Yesterday was a bit better, I think. I managed to get through most of the day without having too many thoughts about Princess and Jenna, which in reality means that instead of thinking of them every single moment of the day, I thought about them a bit less than that. The memories have been slightly less painful, but they are still there and still painful none the less.
I think what remains to be the hardest part of the day is coming home. Right now, that house is a toxic haven for memories for me. The moment I see the house as I walk down the street, I begin to see the dogs on the balcony poking their heads through the railing, and hear their paws clicking against the wood deck as they bark and welcome me home from work. And as I walk closer, they begin to fade, only to bring me back to the realization that they no longer exist -except in my memories and in my heart.
Yesterday, coming home was particularly difficult, because my wife had taken Haru to cheerleading practice, so I came home to in empty house. As I opened the front door, the silence was deafening. Usually, I would come home to the sound of the TV blaring in the background, or Haru talking or singing out loud, or to the sound of water running in the kitchen or bathroom, or …to the sound of the dogs clicking their paws on the wood floors of the hallway to see who just walked into the front door. Instead, it was just lifelessness, darkness, and dead silence, and the memories started again, and I began to cry.
This weekend is going to be hell, because it will be one week after their passing, and I already know I am going to struggle with it. Since its a long weekend for me (9 days off from work due to national holidays), I really wished we could just go somewhere far away from this house. But since we didn’t plan anything because of Princess and Jenna’s illnesses, it would be too late to plan anything now. I thought about going out to the summer house in Chiba, but that place would be equally painful for me because we spent so much time out there with the dogs. So in essence, I would feel trapped and imprisoned in my own home with painful memories tormenting every moment that I am there.
I am very angry at myself because I haven’t been able function well in almost a week. Aside from work, there seemed to be no purpose for doing anything. I just wanted to sleep all day, and I feel really bad for feeling this way, and for neglecting Haru. Haru, if you read this someday, I hope you forgive me for those days when you always saw me sad and crying. I shouldn’t let this sadness take over our lives , and I feel really really bad for not giving you more attention, and I promise to make it up to you when I feel better.
Despite the dogs leaving us, we had one really good thing that happened that unfortunately got overshadowed and nearly forgotten. Haru finally FINALLY got chosen to join the advanced gymnastics class! I couldn’t be more proud of her. She actually participated in her first class as an advanced gymnast last Saturday (right before all of this happened). She struggled with it at first because she had gone to her usual class earlier that morning, and was fairly tired by the afternoon. But her new advanced gymnastics coach, which is the same coach she had when she first started out in her kindergarten gymnastics class said that she will do fine once she gets use to the new routines.
Haru will actually be starting advanced gymnastics regularly in November, once she has completed all of her cheerleading events which will take up most of her Saturdays in October.
So out of curiosity, we all wondered why it took the coaches so long to recognize that Haru was ready for the advanced class. I thought that perhaps my wife and I were just being stupid parents for thinking that Haru was better than she really is. Or perhaps the coaches just didn’t see any potential in Haru’s ability, and just thought it’d be best to keep her where she is, or eventually that she might even quit. Or maybe it was because the coaches where just plain stupid and not paying any attention to the fact that Haru was clearly out performing everyone in her class including the much older senior level students. Well, the answer is none of the above.
Apparently, the coaches did recognized Haru a long time ago, apparently back in her kindergarten days. But the reason why she never got promoted to the advanced class was because of one misunderstood comment she made to her gym coach back when she was in kindergarten.
When Haru just started cheerleading a few years back, she use to be so proud of her cheerleading hair ribbon, that she use to wear it everywhere -even to gymnastics class. When her coach asked her what the ribbon was for, Haru said that she is a cheerleader and that she was so busy with cheerleading that she had forgetten to take it off. (which wasn’t true -she just wanted to wear it) Based on that one comment, her coach assumed that Haru would be way too busy to commit to being in advanced gymnastics and passed her up. She assumed that Haru was doing cheerleading several times a week, when in reality it was (and still is -if you don’t count tumbling) only once a week, and in no way would interfere with her schedule if she joined the advanced class.
This all came into realization when Haru attended the nature camp last month with her gymnastics school. My whole intention for Haru to attend that camp was not only to make new friends and have fun, but to also to be able communicate with the coaches in the hopes that they would recognized that she is a good gymnast -and IT WORKED! While at camp, her once was, and soon to be again gym coach approached her and asked how her cheerleading career was going, and Haru responded okay. Then the coach asked, are you still really busy? to which Haru replied, no….it’s only on Thursdays. The coach probably assumed that Haru was a competition cheerleader who practices several times a week and do complicated cheer routines, hence her ability to do skills beyond what is taught in regular gymnastics class. Thus, started a new dialog between us and the coaches and clarifying what Haru’s schedule is really like and how we wondered when Haru would ever move up into advanced gym.
The reason why the coaches what so concerned over Haru’s schedule is because her regular gym class was once a week and 50 minutes per session. Once she moves up, this can go up to 3 times a week and 90 minutes per session. If she moves up further to competition level courses, it can go up to 5 days a week and 3 hours per session. By this point, Haru have to make a commitment and pretty much quit everything else she is doing (including cheerleading and tumbling), and I know she isn’t ready to do that. But for advanced gymnastics, we both have time in our schedules to do it at least twice a week. Three times a week will be more of a challenge, but we will cross that bridge when we get there. So at this point, we are just going to ease in the advanced class to test the waters. If she enjoys it and is good at it, we will see about bumping it up to twice a week, and maybe even more if she wants to.
