I got an email yesterday from a parent. Their family had come to the gym for a long time in the past but hadn’t been back since we had to close mid-March, and she said as much as her kids wanted to come back, she had reservations because of the virus. She asked me to let her know what procedures we had in place and how we were dealing with things and said she just didn’t know if now is the right time.
There have been a lot of concerns to address since we re-opened mid-May. I have written many emails, made several videos, and had many phone calls letting people know about physical distancing, masks, hand sanitizer, floor traffic patterns, water bottles, event stations, entrance and exit protocols, and everything else we could possibly think of to help
minimize the inherent risks. I have been more than happy to answer each one with as much information as I can so that each family can determine for themselves what the best plan is for them. Many of our families have returned, and we are beyond grateful. As a family owned and operated business for the past 33 years, we have a lot at stake in getting through this in the best ways we can. Many of our families have opted to wait, and we completely understand that, as well. All of us have a lot at stake, on so many levels, and there is a lot to consider.
So as I thought about what to say in response to her email, I thought about her last question. Is now the right time? I can’t answer that for anyone else. As a mom myself and as a human, I have my personal thoughts about what things feel right and what things do not yet. It’s a lot to process and we are all surrounded by people making lots of different decisions.
Just before receiving the email, I had gone out into the gym to help a student named Lizzy with some extra time on her cartwheels. I gave her some tips and told her some things to try and things to keep in mind, and she determinedly kept at it, cartwheel after cartwheel. After she stumbled on a landing I heard her say to herself, “You just have to keep getting up. The only way to get better is to keep trying.” Then she lined up for another go at it. I thought to myself about how true this is. You just have to keep getting up. And for so many of us, that has been the only thing to do these past six months. We keep getting up, we keep trying, we stumble, and then we get up and get back to it. There is nothing else TO do.
When we had to close for two months, I still went into the gym pretty often to check on the building, answer emails and phone calls, do some cleaning and organizing, and to try to keep my mind busy. Over the years I have often gone into work when there was no one else there because it was easier to get items off of my list without any distractions. But this time, things were different. Knowing that it wasn’t quiet because kids just weren’t there yet for the day, but that it was quiet because they weren’t coming at all...that was an eerie kind of quiet. And the not-knowing about when people’s voices would return was a terrible not-knowing.
After a very long eight weeks, we welcomed kids back. There were changes, of course. Numbered stations, staff members in masks, staggered starting times, cleaning and disinfecting in between every class and even more on weekends, plexiglass shields. It was a different world from the one we’d left in mid-March. I wondered how it would feel to be back with all the changes. And with the limited enrollment, I wondered about how long we could ride it all out without having to make some very difficult decisions about the future of the gym. I had a lot on my mind and a lot on my heart.
And then the kids came. Kids. With their smiles and their stories and their spirit. They told us about how quarantine had been, they told us about new pets and new siblings and the weird and wacky adventures of online school. They told us about missed trips to Disneyland and cancelled campouts and about how loneliness didn’t feel as lonely when they got to use FaceTime to see their friends. They brought their bags and backpacks and their water bottles and their hand sanitizer and they just got right back to it. Cartwheeling and handstanding and balance beaming through it all. With every precaution we could think of in place, we all just kept going.
The kids filled the gym with good energy. They were flexible, they adapted, they recognized that things weren’t the same, but they were happy to be there and we were happy to have them. It felt good to have something that used to feel normal happening again, even though it wasn’t exactly normal. Since “normal” is off the menu at least for a while, the kids did their best to accept that this is the way of it now, and they sanitized their hands and got busy on their skills, and the staff members sanitized their hands, masked up, and got busy teaching in even more creative ways than before the virus.
A lot has changed in the world, and change can be hard. In the months of all this change, it has been nice to have something that has stayed relatively constant for both the people who work at the gym and the kids who come there. It’s familiar. It’s a place to let go of outside pressures and stress and to think about something you love. Gymnastics requires focus and concentration and you’ve really gotta pay attention to what you’re doing. When you’re thinking about cartwheels, or in the case of our staff thinking about teaching cartwheels, it gives your brain a break from thinking about all the other things happening in the world. Having a break from that can be a real relief, for both our students and our staff.
The physical activity of moving and stretching and getting stronger is helping us all as well. Whether we’ve spent the day in school or at work it is nice to be able to MOVE. To get more flexible. To make our muscles tired in that good way. To see tangible results after we’ve tried a skill so many times. Running faster down the vault runway than last time. Doing one more push-up. Catching our balance on the beam and smiling as we realize we aren’t going to fall. And when we do fall, getting back up and trying it again. With so much time spent having to sit still, it feels good to move around, and with so many things being invisible lately, it feels good to be able to actually see and feel ourselves getting better and stronger and bendier. A workout can reset a lot of things inside of us.
And at the gym we talk a lot about doing our best, trying again, sticking with things, and giving ourselves some grace when we are struggling to get something. As our friend Lizzy said, “You just have to keep getting up. The only way to get better is to keep trying.” So we do. We help each other keep trying. We help each other get better. We help each other just keep getting up. And as a result, when our hearts get heavy we have a place to go where we can help them get a little lighter.
So I don’t know for sure if this is the right time for everyone. I answered that email with all the detail I could so that she can read through it and make the best choice for her family. They’re welcome to join us, or if now is not the right time for them, I have every intention in the world of keeping the gym going so that we’ll be here when they’re ready. And for me, I am grateful for every single thing that is helping keep this the right time for the families, students, and staff members who are riding this out along with us in the gym. I am grateful for their smiles, their positive attitudes, their stories, their perseverance, and the ways they keep trying. Here’s to all the ways we’re helping each other through. I believe in us.