a pint-sized tumbler.
Coach Mike, my one-time nemesis, was substitute teaching Rhys’s class. Five years earlier the same voice provided the soundtrack to one of my earliest parenting regrets, lovingly referred to as “The One with Coach Mike.”
In early 2008, our daughter Ava was a student at the same gym. After several months of lessons with an instructor she adored, we met her new teacher, Coach Mike, he of the wiry build and gruff countenance reminiscent of my own childhood gymnastics coaches.
Ava was wary of her new coach but went along for the first few lessons under his tutelage. At week four’s lesson, she went on strike, complaining to me before class that she was scared of Coach Mike because he was mean and yelled too much.
Eager to escape into the latest issue of People magazine, I ignored her complaints and encouraged Ava to relax, assuring her she was there to have fun. No pressure.
Twenty minutes into the lesson, Coach Mike interrupted my celebrity reverie.
“Ma’am, your daughter is refusing to walk on the balance beam,” he said. “If she won’t try, she’ll have to leave. She’s setting a bad example for the other kids.”
Ava, reminding me of my earlier canned encouragement, said, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the balance beam. You said I get to have fun here and the balance beam isn’t fun. It’s scary.”
As I looked between Coach Mike’s firm stare and my daughter’s expectant gaze, visions of the $35 per class we’d prepaid danced in my head. I realized I had a choice and knew instinctively I wasn’t brave enough to choose wisely.
“Ava, you need to listen to Coach Mike. He’s the teacher, and you have to listen.”
The look on Ava’s face said it all. Surprise, despair, defeat. I had sold her up the river, and we both knew it.
The following week, after getting support from friends, I resolved to redeem myself as a parent. Ava agreed to one more class; I promised to talk with Coach Mike.
“Coach Mike,” I began. “Here’s the deal. My daughter is scared of you. Hell, I’m scared of you. I appreciate your position as the coach, and Ava knows she needs to listen to you. But I’m not going to force her to do anything here. She has my permission to take it slow and participate only as much as she’s comfortable.”
“I think you are making a mistake,” he said. “And you’re making my job harder.”
As I held his gaze, I grew two inches and replied, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.”
I froze momentarily upon hearing that voice again after all these years, but I’ve grown as a parent and as a woman since I last tussled with Coach Mike. I would stand up for my kid to the death. Bring it on, Coach.
To my surprise, Rhys took to Coach Mike immediately, playfully poking him and correcting his pronunciation of her name. “My name is Rhys,” she yelled, not a drop of fear in her voice.
Apparently, someone’s changed.
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