A couple a weeks ago, Haru’s cheerleading coach announced that there would a few openings in both the Ace and Elite groups. Haru had already spent a year in the Peach group, which is the beginner’s group in which absolutely everyone needs to spend a year in when starting cheerleading. She also spent the following year in the Clover group which is like the novice group, in which they begin to do aerial stunts. Ace is the next group, which is the intermediate group. Along with doing more complicated and fluid dance routines, this group also does more complicate gymnastics skills like round off to back limber, front limbers, and front hand springs -all of which Haru was already doing as a Clover.
Last spring, both the Ace and Elite groups had their spring casting calls. Many of the older girls who graduate elementary school and go onto junior high school tend to quit cheerleading to either move onto competition cheerleading or to join school clubs. This in turn, frees up spots on all levels so that the lower level kids can move up to higher groups. Because Haru had such a hard time remembering her routines, my wife insisted that she get passed up, and spend another year in Clover, but neither Haru nor I were please over this decision, because although Haru tended to struggle during practice, she was always able to bring it together during the shows, which at the end of the day, is what really counts.
Most of Haru’s Clover teammates were promoted to Ace last April, leaving Haru behind to have to work with the newly promoted Peach members, of which many where still in either kindergarten or first grade. At first, I thought this would demotivate her, but this put in her in somewhat of a leadership role, and was often placed in front and center during the shows. Additionally, she was given some small solo tumbling routines during Cheer Fest and Summer Fest which kind of boosted her ego a bit. But despite all of this, there was some degree of noticeable dissatisfaction, and she often talked about wanting to move up to Ace to be with her former teammates again.
I discussed this with my wife and told her that Haru should be free to make mistakes so that she can learn from them and improve herself. Holding her back will only serve to demotivate her and in turn, make her want to quite, especially when her friends are being promoted around her. So after much deliberation, we all agreed that if given the opportunity sometime within the year to be promoted, we would not hold Haru back.
It was only a few weeks after our discussion, we learned that there would be four slots opening up in the Elite group, hence four slots opening up in the Ace group, once the four lucky Ace members are promoted to Elite. Haru desperately wanted to move up. So much so, that she literally talked about it for days. Every time I drove her to tumbling or gymnastics practice, she would ask me, do you think I will be able to move up to Ace? to which I would respond, You can do ANYTHING if you want it bad enough and you put your mind to it. However, moving up to Ace would not be as simple as volunteering this time, as Haru’s cheer coach announced that there would be auditions for the Ace slots.
Apparently, there were more people up for promotion than there were slots available, so Haru’s cheer coach announced that the candidates would need to audition for it. Normally, when there are slots open in the cheer groups, the cheer coach would simply ask who’s interested in moving up. And as long as they were slots available, and the cheerleader wasn’t too horribly bad, they would get promoted without having to jump through hoops (or in this cause, go through an audition). Normally, only the Elite group would require an audition to get in. But since there were more cheerleaders than spaces available, the coach wanted to select only the best of the volunteer.
For the audition, the girls were judged on five different categories: dance ability, tumbling ability, high kicks, concentration skills, and facial expression (smiles). The cheer coach rated the ability to be able smile while doing the routines as being utmost highest priority, so much so, that it has been rumored that a couple of cheerleaders who had extremely good all around mechanical skills could not move up to Elite, because they had a hard time smiling while doing the routines.
We were very confident in Haru’s tumbling abilities, but her other skills were somewhat questionable at times. Her dance skills were good for a Clover, but the Ace’s dance routines were much more complicated so I wasn’t too sure if she was ready for it. But the one thing she lacked the most is the ability to concentrate. Haru is EASILY distracted, to say the very least. If she were able to hold her concentration better, I think she could be so much better at everything. As it stands, she has small burst of instances when she does concentrate well. For her, its like an switch (or more like a broken switch) -either its on or its off. And when its on, it doesn’t stay on for too long. But during that short period she is able to stay very focused, almost to the point where she is unaware of anything that’s going on around her. I only wish that she could apply this to everything she does.
Fortunately for me, I had a business trip on the day of the audition that allowed me to come home a bit early, so I was able to catch the audition. As usual, the coaches didn’t allow parents to be in the room during practice, so we stared in through the glass window. Haru looked very serious. She really wanted to get promoted into Ace. But I noticed that she looked too serious and was not smiling, which means that she could marked down for it So I waved frantically through the glass to get her attention so that I signal to her to smile more. After a few attempts, she got the message and her facial expression lightened up a bit.
The coach made it very clear that they were being tested, so that they can perform their best. Haru was tested on cartwheels (easy), jumps, kicks, dance, and ability to smile while doing it all. From my point of view, Haru was doing well, but I wasn’t too sure exactly what the coach was looking for.The audition ended without mishap, and all we could do is hope for the best.
Haru was antsy during the whole trip home. She kept saying “I didn’t do well. I kept forgetting to smile., but I reassured her that she did very well, and no matter what the result is, if she did her best, that’s all that counts.
I initially thought that the decision would be made the same day, so I kept telling my wife to check her email. But my wife told me that it would probably be about a week before hear back, so both Haru and I were antsy for the whole entire week. Towards the end of week, Haru was beginning to accept the idea of not being promoted. “It’s okay”, she would say,”being in Clover is not that bad.” Or she would say, “Being in Ace would be too much pressure. Clover is easier, but I am going to miss my friends”-referring to the girls who would get promoted.
