go for the gold

Shawn Johnson East On The Weirdness Of Explaining Your Gold Medals To Your Kids

Plus, she’s got an excellent travel tip.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Shutterstock

If you’re an American in your 30s or above, chances are you’re very familiar with Shawn Johnson, the Olympic gymnast who wowed us with her balance beam skills at the 2008 Olympic Games. These days, the former gymnast is a mom of three kids — ages 4, 2 and 6 months — with husband Andrew East, a former professional football long snapper. The couple hilariously document their parenting and partnership journey in Reels on Instagram.

With the 2024 Olympic Games just over a month away, Scary Mommy had a chance to chat with Johnson East about how she’ll be involved with this year’s Games, parenting, and more.

Scary Mommy: What are you most excited to see at the Olympics? What's your schedule for that?

Shawn Johnson East: Crazy. I'm going with my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, and all three babies. We are doing vacation and work in Disneyland Paris and experiencing any ticket we can get our hands on. We're going to just overload the system of doing everything. We don't really have a planned itinerary yet, but we are going to try to get a hold of anything we can when we're there, and we're really excited.

SM: You're going to be commentating on some of that, aren't you?

SJE: Yes. So, after each gymnastics competition, I will be commentating. I won't be commentating on the floor, but I'll do recaps. So, I'll watch each gymnastics competition, do recaps for Yahoo Sports, and then I get to do fun lifestyle pieces about Paris for them, which will be fun.

SM: Have your kids ever been to Europe before?

SJE: We went to Greece last year with our babies, but we haven't done any other places with them in Europe. So, we're doing London, Paris, and then Italy. And we'll be there for almost five weeks.

SM: You're going to have a blast. So, what's your hack for traveling with three little kids, then?

SJE: I have told all of my friends who asked questions about traveling, if you just go into it knowing that it's not going to be easy and that it takes work, and don't expect a vacation, it's a blast. Yes, you have to entertain your kids on the flight, and you have to entertain them for eight hours. It's going to happen, but they thrive.

I have a friend who wants to go overseas so badly with her babies, but she's so scared, and I was like, “Kids thrive.” They want to learn. They're curious and interested, and they want to be included. And I think the more you include them, the better they do. So, the only hack I have is to travel soon and travel a lot.

SM: You're going to put that to the test, I guess, pretty soon. So, what are you the most excited for the Olympics in Paris?

SJE: I am so excited to see the Opening Ceremonies on the river for the first time; I think it is going to be incredible. Seeing all the athletes on boats by country will be a really, really special event. I'm also just excited to see what tickets we can get our hands on when we're there for events. I think it's fascinating to watch as many as possible, and I think it'll be cool to see what our kids gravitate towards. My son really wants to see BMX, which I think will be really special. One of our best friends is actually playing on the USA soccer team, so we're going to try to go down to Marseilles and catch one of his matches. Our kids are really close to him, so that will be special. Then we have a few friends here in Nashville who are Olympians, who are going, as well, with their kids, and it'll just be like a big family vacation. It'll be really cool.

SM: Is that a thing that prior Olympians, do? They just go to the Olympics with their families now?

SJE: This Olympics feels different. I don't know why, but I have heard more people taking their families to Paris. Maybe because it seems more accessible than a China or a Russia or Korea, where all these past ones have been, but a lot of my friends from the Olympics are taking their kids and taking their in-laws, and it's just going to be a really fun family get-together.

SM: That's so fun. So, do you feel maternal over the new Olympians or the people who are now on the Olympic team?

SJE: Yes. Very. I no longer feel like I can relate. I'm missing out not being out there. I'm like, "Oh my gosh. Are you okay? Where's your mind at? Do you need a pancake? Do you need me to sneak you some ice cream? What's happening?"

SM: Do you bring out your medals when it's Olympics time?

SJE: I don't know. I don't know how to navigate it, and it's a conversation my husband and I have been having a lot recently because my daughter asked to watch Mommy's gymnastics last night.

And it's one of the first times she's done that, and it really confused me. So, I don't know how to navigate it. I don't want to push it down their throats. I don't want to feel like they have to live up to that standard or level. I don't want them to think Mommy is anything cooler than just being Mom. I just don't know how to do it.

SM: Do your kids take after you in sports, or you and your husband, or no?

SJE: They're very athletic and they're very active. My daughter's in love with ice skating, not gymnastics. We did the gymnastics thing. She never wants to go back. So, I'm like, "I don't need to push that." My son is just a little motocross, BMX, X-gamer.

SM: How old is he?

SJE: He's 2. It's a thing. Yeah. He rode his bike without training wheels before he even turned 2.

SM: Wow.

SJE: He's a wild, wide-open, fearless, little guy and I try to foster it by just biting my teeth and letting him go wild, but yeah.

SM: That's amazing. So, what do you miss most about competing at the Olympics?

SJE: The team environment. I love so much working day in and day out for a goal finish line. I think, maybe, that's the hardest thing with being a mom is there is no finish line. It's just a lifestyle. So I miss that environment, the competitive environment.

SM: You’re doing the Moment Makers Grant to help with childcare for Olympians, which is such a cool thing. What inspired you to get involved with that?

SJE: I just literally had a dream that I was competing at the Olympics now, and I was like, "I don't know how that's even possible with my children." And I remember having a panicked moment in my dream, and then I woke up, and I was like, "People actually do this. People are actually parents and they're competing at the Olympics," and I can't fathom having to feel like that was at all a burden. I wouldn't want to be worrying about my kids while trying to compete at the Olympic Games.

We have a foundation that we've had for a while. We've just never made it public, of honoring $5,000 grants to anybody, just to hopefully ... In my mind, if there was any Olympian who had a financial worry and had to kind of weigh, "Should I bring my kids to Paris or not?" That is heartbreaking to me. So, I was like, "Let us help you and fix that."

SM: What are your go-to meals at home? Are your kids picky eaters?

SJE: I feel like they're typical toddlers. So, they're not picky and they're picky. It depends on the day. They love fish. They love steak. We don't really like chicken. Don't know why. We don't like chicken. They love pasta. We got sent the Barilla Protein + in a PR box and I thought it was genius. Then they ended up calling, asking for a partnership. I was like, "Yes." It tastes amazing. The consistency is not any different. It's really good and our kids love it. They had an entire box of it last night, but we try to just change it up. We do a lot of veggies. We offer as much as possible. I think my only mom-hack with food with my kids is I do toddler charcuterie boards. My kids call them snack trays. On a charcuterie board, I will put little tiny piles of everything, so veggies, dips, fruits, crackers, gummies if they want it just to put something on there that they know that they love. And if you do little tiny piles of a ton of things, they'll devour it.

SM: That's a really good idea.

SJE: I introduce new foods that way. They don't even know it.

SM: So, is that at meal time or just all the time?

SJE: We have done it for meal times before, if we don't have groceries. If we don't have enough to make a meal, but usually, snack time. It's usually right after nap time in the afternoon because I have a four and two-year-old, before dinner. The 4:00 P.M., we do big snack trays and they love it.

SM: That's such a good idea. I'm going to use that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.