Corazon does gymnastics 3 days/week for 3 hours each time. She is turning into a very skilled gymnast. I credit gymnastics and ice skating with saving our lives by giving us hope. This child has always been physically strong and very athletic although she is a tiny by most standards. From the day she came it was clear that she had no fear especially if it involved any physical activity. We tried to channel it by having her try a range of organized activities.
First there was soccer. At almost 5 years of age she was the only kid on her team who could move the ball down the field while most of the other kids seemed to be there for the snacks. She got bored and so her RAD self became fixated on getting the attention of the coaches. She was good at turn-taking and willing to try anything so she did well during all the skills and drills time except that while she waited her turn she monopolized whatever adult happened to be near her. And given the high cuteness factor, it left her moms pretty frustrated.
We also tried a ballet/tap/tumbling dance class. That worked pretty well in that it helped her to concentrate and focus and learn more about how to control her body. It also let her enjoy music which she already loved and she actually made a friend. The downside was that it was only 1 hour/week and not enough physical exertion for her. She wanted to dance all the time and wanted me to help her. You don't even want to imagine what I look like doing ballet.
We kept the dance but then thought we would try swimming. A good skill for anyone to have and C. was a swimmer so we thought we would give it a try. A local university has a large family fitness program so we enrolled her in a beginner's class. She was so excited to be in the pool and she was fearless so it was a good match. Until she got to be pretty good and moved up a couple of levels. Suddenly she realized that the kids who got attention were the ones who couldn't do anything or who were afraid. All of a sudden our drama princess emerged in swim class. Ultimately she did something really unsafe and scared the heck out of the instructors. We think they were relieved when we didn't return.
We continued on our quest. Memories of soccer kept us from trying that again but we still wanted to have her try a team sport so we signed her up for baseball. She was now almost 6 and again we encountered the athleticism problem. She was a strong runner, good hitter, OK catcher but there was too much down time out there on the field waiting for the ball and well there were these nice adults standing out there with the little ones and they were so much more interesting.....
Living in New England at the time we thought it would be nice if she learned to ice skate. She agreed and begged to try it. We bundled her little 6 year old self into her snow pants and took her to her first lesson. We found one of those massive, relatively inexpensive, no frills classes where about a hundred or more kids are taught the basics of ice skating. We lucked out and she ended up in a small group of 15 beginners with a teacher who spoke very little English. These instructors were serious about getting those kids comfortable on the ice. Day one they taught them how to fall and how to get up by themselves. And boy did she fall! She would fall and sit there on the ice waiting for a nice adult to come by and help her up. When they did they were efficient in that they picked her up and skated off while she was still trying to get them involved in a conversation. After a while she just sat there and poured on the drama. Someone came by and moved her out of the way. She did it again and someone asked if she wanted to get off the ice and go to her mom. Of course she didn't. She wanted attention and she was used to getting it for her drama. We stood on the sidelines and couldn't believe our eyes. At about the same time both C. and I looked at one another and said "this is wonderful!" We weren't being cruel and thrilled that our daughter was falling but we realized we had hit upon an activity where she might actually have a chance at not charming the instructors. The next week we put her in leggings (no more snow pants) and put her out in the ice. She quickly discovered that if she sat on the ice when she fell she would freeze her behind in the time it took someone to come help her up. She got herself up and slowly but surely stopped focusing on the adults and started focusing on learning to ice skate. She mastered the basics easily and we moved her to a figure skating club to continue her lessons. Each week she worked her little behind off to master the skills needed at each level and for the most part we saw a significant reduction in her need (and ability) to get the instructors' attentions. She started to realize that the more skilled she got and the harder she worked to learn what was being taught the more positive attention she got. While at the time I don't think she was able to consciously decide that getting positive attention was better than negative attention she actually realized that was the best way to get her instructor's attention and my baby loves getting attention. For one of the first times ever we started to see Corazon working and focusing on something other than getting adult attention. We were so excited. She worked her way up pretty far up the basic levels until we relocated to Texas this summer where we haven't been able to pick it back up again yet.
So, where does gymnastics fit in here? I took the long way to get here. At about the time swimming was becoming disastrous Corazon complained that her dance class didn't have as much tumbling as it promised. We found a tumbling class for 5 year olds right after her swim class and we enrolled her. After 2 classes the instructors asked to move her to their 7-8 year old class because she was the only 5 year old who was listening and able to do the stuff they were teaching. We obliged and she joined that class. She thrived but there was no where else for her to go once she finished that class. We eventually found a gym that offered gymnastics for her and it was a serious sacrifice because I had to drive almost an hour each way in traffic, with all the other kids in tow, to get her to the right class. We were seeing success in ice skating so I thought gymnastics would balance things out and give her the kind of physical activity she needed outside of school. I thought that since she was all about control what better way than to have her channel her energy into controlling her body and movement in very focused ways.
They gym was great for her! They were all about form and discipline. While they wanted to teach the kids a love for gymnastics they also quickly recognized her capabilities and strength and learned how to push her even when the drama emerged. She was six when she started at that gym and she did 3 hours/week. It was spread over 2 days which helped because then we had her attending some kind of disciplined physical activity three days each week and then had her doing as much jumping on her mini-trampoline and running around as possible. We even got her a chin-up bar for her room that Christmas and she did those, by choice, almost daily. Gymnastics was the ONLY place (besides ice skating) where Corazon conducted herself in a way that didn't bring up all of her RAD behaviors. She occasionally tried the drama but that usually got her extra work so it didn't pay off. Otherwise she was a nice, focused, engaged, involved, hard-working little kid no matter how long the workout was. She only lost it when there was a substitute coach or someone who was more of a "pushover." She made quick progress and even though she was out of gymnastics for 4 months when we were preparing for and eventually moved she was able to reenter in this new gym at a higher level to make the competitive team and she is handling these long hours at the gym quite nicely.
Those early years of watching her at the gym gave us a glimpse of WHO Corazon could be when all this other stuff got out of the way. We never saw that kid ANYWHERE else and it gave us hope. At the same time she found something she loved and it helped her become more disciplined, self-regulatory, and focused. We began to see it carry over into other parts of her life. Not to mention that she is is really great physical shape so she can help carry all that heavy stuff when we do the grocery shopping. :)