The week went by, and we still hadn’t heard anything. Haru and I weren’t the only antsy ones at this point. I overheard other mothers asking each other if they have heard any results, but none of them had heard anything.
The following Monday was a holiday. Haru had tumbling practice in the evening, but since it was a holiday, I figured that there still wouldn’t be any word from her cheer leading coach. I slept in for most of the morning, and went down into the living room at around 10:30. Haru and my wife had already been up, and they were both watching TV. As I sat down on the sofa, my wife told me that Haru’s cheerleading coach called with the results. Haru is now officially an Ace! Good Job!
It’s July and the weather has been getting quite warm lately. Funny enough, until last week it rained practically everyday so the temperatures were quite cool. Since it was already July, I was beginning to think (and hope) that it would be a cool summer like back in 2003, when the raining season lasted until almost mid-August, and the summer heat only lasted like two weeks. This is suppose to be the last day of the intense heat and the temperatures should be significantly cooler again tomorrow, partially due to a typhoon scheduled to hit Japan.
Haru has been doing cheerleading for nearly two and half years now and she seems to be really enjoying it a lot. I remember when she first started, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea, nor was I against it. My only condition is that it cannot interfere with her gymnastics practice. Interestingly enough however, cheerleading has not only enhanced her gymnastics skills, it’s literally put her at the top of her gymnastics class. There is no one in her gym class who is even comes close to equaling her, which is why I get a bit irritated and frustrated that she was not promoted to advanced gymnastics last April. As a matter of fact, there were three kids who were promoted ahead of her, who are not that good. Never mind the fact that Haru is better than them, one of the three kids absolutely SUCKS at gymnastics and was still promoted. I have a feeling that she was promoted only because her twin sister who is pretty good, got promoted, and they didn’t want to break up the set (which of course is a stupid reason for getting promoted.) Although Haru felt cheated that she wasn’t able to advance up to the next level, for the most part, she has been in good spirits about it because of her advancements in her tumbling class. Additionally, she is often called upon by her coaches to demonstrate skills that no one else can do, in front of her class. This seems be a key to keeping her motivation up.
Her tumbling coach is really good, and unlike her gymnastics coaches (with an exception of a few), her tumbling coach will actually physically demonstrate difficult skills like the back flip, and front and back handsprings, instead of just verbalizing it. Since Haru responds better to visual instructions rather than verbal instructions, she is able to pick up skills faster from her tumbling coach, as opposed to her gymnastic coaches. And because of this, she has been able to advance to advanced tumbling within six months after starting tumbling, and is quickly catching up (in terms of skills) to the two best girl in the class (who by the way are competition cheerleaders), and earning much respect from her older classmates.
This Thursday, Haru will be up for promotion in her cheerleading class, and will be given a skill assessment by her cheer coach. Previously, when she had moved up from Peach to Clover class, the only criteria is that she’s able to perform well on the Peach team for one year. However, to advance up to the next level, which is the “Ace” Team, the conditions are a bit tougher. She will have to demonstrate superior tumbling skills, concentration skills, dance skills, and do it all with a big happy smile on her face. Haru will have no problem with the smile and tumbling parts, but I am very concerned over her concentration skills, because Haru is easily distracted. She does well on stage, but apparently she has a hard time keeping focused during practice.
Another issue is that she has a hard time remembering her dance routines, and often looks over to the person next to her to make sure she’s getting it right. Again, this seems to be more of an issue during practice than on stage (at least less noticeable on stage). The standards for being promoted to Ace where never this tough, but there are only four slots available, and a quite a few girls are looking to move up.
Haru’s biggest advantage is her tumbling skills. Currently, there is only one girl in Ace who can do a back handspring, and it’s a skill that is traditionally performed by the Ace team during the Cheerleading Festival in the spring. All of the other girls who were in Ace and who were able to do a back handspring have all either quit or moved up to the Elite team, the highest group. So Ace is in desperate need of a cheerleader who can do a back handspring on stage. Right now, Haru is able to a round-off back handspring, which is an Elite skill, nearly perfectly, and is working on her round off double back handspring with her tumbling coach, which is a skill that only a few of the top Elite members can perform.
Haru’s biggest disadvantage is her ability to keep focused. It seems as if her mind is all over the place. Strangely enough, when she is performing on stage, she is very highly focused, to the point where she often forgets to smile, which is one of the highest criterias for being advanced to Ace. It was just the other night during Haru’s tumbling practice, I overheard one of the mothers saying that no matter how well the cheerleader can dance and stay focused, is she cannot do it without a smile on her face, she will not make it into Ace or Elite. This is why the cheerleaders in the Ace and Elite teams always have a big fake looking smile on their faces during the shows.
As much as I want Haru to advance up and succeed, I don’t want this to be a source of stress for her. Although these teams don’t compete, the internal competition amongst the girls is apparently pretty harsh. Many of the older girls take it VERY seriously, and although I have never seen bashing or bullying in her cheerleading class, apparently it does happen but in a subtle way. I have seen Haru become a victim of some very subtle bashing amongst the older kids when she first started in her tumbling class (probably because she was new and one of the youngest), but she has since become so much better than the girls who had bashed her, the respect from the other older kids has completely overwhelmed the bashing, and they have become completely irrelevant.
Another year and another CheerFest has gone by, and as usual it was extremely exhausting for everyone. Last year, the event organizers did a horrible job with crowd control. Despite the fact that we were practically first in line, we weren’t given our choice of free seating. We were basically seated wherever the ushers told us to be seated, and that was pretty random. I wouldn’t have minded this so much if it weren’t for the fact that the people who spent much less time in line than we did, were ushered to better seats, thus aggravating those like us, who spent 2 hours or more hoping to get a good location.
