I did a cartwheel in my back yard today.
This may sound like an odd thing to say or, for a 35 year old woman, even an odd thing to do. Yet it was a beautiful day outside, the grass was clear and appealing and I suddenly had an urge to do a cartwheel. I've had the urge before but usually don't give in. Today, I did.
I have never been graceful at acrobatics and today proved no exception but in a simple flip of the body, memories of childhood returned. There was a time when girls couldn't resist turning cartwheels whenever there was enough grass. It used to be something my friends and I just did. It was a natural reaction to clean grass on a summer's day.
Then I began to think harder. When, exactly, did we stop turning cartwheels? When was that magical line in life created that made us stop just going with our instincts to do backyard gymnastics and made us start questioning whether we should do them?
I can't even remember how old I was. I just know that it happened one day. It was most likely the same time that standing still, closing my eyes and just spinning to see what would happen stopped.
As a child, I always loved gymnastics. It probably began with a somewhat bad biography-film of Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnastics darling of the late seventies. I used to want to be Nadia. I wanted to walk and twirl on the balance beam, to do a flip on the thin strip of covered wood and land gracefully without falling to the floor.
I tried. I was in gymnastics at school. I never did very well but I enjoyed it. It didn't really help that we had one of those stereotyped gym teachers who liked the 'pretty' girls and since I didn't qualify, he gave me no extra time at all. My biggest problem was fear. I couldn't get past the idea of what could happen if I landed wrong or if I fell. I could never do what the best athletes do- not worry about the consequences, to just do it.
Yet I still believed that I could. If I worked hard enough. If I got books from the library. If I watched the gymnastics on television. If I just worked hard enough, I could do it. I could do anything.
This belief stayed with me long past my gymnastics phase. I was a ballerina at one time, believing that I would someday dance en pointe, gracefully lifted into the air by my partner. There was always something, some passion that would ignite me to want to become something. Another time, I wanted to be in the theatre, hoofing it up, singing and dancing on stage.
I never remember anyone killing my childish dreams of gymnastics glory by saying I couldn't do it. I don't remember my parents laughing at me and saying that it was stupid to want to be a gymnast. Now I look back, I have a feeling that, instead, they smiled benignly and let me live out the dream until I got tired of it, which I inevitably did. My parents, instead, lived through years of my hiding in my room, dancing and pretending I was going to audition for "Cats". I tried to hide it but I'm sure they knew.
Through my life, there have always been dreams. As a child, they were dreams of the future. Nothing was unattainable. I still turned cartwheels as if no one was watching.
Then…I started thinking people were watching. That they would think I was stupid. That I was making an idiot of myself. I think, perhaps, that is when I stopped turning cartwheels.
I didn't stopped dreaming about the future but my dreams became tainted with a side of reality. I started the awful process of worrying what people think. This, as anyone who worries too much about what others think knows this leads to an unpleasant low level of self-esteem.
It doesn't matter though, whether you worry about what others think just a little or you worry about it a lot, you worry about it and it allows self-doubt to creep it. In can be as simple as someone noticing your coworker got half an inch snipped off her hair whereas you just had four inches cut off and you coloured it and no one noticed at all or it can be a downward spiral of feeling like you'll never be good enough for anything, that everything is a waste of time because you're just not good enough.
It all begins with that tiny, insignificant moment in life where you do something and instead of being uninhibited with the carefree airs of youth, you stop and wonder if someone is watching.
It all starts there. It's the moment where you stop doing cartwheels because they're not very good cartwheels and someone else with you is doing them better or you stop because you don't see what the point of doing cartwheels is or you stop because someone tells you to and you listen.
Once that moment hits, it's no longer to turn cartwheels as you did before. It's as though it's become something other than harmless fun.
I'm using cartwheels as a metaphor, of course. But you knew that. I think what I'm trying to say is that there was a time in life where the sky was the limit, that dreams were never impossible and that it was still possible to be anything. I was lucky enough to have parents who never quelled my dreams but let me find my way to them. They aided me as best they could but mostly, they let me live out the journey from conception to realization (whether actual realization or the realization that the dream was nice but it wasn't really for me).
Yet I let the self-doubt creep in when I turned that final cartwheel. I cared too much what people thought and I let it drive me. I still believe that dreams are possible but as adults, it's harder to remember that than it is as a child when reality has fewer boundaries and there are less obstacles to overcome.
I've still tried to follow my dreams as an adult but it's harder to drop everything and change direction when you have responsibilities. I'm trying to make my dreams of becoming a bestselling writer come true. If I was still the wide-eyed, believing child I was, I wouldn't doubt that it was going to happen. I'd still be sitting in the corner, scribbling stories about snails on scraps of paper, writing stories about how the sheep got its fleece and knowing that it was only a matter of time before I was doing book signings and admiring the thousands of copies of my book I saw in stores every day.
As an adult, I wish to be that hopeful, that the scars of reality and piles of rejections haven't made me wonder what I'm doing with my life. Don't get me wrong, I'm still trying. I still want that dream. Being a writer is one of the few dreams in my life that has stayed with me without changing since I was a child. It's just that nowadays, I realize that there's no magic wand to wave, that things don't just happen. I have to make them happen. I can't sit and wait for someone to find my work and say, "by golly! What an undiscovered talent! I wish to make you a bestselling author."
Though I admit, that would be rather nice, wouldn't it? Things like that only happen in fiction, I think. If they happen in reality, they don't seem to happen to me.
Yet, I haven't given up on dreaming. I am trying to work my way back across the obstacle course that sprang up when I started caring what other people thought, the day I stopped turning cartwheels.
So, today, I did a cartwheel. I don't care if anyone saw me. I don't care if it was more of a pathetic kick and spin than a genuine cartwheel. It was the way I always did them.
For a split second, it was a return to the days of my youth where I didn't care what people thought. I did what I wanted to do because I felt like it. There were no voices in my head telling me that it wasn't a good cartwheel, that it was a silly thing to do.
And then I realized that this was the matter precisely: There were no voices in my head telling me not to do it.
It just proved that all along, the voice that has held me back has been the one that has spoken loudest has been mine all along and I chose to listen.
I can't promise I won't still hear it but I can promise that I will try not to pay as much attention to it. If I forget, I'll just go turn a cartwheel. If it's raining, I'll close my eyes and just dance or spin until I get so tired, I'll flop down on the floor and pant like a puppy that has played too much. If it's snowing, I'll make a snow angel in the snow, kicking my legs until the snow is a flattened, diamond surface beneath my feet.
Or, if it's every day, I'll follow my dreams as if they can come true.