Connecting, Midair, With My 8-Year-Old Son

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My son, Max, who is 8, has many passions: BMX biking, Clash of Clans, Minecraft, the New England Patriots and bottle flipping. While I don’t have an innate love for any of these, I’ve made an effort to be interested. I’ve learned how to throw a football (fingertips on the laces and give it a spin) and come to understand that it is cause for celebration when you upgrade your town hall in Clash of Clans or land a bottle on its cap (“capping,” if you’re curious).

But I’ve longed for that thing we can connect around that feels less like the work of being a parent and more instinctual. Or put another way, more fun. My 6-year-old daughter, Georgia, loves to write and draw and make huge creative messes on the kitchen table. I am right there with her, and love it, too, because it’s exactly what I did as a child.

I’ve been hoping Max and I would find our thing.

Recently, we did. And it’s made me sweat like crazy and feel more alive than I have in years.

I’m talking about the fine art of flipping on a trampoline.

I was a gymnast as a kid, and about a year ago, I started going to a Thursday night adult open gym with a friend of mine. In the months that followed, I rediscovered the joy of doing gymnastics. Several times throughout the year, Max asked if he could go with me. “It’s only for grown-ups, buddy,” I said. I wasn’t sad about this. Going to the open gym was my weekly escape from being a parent.

However, I told Max that I’d be happy to take him back to his own gymnastics class — the one he had gone to for more than a year. He wasn’t interested. I shrugged my shoulders and sighed. Of course he wouldn’t want to do something that I did as a kid. It was yet one more way we didn’t connect.

Toward the end of last year, he started doing flips on his best friend’s trampoline. First front flips, and then backward ones. Yes, I am well aware that the trampoline manufacturers and doctors warn against this, and I understand why. But I watched him. The kid could flip. He understood his body and where it was in the air. I had coached gymnastics throughout high school and college, and I knew the ways kids typically got injured. I made sure he understood how to bail and how to handle too much rotation.

Again, I tried to get him to go back to his gymnastics class. He had other ideas. “Can we go to the trampoline park?” he begged me over his holiday break. I looked it up online. It was expensive and sort of far away. At first, it seemed like one more parenting thing I’d have to do.

Then I realized that I could jump, too.

I put on my best sports bra, the leggings I usually wore to yoga and the requisite sticky-bottom trampoline socks. I slapped my hair into a ponytail and walked out onto the trampoline court to an open square next to his.

All the other adults were sitting on benches, holding their kids’ coats and sipping Starbucks. I felt self-conscious at first. The old lady bouncing.

But then I saw Max’s face. “Mom, watch!” he said, as he soared into an easy back flip. “Can you do one?” he asked.

“Yeah, I can,” I said, with far more confidence than I felt. Even though I had been doing gymnastics again, the gym where I went didn’t have a trampoline. So I hadn’t been on one since I was a kid. I took a few bounces to warm up. I remembered fairly quickly how to use the bounce and catch it the right way.

Max looked at me with light in his eyes. “It’s so easy, Mom! See?” he flipped a few more times.

“I’m getting there,” I reassured him as I did some “timer” bounces — essentially, bouncing and lifting my arms up high the way I would if I was going to flip.

“O.K.,” I finally said, “I’m ready.” I took a few more bounces and launched myself backward into a back tuck. I landed with a bounce and a breath and a big smile.

Max flipped with glee. I recognized his easy grace as my own. I had known he had my eyes, my dry skin and my situational shyness. I just hadn’t recognized that he had my love of testing gravity with his body.

We stayed for an hour, and I flipped forward and backward dozens of times. I did straddle jumps and seat drops and handsprings. I got my phone out of my locker and Max and I took turns taking videos of each other. The fact that I didn’t see any other parents jumping ceased to matter. I knew this was it — that moment of pure joy with your kid you always want as a parent and berate yourself endlessly for not creating. Here it was, like an invitation. I laughed and I ached and I felt simultaneously 10 years old and 42 years old. I was so thoroughly worn out when we left, I wasn’t sure how I would drive home — but I knew we’d be back.

Not only have we gone back a few times, Max found out about a Friday night open gym for kids and adults at a small gymnastics center that recently opened nearby. His sister went to a birthday party there and he snagged a flier promoting the open gym. “Can we go? Please?” he begged. “I want to try flipping on the mat.”

I agreed to try, and we went last Friday night. Again, I put on my black leggings and gathered my courage to not look ridiculous. Kids meandered here and there and parents mostly sat watching. After a few minutes, I started to feel at ease and began to tumble.

“I see where he gets it,” another mom said to me as I landed a back tuck on a squishy mat. We both turned to look at Max, who bounded off the springboard into a high and easy front flip.

“Yep,” I said smiling. “We flip. It’s what we do.”