This year was a bit different. Although the organization was still a bit poor, this year it was completely free seating. First come, first served. For me, this was great news, because I don’t mind lining up early as long as we are guaranteed first come first served seating. So like last year, I started lining up two hours before the doors opened, and I was FIRST in line.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, people started queuing, and about 30 minutes after that, the line was already out into the streets. Then the event coordinator did the unthinkable. Instead of what was a double file line, the event coordinators brought people from the bottom of the line and line them up next to me. I was furious! Do these people know what they’re doing?? At that point, I decided that I wasn’t going to have a repeat of what happen last year, and that the event coordinators will not dictate where we choose to sit. I am going to make absolute sure that I am going to sit where I choose to sit even if it means totally bypassing and ignoring the ushers.
At precisely 12:30PM, the doors open and the crowd rushed in with us still at the front of the line. Then the stupidity and disorganization struck again. As we got closer to the auditorium door, the event coordinators stopped us again at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the entrance doors. The event organizers then announce that the cheerleaders will be rehearsing until 1PM and that we had to wait until they clear the auditorium. If they knew that the girls were rehearsing until 1PM, then why bring the audience halfway in and have us wait another 30 minutes until they were ready?? By that time, people were getting restless and started cutting in front of others in line. I predicted that as soon as the coordinators gave the okay sign, everyone would rush to the top of the stairs as if were a horse race, and quite possibly someone might be injured.
At 1pm, the doors to the auditorium finally opened and surprisingly we all slowly proceeded to the top of the stairs in a very controlled and orderly fashion. When we reached the door, I noticed that there were no ushers in the auditorium randomly telling us where to sit like last year. It was truly free seating, so I rushed to a spot where I know I could get a fairly clear view with little obstruction. Although it wasn’t totally obstruction-free, it was good enough.
Hearties Jr. were first on the roster, so initially we thought we’d watch Haru’s team perform, and then go home. But as the show proceeded, it got harder and harder to leave because there were so many people there, and because we thought it might be bad to yank Haru away from her cheerleading friends, who were all watching from the upper deck of the auditorium.
Fortunately, the decision to stay was a good one, because I actually won a canvas bag during the raffle at end of the show. So overall, it was a good show. Haru performed really well and even nailed her solo routine.
This month marks the eighth year since I started writing about Haruka’s story. So far, its been great, and I look forward to many more years writing about the events in Haruka’s childhood.
Around this time last year, Haruka attended her first ski trip at Camp Luck. We were planning to send her again this year, but her friend from kindergarten whom she planned to go to camp with again, decided not to go. Haru didn’t want to go alone, so she decided not to either. Luckily she was able to go skiing a couple of weeks ago with her second cousins, otherwise she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ski this year.
Haru has decided that she longer wants to do swimming classes. This is probably due to the fact that her friend and rival, Yuka S. was promoted to higher level class ahead of her. Haru wasn’t very happy about been left behind, so she decided that she she didn’t want to swim anymore. I really didn’t like the “I can’t so I quit” attitude and I offered to help her pass her next swim test so that she could moved up to the same class that Yuka is in, but she refused. She said that even if she passed the swim test, she still wanted to quit.
Swimming was never too high on Haru’s interest list. She only took the class because my wife felt that it was important for her to learn to swim. But I guess over the months, Haru has become somewhat “proud”, and didn’t like the fact that she wasn’t progressing as quickly as the others. After having thought about it for several weeks, she finally decided that she would continue swimming until she is able to swim freestyle.
In contrast, Haru has been skyrocketing passed her classmates in both gymnastics and tumbling and her interest level has climbed quite a lot. Naturally, when a child is good at something, and kicking the other kids’ butts doing it, she is going to enjoy doing it more. She has even asked if she could take gymnastics twice a week (on top of her usual once a week Saturday morning class). However I told her that her schedule is already overloaded with extra curricular activities, so she should really either consider giving up one of her other classes, or really think about this carefully.
Three of the top cheerleaders in Haru’s tumbling class quit last week in order to pursue other activities. This now effectively puts Haru in the top 3 (in my opinion, she is probably in the top 2) which is amazing progress. This means that her tumbling coach will probably progress her onto much harder skills ahead of the rest of the class.
Haru began her tumbling class about six months ago. At the time, it seemed like everyone in that class was better than her. These girls were really serious about being good at both tumbling and cheerleading, so I told Haru that is she wanted to be as good as these girls, she would have to practice hard.
Well, after only six short months, Haru has surpassed all of them and was promoted up to the next level: the advanced tumbling class. Just to see what she was getting into, we audited (attended without participating) one of the advanced tumbling classes, and it was pretty amazing.
I thought that the girls intermediate glass were serious, but they look like total children compared to what the girls in the advanced class were doing. The best girl in the class (a member of the elite Funky A’s cheerleading team) was doing, round offs, double back handsprings, and back tucks. It will be quite a while before Haru catches up to her, but it will definitely be fun watching her try.
Every since Haru started gymnastics, I have always made it a point to try to get to her school at least 30 minutes before the class begins. When she was in the kindergarten gymnastics class, that usually meant that we were always the very first ones there and we had the gym all to ourselves. However, now that Haru is in the elementary school age class, no matter how early we get to the gym, there always seems to be someone who gets there earlier than us. Most of these kids get there to do stretches, or train on their own. I usually take Haru there early so we can do my own routine of stretches that are a lot more stricter and harder than what Haru gymnastics class offers.
