We could have been at gymnastics practice. We could have been at music lessons. Instead, we were in the backyard as last of evening light slowly faded and the sun slipped behind the West side of our house. Moira was jumping on the trampoline, and I was throwing a ball to the puppy, when I looked to my right and saw her. My daughter had scooped hands full of autumn leaves. As she gained air on the trampoline, her arms stretched wide above her, legs spread eagle, she let go. The leaves floated all around her like glimmering confetti in the last streaks of sunlight. It was golden.
Moira didn’t know I saw her being Moira being nine in the now. She didn’t know I have that mental snapshot that I could never recapture in a photograph. I told her I loved to watch her have fun, and then she showed me her tricks. It’s funny because in the two years she was in gymnastics she never advanced, never got competitive, never did particularly well, but at home alone on her very own trampoline, she flipped and flew through the air like gravity didn’t exist.
So I stopped playing with the dog and watched my child flip and float and do all of the things I never saw her do in the regimented gymnastics classes she attended week after week. After a couple of months of watching ten little girls do nothing but conditioning exercises, I stopped watching gymnastics and started running errands. But tonight, in my own backyard, I heard Moira laugh and saw her smile through a cascade of gold leaves. I am glad Moira quit her classes in May and didn’t “do” anything this summer except learn how to do her fabulous “chicken” flip on the trampoline. I did get some pictures, some video, but they’re not as good as what I captured with my heart.
At times I’ve questioned if I’m a good parent or a lazy parent for refusing to drag and shove my kids out the door into things they don’t want to do. Then, I wonder if the millions of kids doing so many millions of things after school actually want to be practicing and competing every single day, or if they’d rather be at home jumping in leaves or reading Judy Blume books for pleasure, not homework. I would gladly take my own children to activities if they genuinely wanted to go. Moira takes a beginner’s ice-skating class on Monday. It takes more time to drive to class and back than she actually spends on the ice, but she wanted to go and she is having fun. Still, one activity a week seems plenty for us.
Though the occasional doubt casts a shadow across my mind and makes me worry that I’m withholding opportunities from my children by not forcing the extracurricular issue, I have days like today when I know I’m giving them a childhood. I’m glad I have this bookmark in the life of Moira, age nine, defying air and expectations with a smile on her face in the fading light of the here and now.