No Exemptions – No Exceptions!

Playing by the Rules

The Summer Olympics will take place in just two short months, and every time they roll around I am reminded of the 1996 Games.

In case you missed them, here's what happened. As you know, there are several qualifying competitions that take place prior to the Games to determine who gains a spot on the team. Well, apparently just a few days before those preliminary events, America's top two gymnastic hopefuls, Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu, both suffered injuries and, according to their coaches, participating in the finals would have jeopardized the performance of these two star athletes in the actual Olympics. So believe it or not… both girls were simply granted exemptions from having to compete in the preliminary finals!

The reason this has stuck with me all these years is because at the time it was unfolding, I clearly remember thinking to myself – Gee, wouldn't it be great if we could apply that same concept to real life? I mean, just imagine if we busy, stressed-out women could present our own petitions in front of a panel of judges, who would then exempt us from the little stuff so we'd be better equipped to handle the big stuff!

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. Say you've got 50 people coming to your house for a church fundraising dinner. Clearly you're in no condition to prepare a meal for your own family for at least a week prior to the big event. No problem. File an exemption and forget about it.

Or how about this one: Packing your son's things for college takes lots of time and energy, so when your husband complains that he's out of clean shirts, just smile sweetly and explain that you've been granted an exemption from laundry for the whole summer.

Along the same lines, if you're having your foundation lifted on Saturday, you should be exempt from chaperoning the sixth grade Cotillion dance on Friday. And if you're in the midst of planning your daughter's wedding, you should be exempt from everything!

Of course there are potential problems with adapting the exemption system to real life. For instance, how do you know what to ask for an exemption from? Unlike the Olympic Games, with their set dates and times, the events of a woman's life are far too willy-nilly to even schedule an appointment with the exemption committee, much less know what to ask for. And nobody proved this to be true more than my sister Marsha did during that particular summer of 1996!

First, if I recall, her minivan was burglarized. Then the summer camp that two of her four kids were planning to attend called to say that the drought was forcing them to cancel all activities. If that wasn't rosy enough, her 2-year-old broke his thigh bone trying to stand on a basketball, which landed him in a full body cast for eight weeks. Finally her house, which had been on the market for less than a month, suddenly sold. The buyer wanted to move in within three weeks, and Marsha and her husband hadn't even started looking for another place to live.

You can see how any panel of judges would have difficulty determining just which situation warranted the exemption from which situation.

Another potential problem is system abuse. Too many frivolous petitions, if you know what I mean. For every woman who requests a legitimate exemption from hosting bridge club on the morning her washing machine backed up and soaked the carpet, there is also a woman who will file for an exemption from baseball carpool because she started a new diet yesterday and "just isn't feeling quite herself”.

As I gave the matter more and more thought, I finally came to the conclusion that the whole idea of exemptions is actually pretty unfair. A game always works best when everyone is playing by the same rules. No one, especially a mom, is ever given the chance to "just sit this one out”. It's dealing with the small stuff that equips us to handle the big stuff!

Even though they wimped out of the preliminary trials, Shannon and Dominique made the team anyway, but t I've always wondered if perhaps someone else should have had a shot at those two places. Someone like Marsha, for instance. Those Olympic judges would have been mighty impressed with the kind of muscles she was building up by lifting an active toddler in a 40-pound body cast into a grocery cart! A layout Tsukahara with a full-out handspring front twist? Heck, Marsha could've done that in her sleep! (Eat your heart out Bela Karolyi!)

As it was, Shannon and Dominique went on to win a team gold medal, and I'm really proud of them – but not nearly as proud as I was of my sister. She had been dealt a very difficult situation and still managed to triumph over it – only she did it with no media coverage, no medals, and no Star Spangled Banner playing overhead. As far as I'm concerned, it's Marsha and women like her who are the real champions! Don't you agree?

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