For a while, no one really seemed to care whether we were there or not. In essence, we were completely ignored by the other kids as if we were completely invisible. Haru and I would just grab a corner in the gym and we would conduct our pre-class workouts and no one would really care or notice.
However, when Yuka joined last month, I also started training Yuka in much the same way I would train Haru before class, and lately Yuka has been really doing well. She is already surpassing many of the older kids on the high bars and vault, and it’s only a matter of time she will also surpass the other kids on the mats as well. So every Saturday morning, Yuka’s mother would bring Yuka in about the same time Haru and I would arrive and begin our own stretching routines. But unlike before, we are beginning to grab the attention of some of the other kids, more specifically the girls in Haru’s class who are serious about becoming good at gymnastics. One girl in particular, who is about the same age as Haru, tries to join in our workouts. I don’t really mind that she joins in, as a matter of fact, I do welcome it. However, I am not really a gymnastics instructor of course, and I am just using stretching routines that I used when I was doing karate in high school, and they are pretty intense. There were a few times when I even made Haru cry because some of the stretches are so painful. So naturally inflicting the same amount of grueling punishment on a child whom I barely even know would not be good. So usually, I just let her watch us and emulate what we do, but for both Yuka and Haru, or my “A” Team, I actually push them into ungodly positions to get them to stretch themselves.
I also briefly did gymnastics as kid, and I was really good at tumbling, but not so good at everything else. Although Haru surpassed my abilities a long time ago, I still know the techniques on how to do many of these skills, so I am able to teach Haru how to do the skills, without physically being able to them myself. As a matter of fact, many of the floor or mat skills and bar skills were taught by me, not her gymnastics class, hence, she is far better and further along than the other kids. I have also been trying to get Yuka up to speed well, but since I only have 15-20 minutes a week to to teach her, I often give her “homework” which means that she needs to go home and practice everyday, which she apparently does according to her mother.
Right now, I am training Haru to do the back handspring. This particular skill is like the holy grail skill for beginner to intermediate gymnasts. People who want to do gymnastics usually want to do it because they want to be able to do either a back handspring or a back tuck. It’s not a particularly difficult skill to master (although I can’t do it), but it is a somewhat VERY terrifying skill to learn because you are essentially doing a back dive onto your hands, and then pushing off of it. And while you are doing this skill, everything in your head is telling you to STOP because you’re going to land on your head and break your neck, and your body autonomously reacts accordingly to try to protect itself. Therefore about 25% of learning the back handspring is about training your body the proper method and technique, while the remaining 75% is training your mind to get over the fear of jumping backwards onto your hands. This is why it takes so long for a lot of people (especially older kids) to learn. Unless you have complete control of fear, the older you are the more harder it is because of the fear factor.
Last Saturday, after we completed her usual pre-class stretches, we practiced some back handsprings on the firmer tumbling mats. At about the same time, one of the older boys (going by his size, probably a sixth grader), was also practicing back handsprings on the other side of the gym while watching Haru and me. I hope he doesn’t ask me to spot himtoo, I thought to myself. He is only a bit smaller than me so there is no way I would be able support his weight. Haru was already a handful. At that point, one of the newer instructors came down, and the boy rushed over to his side and asked the instructor to spot him as he practiced his skills. He had obviously been practicing quite a bit because his handsprings were really good. The instructor took the boy over to the trampoline where the boy practiced his back handsprings. Haru and I continued to use the mats which were admittedly difficult to use, because they weren’t soft enough to serve as a cushion, and not quite hard enough to get a good solid jump off of. Seeing this, the instructor asked us if we wanted to use the trampoline, so Haru, with the assistance of the instructor, Haru was able to train on the trampoline and got some free tips on how to make her handsprings better. The instructor then commented that Haru probably can do a back handspring on her own, but she needs to get over her fear first.
Training Haruka to the back spring has been a challenge to say the least. She already has a fear of hitting her head, probably because when she attempted it while back, she did hit her head. But since she was doing it on our bed, there was no real bodily harm done. Over the last 6 months, between her cheerleading tumbling coach and me, Haru got some really good training on her method and technique. When supported, she has really good form, but when she attempts to do it by herself, she freezes up and she is unable to overcome the fear to be able to jump backwards onto her hands. But last Monday, we finally made a breakthrough. Haru managed to scrape together enough courage to be able to attempt a back handspring without support. Although it wasn’t the best of form, it was the best attempt to date. Now its just a matter of cleaning it up a bit to make it look like a proper back handspring.
Haru also has been doing really well in tumbling as well. She’s been doing it for less than six months now and she is already in the top 2 in her class. I already knew that she was the best in her class, but now it’s not just my opinion, because her tumbling coach confirmed it the other night when he told me that if Haru is able clean up her back walkovers so that her legs are much straighter when she does them, Haru will move up to the advanced tumbling class with one other girl. This will be a serious step up, because most of the girls in advanced tumbling are much older and very good. They are the “aces” and “elites” of the cheerleading team, so it was definitely nice to hear that Haru is doing well enough to join the best.
Still needs work, but here is Haru’s first attempts at a back handspring without any support from me.
Last Sunday, Haru performed her cheer routine in public for the first time as a member of the “Clover Team” (a promotion from the previous “Peach Team”.) Although her routine wasn’t without it’s mishaps, there were no noticeably huge mistakes. I think the only people who really noticed was my wife and me.
