“RUBY’S the best in the class,” I murmur and then look around guiltily hoping no-one heard me. After all there’s no need to make the mums at gymnastics feel bad just because my five-year-old is so obviously ahead of the group.
After the rush of getting to her first class; fussing over the fit of her leotard; splurging on cute little ballet slippers with diamantes – which the instructor made her to take off in the first five minutes – organising the baby’s and toddler’s sleeps and feeds to get here on time and then forgetting my purse and paying with sticky coins from the bottom of the baby bag, I’m happy to just flop in the corner and watch.
But now I can’t sit still – Ruby is just so talented – I had no idea. Look at the way she hangs from that bar: she’s a natural. Whoops, she fell on her bottom, but never mind she’s up again. I laugh delightedly and clap my hands at her enthusiasm. “She was born for this,” I think, grinning around at the other mums.
At the trampoline a few of the boys push in front of Ruby and I stand up agitated and ready to shout, but manage to grind my teeth quietly and sit on my hands. “Bloody cheek,” I grumble to two-year-old Darcy who passes me his half-chewed fruit stick as consolation.
Ruby’s doing floor exercises now, stretching and twisting with ease, and my mind floats off to the Olympics. Sure there’ll be lots of work between now and then, and the rest of the family will have to sacrifice a lot, but talent like this can’t be denied.
As they take turns at the beam, I hear the other mums whispering and catch a drift of conversation: “She’s very good, do you think she’s double-jointed…” I smile with pride. I know they’re discussing Ruby, I know she’s the best in the class and I’m impressed with their ability to face the truth. I give them a gentle smile hoping I’m conveying sympathy and gratitude at their unbiased recognition of true skill.
The class lines up for the bars and Ruby elbows determinedly into the front of the line. I give a frown and look with concern as a small spat breaks out, but inwardly I’m thrilled with her audaciousness and assurance. Cheeky devil; well you have to be tough to get to the top.
As I get up to distract Darcy from trying to bite the baby’s toes I hear the instructor say “Would you please show the rest of the group your somersault, it was very well done”. Wheeling around I applaud her first public display, only to discover that the instructor was speaking to another child.
I can’t believe it. Just look at the child, she’s weedy, positively knock-kneed and her leotard is obviously a hand-me-down. She struts to the front, does an adequate somersault then drops a huge fawning curtesy to the instructor, who obviously has no real eye for talent.
Now it’s star jumps and, oh dear, it seems Ruby is – well – a bit awkward. She’s out of time with rest of the class. Miss Smarty Pants in the baggy leotard is blitzing ahead with perfectly-formed, well-timed jumps and her mum is cooing smugly in front of me. I want to kick the back of her chair but manage to control myself by firmly crossing my arms and legs.
Poor Ruby can’t get it together, but seems quite happy to giggle and flop around and pull at the crutch of her leotard most unattractively. She’s going to have to work harder than this if we’re going to succeed at competition level.
Mercifully they begin knee bends and Ruby is a whiz from the start so I can relax back in my chair.
Darcy wonders if the baby likes fruit stick in his ear canal and by the time I have his experiment sorted out I look up to see Ruby in front of the group showing them how she can dangle with perfectly pointed toes from the rings.
Laughing out loud with joy, I clap my hands boisterously in Mrs Smarty Pants’s ear and give the instructor my warmest smile – after all it’s hard to find someone with an appreciation of natural ability.
The kids come flooding back all red cheeked and puffed as the class finishes. I give Ruby a huge cuddle and kiss.
“I really enjoyed watching you. You were trying very hard. You should be proud of yourself.” I babble in my most politically-correct parent speak, but my mind is chanting: “You were the best, you were the best” and I’m bursting to get home to ring Daddy and Nanny.
“So what do you think of gymnastics?” I ask as she skips beside me and only half listen for her answer as I mentally project ahead to presentations, Christmas concerts, recitals and trophies.
“Yeah it was okay,” she answers, “but I’d rather do swimming”.
Postscript: Ruby is now almost 18…and the Olympic dream hasn’t come true…yet….