Tuesday, June 16, 2015

If One of Us Falls

Piper fidgets as I pull her dark hair into a pig tail. Today is her spring trapeze show and it's been a full year since she last performed in front of an audience. We always miss the winter show due to sickness.

"There were a TON of people last time." she says, jumping up as soon as the elastic snaps. "You said there would only be families." She twirls around the kitchen her pig tails spinning to the sides of her head.

"It was just families." I reply. "You'll be fine." 

"There's only two of us." she answers getting to the heart of what worries her.  "Wonder if E doesn't show?"

Her friend and classmate E does show. They run off together to the backstage where they will paint peace signs on their cheeks. They will bound onto the mat, the two of them, to perform an amazing duet to "Spirit in the Sky." And when they finish to the applause of the audience, they will glow.

After the show, Piper tells me "We had a plan if one of us fell off the bar. The other would wait until we got back on." 

I don't often write about Piper and trapeze. Piper started the family trend almost two years ago after a field trip with Freedom To Grow. I, overjoyed that finally one of my kids wanted to do this, signed her up the next week. Piper took to the air with her usual enthusiasm. I waited for it to dim as Piper tends to cycle through her interests in ways that resemble my own. Great passion and borderline obsession followed by a lost of interest and a move to something new.  But that didn't happen for Piper. Instead, even when things got tough she plowed through until she found the joy again.

Piper is our anxious child. The one who had a series of panic attacks when we first moved to Athens. The one who frets about the night. Monsters. Every ache of her body is a cause for concern. But in trapeze Piper transforms into something entirely different. She unfurls her wings and takes flight. She pushes herself until she masters new moves. I've watched her practice with hands aching and red from holding the robe. Watched her breathing become heavy because she refused defeat in the face of challenge. Trapeze makes Piper stronger. It calls to the courage deep within her and helps her to express it in the muscles of her arm, the way her legs spin around a robe and a bar. Trapeze transform Piper into her best self giving her the power to bring that self out out into the world.

There are no doubt many sports that could have pushed Piper out of her anxiety shell. I do think that exercise helps us to feel our body in the world in a less anxious way. But I also think the key to why trapeze works so well for Piper, and for our family, lies in two girls who made a plan to lift to each other up instead of tear each other down. My family, as so many of you know, are anti-capitalist which means we actively attempt to eradicate certain features of a capitalist society from our life. One of those things is competition. This is not an easy one for me as my insecurity tends to push me to compare and then to want to compete to be better. I've tried very hard to be conscious of not passing this onto my children especially Piper. I suspect competition is the kind of thing that could sink someone with anxiety. 

And I admit to being nervous when Piper started. I had to rein myself in from comparison which I never expressed aloud but too often thought as I watched in her class. I worked to weed it from my thoughts as part of my work on not comparing or ripping down others. Piper didn't need to compete against her classmates. She never once expressed jealously and instead celebrated her friend's triumphs. Her teachers never encouraged competition and I admired how their emphasis on team work wasn't inspirational word fluff. I saw it in the way the teachers performed. They lifted each other up, stepped back to let others take their turn to shine, and showed genuine appreciation for each other's work. 

For Piper, with her all her bottled up anxiety, trapeze became a place where the only competition came in the form of pushing herself. Today I watched as she worked with a new group; all girls who  more advanced than she. They worked on a metal cube something Piper has longed to do for awhile . At some point, Piper was standing and I watched as she asked Ann if she could practice some moves on the bar. Ann lowered a bar for her. Piper had told me earlier she wanted to master a move called the Tango Turn. And that is what she did for a good twenty minutes. Again and again she went through the move until her face grew flushed and her hands red. Even then she didn't stop. I realized as I watched her that she didn't do this to be better then anyone else. She did this because she wanted to be better for herself. To prove that she could do this move. To push her body to it's amazing potential. At trapeze there was no one to beat. There were only others, including oneself, to pick up if they fell. 

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