For some reason, Haru was particularly excited about performing this year -so excited that she invited most of the neighborhoods kids, and some of her kindergarten classmates to come and watch. I didn’t see any of the neighborhood kids in the audience; this might be due to the fact that Haru gave them the wrong location, or perhaps they didn’t try to come at all. But, three of her former classmates did show up and watched Haru’s cheer in the audience.
Unlike last year, the weather wasn’t too hot. In fact, it was much cooler than normal which was good for Haru and her fellow cheerleading teammates. But as usual, the Hearties Junior cheerleading event was by far the most popular event of the day -far more popular than the magic show (although I did get a kick out of it when the “magician” dropped all of his magic balls that “mysterious” seem to change colors at the wave of the hand, revealing the secret to the trick), -far more popular than the senior citizen singing quartet, -far more popular than the other cheerleading teams and hip hop dancers, -even more popular the 50+ year old Flamenco dancers. Hearties Junior really pack the audience in, like they did last year, to the point where they had to extend the spectator area again like they did last year when I lost my perfect unobstructed view of the stage and ranted about it on this very site.
This year, I was prepared! I had a better lens for my camera (my Disneyland “Go To” lens that does everything -presumably), although its not quite the lens I would liked to have used, it did its job. And when they moved that rope that held the spectators back, closer to the stage like they did last year, I was able to get right up their before all of the people started piling in. So I was front row center, no obstructions what-so-ever. The only issue was that perhaps I was too close, because the cheerleaders who were in the front row (where Haru was) was now literally three feet away from me. I didn’t want to make Haru nervous, but she didn’t seem too phased by me being so close and visible. Haru’s friends Sakura and Yuka S (Haru’s personality twin and kindergarten rival). were also in the front row and a few feet away from me, watching the event. At times I could hear them shouting “Look! There’s Haruka. Go Haruka!” I was a bit concerned that this may also make her nervous, but Haru confidently waved back and smiled.
Haru’s debut as a Clover went well. No major mistakes, no falls, and no nervousness. There’s still some kinks that she needs to work out of her routine, but not a bad performance at all.
Haru started her elementary school level gymnastics classes last month. Initially, I was contemplating moving her to a different school because I was not very satisfied with the lessons she was receiving from her current school. There were a quite a few unruly kids whose seemingly only purpose for being there is so that their parent(s) can get an hour to themselves to text message or play games on their phones. They obviously didn’t care whether their child can do a round off or cartwheel, but rather how good the signal quality in the gym was. Personally, although it was admittedly annoying to see these parent(s) more engulfed in what was being displayed on their phones rather than what their own kid was doing, I didn’t care too much about what they did. For each is own. However, I get thoroughly annoyed when these disruptive kids take up valuable lesson time from the other kids when the teacher has to chase them around the gym, or when they are assigned a private instructor (which isn’t free according to their own homepage) for free, and to just make sure that they don’t run around and climb on the equipment. It takes away so much from the kids who genuinely want to learn and become good at what they do.
I thought that moving up into the elementary school level classes would change all this, and for the most part it has changed somewhat. Since this class goes from first grade all the way up the sixth grade, I figured that there would be some kids who would be really good -I mean near competition level good, but unfortunately the older kids aren’t that much better than Haru. As a matter of fact, in a matter of a few weeks, she has pretty much come very close to what the sixth graders are doing, and to some respect, she can do more than they can do. Normally, Haru should be in the first grade group, but she is in the second grade group, and she still out performs everyone in her group. The next level is the third grade and up group, but since the kids are physically so much bigger than Haru, I think the instructors are reluctant in advancing her up another age group. So for now, I am just going to wait it out…after all, it’s only been a month.
Every third Sunday of the month, Haru’s cheerleading class holds a special tumbling class for girls who want to improve their tumbling skills. The tumbling coach is really good and pretty much taught Haru all of her tumbling moves. This coach also has his own tumbling classes on Monday evenings. Haru has been wanting to go to his tumbling class, but it had been full for a long time, plus its held pretty late in the evenings, so my wife would have had a hard time taking her. This month, some students advanced up into the advanced classes, leaving a couple of openings in the classes. I thought this would be a really good opportunity for Haru to advanced her skills and give her a better chance to finally overtake even the older kids and move up in her gymnastics class.
Since my work schedule is pretty flexible, I am able to come home fairly early now and take Haru to the tumbling classes, so it was a done deal. We signed Haru up for tumbling classes once a week every Monday. The only drawback is that parents are allowed to watch only on the fourth Monday of the month, which I thought was a strange policy, but its perfect because my gym is only two blocks away. This gives me an opportunity to workout and get free parking (since free parking comes with gym membership), while Haru does tumbling. Its a win-win for everyone!
This is a video of what Haru was doing in class. She was the only one in her gym class to be able to do this. In contrast, almost everyone in her tumbling class can do this. Although still not perfect, she is improving everyday.
Last Sunday, Haru participated in her second cheerleading festival. The first one took place last year around this time. The cheerleading routine that she had practiced with her teammates for the last several months was much more complicated than it had been at previous events, and included two complicated tumbling moves: a cartwheel, and a one-handed cartwheel (something Haru had mastered only recently). This routine, as it turned out, was more longer and more complicated than some of the routines performed by cheerleaders on other teams who are nearly twice Haru’s age.
Haru had initially struggled with learning the new routine. They had been practicing it for nearly 3 months and at almost every practice. My wife had videoed one of her practices so that she that could watch the routine and practice at home. Two weeks prior to the performance at CheerFest, Haru would practice at home every night, but seemed to not get the routine down, making mistakes with her timing and direction.
