"... and then you put your legs up like this and be careful because my legs will swing around really fast. Now, put your knees up, balance, and jump."
I was transported to my nine-year-old self in the middle of this manic Monday as Meredith swung upside down from the metal bar on the swing set. She took the tone of teacher as she swung with the seriousness of a backyard gold medalist.
I know that seriousness well. My grandpa knew it, too. My birthday gift was unlike any other 9-year-old I knew. It wouldn't fit inside a gift bag and you can't find one at a store. It was a custom-made, hand-crafted balance beam with a limited edition, special carpet cover.
It was beautiful and it sat in our backyard where I was Dominique Moceanu or Kerri Strug on summer afternoons. My performance always decided whether we got the gold or the silver medal. The air hung thick with pressure (and good Iowa summer heat) and the beam was more than inches off the grass. It felt like miles.
I positioned my socked toe in front and stretched my arms up high (everyone knew the judges gave points for style and I never wanted to lose any - that was the easy part). I twirled, jumped, steadied, and then positioned myself for the dismount. The dismount decided everything - everyone knew that, even my dad. The question would pound in my head through the whole backyard routine, "Can I stick the dismount?"
I would back up to the very edge of the beam and then start my swirling combination toward the other end, where I would flip end over end (in my mind) and always land with two feet nestled into the Iowa grass.
My arms would erupt from my sides and I would proudly stick out my chest, acknowledging the audience of trees and cattle and cats on all sides.
It was 1994 and I just clenched the victory with that landing in my stocking feet. And it felt good.