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April 24, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
hoshana, are you ready?”
The little girl has pudgy cheeks, brown stringy hair and a face shiny with tears. She’s sitting next to her brother, Akiva, in a gutted white bus. A layer of pink carpet covers its floor and walls up to the windows. Faded stickers from the Disney movie Cars dot the space between the windows and roof.
Kathy Conner, tall and blonde and wearing a pink jumpsuit, asks if the little girl is ready. Kathy is a director for Gymnastics Express, which has been transporting a small gym for kids to about five to seven preschools a day, four days a week, since 1989. MU gymnast Angie Kern made her debut on the gym bus.
Before Kathy asks her question, her husband, Jeff, a former gymnast, takes the kids through a few warm-ups. “Do the Buzz Lightyear,” Jeff tells the nine preschoolers, “to infinity and beyond.” And the kids lie on their stomachs with their arms and legs extended, as if the pink carpet were a dawn sky.
The Conners split the group, now 11 in total, in two. Several kids amble to the back of the bus with Jeff to the yellow-rimmed plastic basketball hoop. They play with speckled Nerf balls, the tan foam exposed from wear. The rest stay with Kathy, where she has placed two half-moon pads in the shape of an “S.” It forms a broad, winding balance beam.
As the kids move from their last warm-up to their first activity, a sound fills the bus’ cabin. It mingles with the constant noise of the heater and the kids’ bubbly voices. It is Shoshana crying.
Shoshana’s brother, with similar but more defined facial features, presses his lips lovingly against her hair. Kathy picks the little girl up and places her on her hip.
“Shoshana just moved into a new classroom, so I think she’s having a difficult time transitioning,” Kathy says, in a soft, low voice, to Shoshana’s brother. “She never cries on the gym bus, honey.”
“Shoshana, are you ready?” Akiva says. Kathy places the little girl back on the carpet so she could help the other kids on the balance S.
The little girl with pudgy, shiny cheeks shakes her head.
Akiva climbs on top of the S, walks to one end and walks back. He jumps off, clicking his heels in the air. When he gets back to his sister, he kisses her on the head again.
Now, Kathy puts one of the half-moon pads on its curved side. As kids stand in the semicircular opening and try to maintain their balance, Kathy holds them steady.
“Shoshana?” Kathy asks.
The little girl nods. Uneasily, she uncrosses her legs and moves toward the pad, climbing up on it using her hands. In her blue boots, she begins to teeter-totter.
“Now, Shoshana’s being a brave girl,” Kathy says. “Everyone clap for Shoshana.”