When I was six I had aspirations only a six year old could sincerely have. The prefrontal cortex is incredibly immature in six year olds (in anyone under the age of 18 and some studies suggest up to the age of 25, actually) and this immaturity leads to terrible, terrible decisions. To put it simply, there’s a reason why six year olds shouldn’t work, drive, vote, smoke, and drink. There’s a reason why six year olds should have a caretaker at all times, be allowed to make minimal decisions, and never be allowed to handle anything more dangerous than safety scissors. That reason is their immature prefrontal cortexes, the rest of their immature brains, their immature bodies, and basically their immature, dumb, six year old selves. And as far as six year olds go, in the summer of 2000, I earned the gold medal for six year old stupidity.
That particular summer, Sydney, Australia played host to the Olympic Games. As I’m sure you well know, Olympic athletes are the super heroes of the world for one short month every four years.
But what a month it is.
They’re on cereal boxes and Firestone commercials, spokespersons for Subway and on the covers of magazines, the stars of the 10 o’ clock news and endorsers of Nike, they pretend they eat McDonald’s for a cool half a million and drink Red Bull because it gives you wings! Yes, for one month they not only look like gods and goddesses, they are gods and goddesses. And my six year old self would have died to be among them.
My favorite gods and goddesses of all were the gymnasts. I loved watching them fly gracefully through the air, perch themselves precisely on the mat like doves, and spread their wings triumphantly at the sound of applause. I loved gymnastics and I so terribly wanted to be a part of it. But, like I already mentioned, six year olds don’t make important decisions. So, when I asked to be a gymnast, my parents decided instead of enabling me to partake in monkey-type activities, they should keep meals on the table instead. And one day, between the meals being on the table, I made the bold decision to show off the Olympic-level gymnast moves that I in no way possessed.
Picture pine cabinets everywhere. White walls with speckles of pastel colors. Floral sofa, floral couch, floral chairs. Forest green carpets. Everywhere. A curly headed, overly confident, six year old, standing on the garage-sale-deal kitchen table, singing the Olympic theme song. Visualize all of this, and you, my friend, are about to witness a hilarious, albeit humiliating piece of my childhood unfold.
I had gathered my two siblings, my mom, my stuffed animals, and an imaginary crowd of millions to watch my epic, never before performed, backflip. I belted the Olympic anthem three times over (stalling), stretched my legs repeatedly (stalling), and made my own color commentary about what a risky move I was about to perform and how impressed the world would be if my attempt was successful (stalling). And then, when my brother and sister threatened to leave the audience if I didn’t do something entertaining in three seconds, I made a literal leap of faith.
And face planted into the carpet. Hard.
I’d like to tell you that my Olympic gymnast dreams were knocked out of me, but looking back I think all that ridded itself of me were tears and sense. I continued my stunt work, believing that I was leaping, somersaulting, and tumbling my way to greatness. When instead I was leaping into an unnecessary broken pinky, somersaulting into a near concussion, and tumbling down a stair case. In the end, my six year old aspirations began to vanish. I no longer dream of making it into the Olympics. I no longer climb up on the kitchen table to master a new athletic feat. I no longer dive senselessly through the air, pretending that a metal beam will meet my hands or that a narrow balance beam will meet my feet. I no longer even bother with cartwheels. But I do miss pretending that Bob Costas is bragging about me on NBC news. And I do miss the glory days of 15 years past.