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GYMNASTICS CAN EXERCISE THE MIND

He is only 3 years old but seems to have some potential as a gymnast. Part of the potential is in the typical 3-year-old body build, close to the ground with a low center of gravity and energy, energy, energy. He also has the haircut for it, but that is another story. The judgment that he is exceptionally gymnastically advantaged is based on the observations of objective grandparents who enjoy spoiling grandchildren and Andrew's own report of his first gymnastics lesson.

Andrew attended his first class as a visitor with no experience. It is one of the advantages of visiting grandparents in Ephraim for a week or so during the summer vacation. The routine of the class was new to him, but he seemed to go along OK. He mostly imitated what he saw the others doing and seemed to show no fear; being close to the ground must help in this regard. He tried it all. He understood the idea of four single lines at the same edge of the tumbling mat. The idea was that on cue the first four students, one from each line, would do their flips across the mat and then the next four, and so on in four kid waves of cartwheels across the mat.Andrew was at the back of one of the lines waiting for the first signal to go. It was a line that was bound to move slowly because there was a Baker standing in it. When the instructor signaled the first go, the first four in each line did what they were used to doing. But along with the first wave came Andrew from the back of his line, tumbling with reckless abandon. He understood go - and went - causing a tremendous pileup in the center of the mat. The only injuries were the dignities of older gymnasts. It was also necessary for the teacher to explain the when-to-go idea again, even though everyone but Andrew already understood it.

It is because of this collision that I think he has potential as a gymnast. It was spectacular, a possible 10 in the floor mosh exercise. But it was more than the collision itself that showed his potential. "What did you learn in gymnastics today, Andrew?"

"I learned to take turns."

Learning this lesson is good preparation for life and also good evidence that sometimes there are things to be taught and learned besides what is in the teacher's lesson plan. I really think the coach planned to work on technique more than on taking turns.

What Andrew learned will come in handy on the freeway of life that requires each of us to take turns and even to allow others to take a turn they don't deserve. His new knowledge will help him tolerate the inherited economic law of the Bakers: The velocity of any line stood in by a Baker will decrease in direct proportion to the square of the time allowed to run the errand. In other words, "No matter what line you get in at the bank, supermarket, Lagoon, airport . . . that line will cease to move." The corollary to this law also requires education at an early age: "And when you change lines the new line will stop and your previous line will show dramatic movement."

This new skill will also help him cope with his dad's surname, Willmore. By virtue of alphabetic accident, Willmores don't get called on first for much of anything, something teachers should consider. When roll is called, supplies issued, reports assigned, teams chosen, assignments collected . . . the same kids always seem to be last because they were born Zabriskie or Zumbrenan or Willmore. I suppose that this is one of the best arguments for my daughter to hyphenate her last name. Baker-Willmore is way closer to the front of the line than just Willmore. It is for this very reason that I opposed her marriage to Led Zepplin.

It may be laying a lot at the feet of elementary teachers to ask for their help in teaching the courtesies that make living life more pleasant. After all, we are also asking for better readers, more skilled mathematicians, better-informed voters and creative thinkers. Let's make a deal. We will try to help teachers avoid head-on collisions in school by sending them students who know please, thank you, you're welcome and take your turn. All we ask is that teachers remind students of what they have been taught at home about courtesies that should be common.

But since this is the real world, teachers will feel the burden and the pressure of teaching how to get along, as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. And we will know if we are successful teachers and learners the next time someone cuts us off on the freeway. It seems there is a pleasant and an unpleasant response to this experience. And that response is determined by whether we learned to take turns, whether it was really our turn. It seems simple in the abstract, taking turns helps us avoid collisions, on the gymnastics mat, on the freeway, in life.