Her mid-routine acrobatics where not consistent either. At best, she would nail the one-handed cartwheel only 80% of the time. The other 20% resulted in landing on her knees, or her side, or not being able to do the move at all. So I took her to the gym an hour early prior to every Saturday gymnastics class to make her practice her acrobatics. As we got closer to Cheer Fest day, she made some steady improvements, but still lacked consistency.
On the last cheerleading practice prior to the big event, the day when Haru should have the entire down pat and should not be making any mistakes, she blundered big time. Apparently, she did a front roll instead of doing a cartwheel. This frustrated my wife, and concerns grew over whether or not Haru would be able to pull this off without any mishap.
So pretty much every night from the last night of practice to Cheer Fest Day, we made Haru practice her routine. When she messed up (which was still way too frequent considering the time she had left to get it perfected) we made her start from the beginning. Sometimes she would have to repeat the same move 7 or 8 times or more. As her unofficial gymnastics coach, I was stickler getting her acrobatics looking perfect. However, at this point she had more serious issues with staying in time with the music. She would often move much faster than the timing of the music, which was VERY noticeable in the practice video. She looked out of step, and out of tune with the rest of the team, as if she was doing a different routine entirely, or listening to different music with a different tempo. So, rather than focusing on whether or not her legs are perfectly straight when doing her cartwheels, or if she raised her arms properly after she finished, my wife and Iconcentrated on slowing down her tempo and get her to actually listen to the music and dance to the beat.
It was difficult. It seemed that she lacked the fundamental concept of rhythm and was pretty much beating to her own drum (almost literally). But when we clapped or counted the steps while she danced, she was able to keep the beat. Of course, when she actually does the routine, no one is going to be there counting or clapping for her, so we told her that its okay if she counts out loud even on stage, since no one will hear or notice her doing it. After several attempts, she was able to stay on beat when she counted out loud.
On the morning of Cheer Fest, we made Haru go through her routine one last time. Despite her counting out loud, she was still too fast and stepping out of beat. Ugh…no more time left to practice and she is still not getting it. I sat her down and I told her to just relax and not to worry, and that this was not a competition but just a show. I also told her not to worry about making mistakes and just to smile a lot and have fun. I suspected that perhaps she was too nervous and stressed from the pressure, and that she just needs to relax and get into her zone. She is usually very good on stage so perhaps, she’ll do better once she is on the stage with rest of her team….one could only hope.
We arrived in Kawasaki early in the hopes that we could be close to the stage. I was still struggling with getting my new zoom lens to take good pictures, and I was still getting blurriness, so I wanted to get as close as possible so that I can get good clean shots. The rules for the spectators were a bit stricter than the previous year. Last year, basically it was first come first serve. But apparently this allowed for the people in the front of the line to go in, block off, and save several seats for friends and family members who would arrive much later. So what looked like rows of empty seats, were in reality rows of saved seats for people who would come in an hour or two later, stay for a few minutes to watch their friend or family member perform, then leave -leaving the seats unoccupied once again. This year, the rules state that there would be no seat saving. If you want a seat, you need to be in line or risk not having a seat if you arrive much later. But at the same time, you would be seated in the order you were in line. So, it wasn’t truly free seating, but more like priority seating, with the priority given to those who lined up first. This all sounded great on paper, but in practice, it turned out to be a complete disaster.
Since I was still not quite used to my snazzy new zoom lens, and I wanted to get a seat relatively close to the stage, I did what any other diligent spectator who wanted good seats would do; I lined up early -two hours early to be exact. There were already about 20 people in line ahead of us, so at this rate, we were pretty much guaranteed an unobstructed front row view of the event, or so I thought. Because of the silly new “no seat saving” rule that the event coordinators had put in place, people resorted to cheating the rules, and families would select one person to stand in place for them in line. There may have been a “no seat saving” rule in place, but there was no “no place saving” rule in place. So what looked like only 20 people ahead of us, was in reality 20 “families and friends” ahead of us. As the the event neared, we were gradually pushed back further and further in line, as friends and family members who could not be bothered to stand in line like diligent people like me. Every few minutes it would be “excuse me, my family is up front and we need to join them”. It eventually got so bad that people like me, who had arrived early fore the sole purpose of securing a good seat, were pushed back to about the fifth or sixth row, which was still not so bad, but aggravating none the less. But eventually, the line coordinators caught wind of the injustice, and started blocking late arrivers from rendezvousing with their “place savers”. Any late arrivers was automatically pushed back to the end of the line, which at this point consisted of at least a thousand or more people ahead of them.
The doors finally opened at around 12:30PM. We were siphoned in a very orderly fashion in an effort to keep the ordering the same, so that no one complains that they were separated from the rest of their family. The coordinators where pretty serious about maintaining the order of the line, otherwise people would try to cut ahead and try to get better seats. We calculated that we would be in the fifth row toward the right of the theater, which was perfect since Haru was (stage left) or “theater talk” for the right side of the theater. However, of course things like this never goes according to plan. There would always people who “didn’t know about or hear about the new rules” or for one reason or another, didn’t want to be where they were being seated. The people in front of us where precisely those type of people, and complained and put up a big fuss to the ushers that about how they didn’t like where they were being placed. Since the ushers were trying to siphon in 1000+ people in a single file line (which is insane to begin with) these people where causing a serious delay in seating, because until they accepted their seating arrangements and sat down, no one else could be seated. There were hundred of people standing in the aisles waiting for this one family to sit down, and it was getting very frustrating.
