I admit it. I enjoy the current meme of putting this image of McKayla Maroney on other photos. I wasn’t all that impressed with George Michael last night, either.
But I also have sympathy for her. Here she is, at the moment she expected to triumph, and that everyone else expected her to triumph, to cement herself as the best vaulter in women’s gymnastics, accepting second best. Of course, second best is pretty darn good. But still, it wasn’t how her story was supposed to end (words that always get us into trouble). And the only one she could be upset with was herself. She was the one who messed up. She’s only 16. It’s the rare teenager who could put a genuine smile on his or her face in that situation.
I was not a rare teenager, either. I was 14. It was at the end of my session at Circle Square Ranch, a Christian horse riding camp in Ontario. I’d spent most of the week in the mildest of romances with a boy — we sat next to each other whenever possible, maneuvered ourselves to be in the same groups, held sweaty little hands now and then. The only thing I remember about him, other than straight brown hair (think early Justin Bieber), was that at one of the evening chapels he sang the theme song of “M*A*S*H,” but changed to lyrics to be Christian in some way. My young heart pounded with love and admiration (now, it’d get an eye-roll).
Mild though the romance may have been, it was recognized and acknowledged by our fellow campers. It was a similar relationship to that of my 3rd grade boyfriend, who I broke up with when he kissed me on the stairs in front of everybody. This camp boy never tried to kiss me, although I may not have minded so much by then.
Circle Square Ranch had what I’m sure they thought of as a charming tradition, an end of the week “formal” dinner. It was required that boys and girls went as dates to this dinner. It was required that boys ask the girls and the girl must say “yes” to the first boy who requested her hand. You may sense where this is going. The right boy got to me five minutes too late. Other kids gasped when they heard about it, so I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a massive disappointment, a violation of how things should’ve gone.
Am I sounding too dramatic? Think back to when you were 14.
But it gets worse. The camp was shooting a promotional video of the dinner. I must’ve stayed for two weeks, because the next week, as a great treat, we got to watch the video. Seeing myself on film has always been galvanizing — the following August, on a family camping trip, my dad brought his newest gadget. He filmed me walking on the beach, from the side, with those grew-tall-too-early rounded shoulders, which I was able to see made me look heavier and depressed. You can thank this experience for my excellent posture.
Lessons learned from the camp video:
1. Do not hunch over my food.
2. Pouting like that only looks good on kids 3 and under.
3. Do not put so much mashed potato in my mouth at one time.
4. To be on the safe side, never allow a photo or video to be taken of me while eating.
5. I was choosing to be miserable — I could easily have chosen to have a fine time with the people at my table.
For the most part, I’ve managed to live by those lessons. This experience may even have been the beginning of my feminist leanings, because, really, the whole only-boys-may-ask-girls-who-must-say-yes was patriarchal and ridiculous, not to mention unnecessary at camp.
So thank you, Circle Square Ranch, for teaching me so many important things, although it was none of the things you intended. Also, just so they feel better, I still remember the memory verse: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.” Which I would now change to “in favor with God and with people.” Forget about making them feel better.