Gymnast lost more than her earnings

Sunday, November 1, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Boy, I wish I'd had Dominique Moceanu's lawyer. I'd have given Jeff Hossellman a hickey the size of a basketball. My bedroom would have been full of dirty dishes and empty Dippity Doo jars.

I would never have made my bed or gotten up Sunday morning to go to church. I would have eaten O Henry candy bars for breakfast and pepperoni pizza with extra cheese for lunch. Every day. I would not have worn my retainer on my teeth at night. I would have talked on the telephone 24 hours a day to my girlfriend, Cherie.

In other words, I would have been my own teen-age boss, unimpeded by parental control. I would have been acting my age. But, of course, I had plenty of practice.

Dominique Moceanu went to work as an athlete when she was 3. By the age of 10, she had qualified for the U.S. Junior National Team. When I was 10, I went to my first slumber party. We stayed up all night and drank a Coke with an aspirin in it. We thought it would make us drunk.

We put Sharon Shock's hand in a bowl of warm water after she fell asleep because we thought it would make her wet the bed. And we called Steve Robinson to ask him who he liked.

None of this put us on a Wheaties box, but it sure was fun.

Squandered assets

The Olympic gymnast is no doubt considerably more mature than I was at 17. And braver. I can't imagine telling my father, in effect, that what I did with my life was none of his beeswax.

But then, I can't imagine my father making plans for my childhood in the delivery room that did not include being a kid.

"She looks very strong," Dumitru Moceanu reportedly told his wife, Camelia. "Looks good for a gymnast." He later told a reporter that he was always determined for Dominique to be a gymnast. Just like he was until his mother and teachers made him quit at age 16 to further his education.

"When that happened, I promised myself that when I got married, my first child, whether it was a boy or a girl, would be a gymnast." His first child, at 14 the youngest member of the 1996 Gold Medal Olympic Team, filed a lawsuit Oct. 21 in Houston saying her parents have squandered her money.

And her childhood.

Now 17 years old, she told the Houston Chronicle, "It always had to be about the gym. I would think, "Don't you guys know anything besides gymnastics? Can't we go out for ice cream? Can't you be my mom and dad instead of me being your business?"

A new life

Wednesday, a judge in Houston ruled that Dominique Moceanu, Olympian and family industry, is officially not a child. Maybe she never was. She now can "make any decision about her life that she wishes to make without the approval or consent of her parents."

She has moved into a gated community in Houston, which USA Today reports is "decorated in early Wal-Mart and Target."

Good for you, sweetheart.

Maybe your parents will come over to take you out for ice cream. When they do, I hope they think you have on too much makeup and that your clothes are unacceptable. I hope you play your music too loud. And put up tasteless posters. Watch MTV. And get a puppy. I hope you eat junk food and giggle with your girlfriends.

You have a lot of catching up to do.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call 768-8393, or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio and as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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