Eventually the inevitable happened. The family that effectively and single handedly caused a 10-15 minute gridlock and delay in an otherwise very structured and orderly seating process, where given the seating arrangements that they wined and moaned about to the ushers and event coordinators. This was bad..VERY bad, because it set off a huge chain reaction of people wanting the same treatment. The grandmas, grandpas, and other friends and family members who didn’t quite make it before the line coordinators started putting late arrivers to the back of the very long line, started requesting demanding that they also be allowed to sit with their family members in the front rows, despite having stood in line for only a few minutes, compared to the 2+ hours we stood in line in the attempt to secure seats in the same general area. At this point, my blood pressure was at about about to explode. I was mad, and I wasn’t the only one. The people sitting next to and behind us started yelling out loud at the ushers. What was the point of standing in that stupid line if you are just going to let anyone sit any where they want? They screamed. I was sympathetic; I was more than sympathetic! I was so much in agreement with them that I joined the protest, as people who were obviously not in line with us, hence much further back in line, began sitting in seats in front of us obstructing my view of the stage.
A few minutes later, the event coordinators made it very obvious that they had completely lost control of the seating process by announcing over the PA system that the seating was now completely free, and people could basically sit wherever the wanted. The event soon went into complete chaos mode, as people vigorously rushed to change seats to be united with family members or be closer to the stage. Ironically, this opened up the seats in front of us because apparently “stage left” was not very hot real estate in terms of seating at this particular event. But it was really good for us. Now we have a relatively unobstructed view of the stage.
There were 14 teams participating this year. There were some familiar names like the Kawasaki Angels, which was home turf for them. And of course the unforgettable Funky A’s and the Atsugi All Stars who are in a league of their own. The Hearties Junior were number eight on the event roster, so it would be another hour or two before Haru’s team made their appearance.
It seemed as if most of the teams have stepped up their game. Even the kindergarten level teams were using complex routines and acrobatics, which they didn’t do last year. It seemed as if this event is slowly but surely becoming an unofficial competition of who looked more awesome. Of course there were still teams who just stuck with the basics, but I noticed that they were not getting too much attention from the spectators, as many were using the time as an opportunity to take a restroom break.
Haru’s team appeared about two hours later. They were one of the first teams to appear with a stepped up routine. Last year when Haru’s team participated, they had a fairly simple and short routine -simple music, no acrobatics…and you could hear some people in the audience say “how cute” because they were the youngest participating team. This year was different, there were a lot of wow’s and gasps of amazement as the cheerleaders incorporated much more gymnastics and dance moves, instead of just the pom pom waving, and cheer chants.
I was a bit nervous. I was already expecting mistakes. Getting the rhythm wrong was a given, but I also saw many cheerleaders stumble, fall, completely miss ques, etc. on the other teams. I even saw one girl miss her cartwheel, and burst into tears as she left the stage with her team. At this point, I was just hoping Haru wouldn’t fall and hurt herself like this girl did. Knowing Haru, something like that would be an absolute travesty to her. It would be a career ending event for her. I could already hear her saying that she never wants to cheer again.
Haru appeared on stage with a big smile on her face. She was already taking my advice to not worry and to just have fun, and that was exactly what she was doing. I zoomed in with my camera to see how she would execute the part that she constantly messed up during practice and at home. I counted out loud as she did the move. Up one, up two, up three, and up four…down one, down two, down three, and down four…she did it with perfect timing…no mistakes so far! Next it was the regular cartwheels…executed perfectly. Next came the heel (a move where she would straightened leg towards her head while trying to maintain balance) -a little hop but her leg was perfectly straight compared to the other girls who had bent their knees a bit. Next the came one handed cartwheel. I couldn’t bare to look! An ever so slight kink in her leading leg, but nearly perfectly done! It was like watching and Olympic figure skating or gymnastics event in that you know if all of the complicated stuff is done, you’re home free. She completed the routine with very little mishap. If I hadn’t watched the practice video and know where her weak points I would have never have noticed the very tiny and insignificant errors that she did make. She did so much better on stage than she did in practice, which is the way it should be.
Shortly after the presentation by the Hearties Juniors, came the much anticipated Funky A’s. Last year, they made a presentation that was no less than amazing. There were small team of maybe about 4 or 5 junior high school to high school aged girls, but their aerobatic presentation set them apart from the other teams by light years. However, this year they were a bit disappointing. I don’t what it was, but they seemed unimpressive compared to the team I saw last year. Perhaps it’s because the other teams had stepped up their routines and aerobatics so much that they pretty much matched what the Funky A’s were doing.
There was one team that kept ahead of the pack -far ahead of the pack, and that was the Atsugi All Stars. They were really good last year, but this year, they really out did themselves. The performance by their top tier team was near professional grade, almost something you would see in a cheerleading competition or a professional sporting event. I think the main difference between the All Stars and the other teams is that the members of the All Stars a far more dedicated to cheerleading than the others. For example, the Hearties meet only once or sometimes twice a week at best to practice for shows done 4 or 5 times a year. The All Stars most likely meet everyday and not only perform at more shows, but also compete, so they tend to be more competition grade cheerleaders.
Haru will move up from the “Peach Team” to the “Clover Team” starting next month which means that she will need to step up as well. There will probably be more pressure to work harder and perfect her moves. Hopefully she is ready for it because, I think the Clover team will be much more competitive than they have been from the looks of it.