On my way to work this morning I heard a song that reminded me of my childhood. The singer mentioned something about calloused hands and I looked at my own now dainty and feminine hands. They weren't always that way. My nails weren't always long and could never keep a coat of red on their surface. They were once the hands of a tom boy, and then the hands of a gymnast, and finally the hands of a roofer before they became the gentle hands they are today.
Callouses used to line the edges of my palm, just at the base of my fingers. I would spend hours climbing trees as a kid. I thought I was half monkey in all honesty. I wanted to be half horse, graceful and beautiful, but I was never a graceful child, and I couldn't have been farther from beautiful. I would play in the mud and always have mud caked under my nails. Mom would spend long periods of time trying to clean under them with a brush. When I was around 5 years old, she painted my nails pink after my begging her for what seemed like forever. All the other little girls in the neighborhood had their fingers painted pretty colors, I wanted pretty hands too. The first thing I did when she finished was go dig up worms with the boys out in the pumpkin patch.
I used these hands to punch a hole in a glass window once. I've used them many times to defend myself, to place shingles on the roof of many houses, to build towers with blocks and to escape miraculously from impossible situations. They were damaged, worn and bruised most of my life, up until just recently.
I used to play on the uneven bars at school when I was in the 5th grade. The playground was a lonely place for me back then. I didn't have many friends. When I discovered the uneven bars, I saw the things other kids were doing on them and wanted to learn how. Instantly I jumped onto an empty one and tried to swing around it by my legs. I fell, landed in a heap on the ground, brushed the sand out of my hair and tried again. The first time I made it all the way around the bar by hooking one leg over and one leg under I was amazed. I learned how to swing my momentum to get me around more often at at a faster pace. I learned how to stop swinging around and swap legs. Then I learned how to swing around the bar with both legs over the bar and using my knees and hands. The callouses ripped open on my hands and I would be in pain trying to write in class, but it was worth it. The adrenaline pumped in my veins and I felt like I was learning something I could be good at.
It took weeks and months to get to where I could transition my hands from one side of my body to the other. I eventually tried swapping legs in mid swing on a continuous cycle and got quite good at that. Another kid dared me to do the Cherry Drop, so I tried. I fell on my head and again brushed the sand out of my hair with my dry, calloused hands. Then I jumped back up and tried it again. I learned which bars were too close to the ground by smacking my skull a few times on the dirt, but I never forgot those lessons.
The Cherry Drop was a challenge. I would hang upside down on the bar from my knees and swing back and forth. When I felt that I was swinging out widely enough, I would unhook my knees from the bar and flip around. I was supposed to land on my feet, but that took a while to get. Most of the time I landed on my butt. Finally one day I got it. I landed on my feet and felt like I was on top of the world!
I had gotten so good on the uneven bars that other kids began asking me how I did it and what my secret was. Feeling proud of myself for having mastered something so well, I started to push myself harder. I wanted to not only be good at it, but I wanted to be the BEST at it! I worked harder and harder. One day, as I swung around the bars with both knees hooked on, I swapped hands in mid swing. I would put both on my left, then both on my right, then both in the middle. Again I heard a dare. Someone dared me to take both hands off of the bar.
The world whizzed by in a blur as I swung wildly by just my knees. I saw the sky race past, the swings behind me, the sand below me, the brick wall before me, the crowd of kids beyond that, and then the school off in the distance. I grabbed the bar again with both hands and went around once more before stopping. My heart raced. I had done it!
Kids everywhere were asking me how I had done it. I didn't know what to say, other than I had just tried and somehow it worked. Others began trying and several were sent to the Nurses office for head injuries. I just kept on.
Each day I would practice at recess. Kids would come from all over the soccer field, the 4 square and tether ball areas and kick ball practice area way off in the distance just to watch me. I felt like I was on stage. Each day I grew more brave. I would start to swing around and do a complete show, always changing things for the 'performance' and always wanting to push myself just a little farther.
One day I decided to incorporate the Cherry Drop with my routine. The kids all knew not to stand too close to the bars in case I lost hold and went flying out in front. Knowing there was a clear space in front of me, I began flipping backwards around the bar and let go with my hands. I rolled around backwards on the bar using nothing but my knees for a full 12 rotations before I picked up the courage, and when the timing was right, I let go. I launched out in front, soared up into the air, and landed squarely on my feet. The other kids applauded and ooohed and ahhed. I had done something nobody else had been able to do and it was coined the Death Drop.
The Death Drop became my signature move. Other kids wanted to copy it, but they were too afraid. One day a boy came and asked me to teach him the basics on the bars, and so I began to mentor the 6th grader. He was a year older than me in school, but he wanted to learn so I started to teach him. In no time he grew to be quite good and we would give dual performances at school during lunch. Within a few months, he landed a Death Drop and amazed everyone. I couldn't be more proud - my Student had gotten to be as good as I was. In due time, kids started asking him to teach them. Pretty soon we were teaching side by side. We would have anywhere from 5 to 20 kids a day we would work with together. We worked as spotters, making sure they didn't fall. After having learned the hard way myself, I made sure none of them ever got on a bar that was too low to the ground so that they didn't skid to a halt grinding their heads through the sand.
Once or twice we had a kid fall off the bars, but with the other kid there to help me, nobody was hurt. The kids that refused help and wanted to do it all themselves often ended up in the Nurses office by the end of recess. The audience grew, and the school threatened to either add more uneven bars or to remove the ones out there due to the danger and attraction they provided.
I was still the best at what I did. My first student and then co-teacher was very good, but there were certain things I wouldn't teach him. I was selfish. I wanted to be the best at what I did. To some degree there's still that competitive side to me, I want to be the best.
Mom came out to the school one day for Parent - Teacher conferences. I told her there was something I wanted to show her on the playground, so she followed me out there. She was thinking I was going to swing across the jungle gym or go really high in the swings. She was unprepared for what followed.
I went through my very best routine, and she stood back in awe. She had no idea I was able to do all of those tricks on the bars. Finally, in my moment of grandeur, I performed my Grand Finale with the Death Drop.
She yelled and screamed at me. She made me swear I'd never do it again. She threatened to go to the office and ask what they were thinking by allowing me to perform such stunts at recess.
That was the end of my pseudo-career on the bars at school. In two years I transitioned to 7th grade soon and didn't have the bars at recess, or even a recess at all. Lunches were spent from then on eating food alone until we moved to Utah. I had no friends in Jr. High and had a hard time for the first time in my life forming new bonds with total strangers. Nobody liked the little nerd girl with too many freckles, a stick figure for a body and crooked teeth. The other girls had begun to blossom into young ladies and I was still just a kid. I became a wall flower. It was a hard transition to go from being a Bar Celebrity to being nobody in an eager sea of strangers.
As I sat on the grass alone eating my lunch one day, I looked out into the lawn between buildings and saw a kid off in the distance. A crowd gathered around him in a long line. There was a ton of room behind and in front of him, so I watched. I was curious to know what was going on.
The young man suddenly sprang into the air and did a series of back flips and front flips and amazing stunts I'd only ever seen performed on television. He had a full Olympic routine memorized from the looks of it. I completely forgot about my sandwich and went over to watch...
When he finished, the crowd clapped for him. I looked close and knew he was familiar...
The Student had surpassed the Teacher.