During the summer between the 7th and 8th grade, I remember spending a substantial amount of time in the front yard trying to teach myself how to do a cartwheel. My palms hit the grass time and time again but I was having trouble making myself turnover. I was an athletic teen but gymnastics was not my thing. Gymnastics was like making your body into an amusement park ride, going topsy turvy. That was just not my thing. It made me afraid. I avoided amusement park rides.

I was bound and determined that summer to learn how to do a 360 degree revolution with my body ON PURPOSE during MY free time. Why would I do this?

I did it out of fear of failure. My older brother, John had told me that I would be tested on my ability to do a cartwheel in 8th grade P.E. I was a major achiever. I had straight A’s. I took all of the advanced courses. There was no way that I was going to fail something as simple as a cartwheel!

I don’t know how long it took me but eventually, I was able to get my legs above my head and back down on the ground. It was not a proper cartwheel because I landed on both feet instead of one at a time. And no, it did not look like a round-off, a variation of the cartwheel that ends in a two footed landing. It looked like a slightly defective cartwheel. I was never able to achieve the one-at-a-time footed landing but I figured that I’d perfected a C- cartwheel and had not completely failed.

I went on to 8th grade. Ms. Boone was our teacher. It was unusual for a teacher to go by “Ms.” back then in the 70’s.  She was also the only African American teacher I would ever have in my suburban school district. Ms. Boone had played professional basketball in Italy. Ms. Boone was cool.

She had us do a disco dancing unit instead of tried and true square dancing. I learned the Hustle.

We did a softball unit. I demonstrated my slide into home. I loved doing that. I was one of the only girls who slid and the catcher, almost always a boy, looked so surprised as I plowed right into his shins, forcing him to drop the ball.

Then it happened. She had us do a gymnastics unit with a balance beam, uneven bars, a vault, and everything. Boy, I was terrible. But I tried and I even practiced what I could at home.

I have no memory of how I was graded on that unit. But what I do remember is that I was never asked to do a cartwheel. A headstand, yes.  A handstand, yes. Forward and backward rolls, yes. Cartwheels, not a one.

As I said, I was a high achiever. By the end of the 8th grade, I had received awards for science, music, writing, and yes, even P.E. I had achieved my end goals, excellent grades, evidence of my competence, and the approval of adults.

Yesterday, I was stopped at a traffic light by a city park. I saw a girl who looked 5 or 6 years old do a cartwheel in the grass with a two footed landing. It took a few seconds. But even in those few seconds, I could see the pleasant look on her face, the buoyancy of her movement, and the way she moved on from her cartwheel to another activity without a plan in place.

She was turning her body 360 degrees ON PURPOSE and for fun.

Just because she could.