My daughter is in gymnastics. Sort of. There is a gym area with a lot of gymnastics equipment that, if she were somewhat older than three years old, she would perform gymnastics upon. As it is, she kind of runs into the equipment, stands on it, hangs from it, or falls off of it. Gymnastics.
We take her there, and she gets led into the room by her “teachers” with anywhere from about 6 to 12 other kids. The parents stay outside of the room, looking in through the glass at what’s going on, and sitting in small, miserable, hard plastic chairs for as much of that hour as our asses can handle. How have they not improved that part of the program yet? I may roll in there next time with one of those folding camp chairs and a pair of binoculars. I’ll lean real close to the glass. Nobody will bother me about it, because the parents have formed their cliques already, and my wife and I are not in any of them. It is as it should be.
We’re out here in these chairs, and the kids are on the other side of the glass being led around by paid experts, in a manner of speaking, and the odd, pet store/lab experiment dynamic is not lost on me. But I am neither disinterested or jaded enough to sit there texting with my head down while my daughter is having the time of her life on the other side of the glass. Some of them do that. I mean some of the parents spend a lot of time texting. I look at that sort of thing and wonder how they don’t see the cliche of modern detachment that they’ve become. How they don’t see it and say “Good Lord, it’s me. I’m one of them. I’ve become that.” After which personal epiphany they would obviously immediately reform their ways, throw their smartphones into the Sound, and build a log cabin with their children. Or maybe they’ll just navigate to StubHub and buy some Sounders tickets, online. WE’RE DOOMED!
Here’s what I like about this place: The kids go in there, and Mom and Dad are done. For the next hour the kids are at the command of the leaders in the room. They have new, different authority to respect. This is not easy for a lot of parents to allow, and even harder for them to watch, but they do it. To an extent. I have never seen one of them bust into the room and interrupt the work one of the teachers was doing, so “good job parents” on that one. But this happens:
One of the kids breaks away from the group – he was never really paying much attention anyway. The teacher tries, of course: “Hey kiddo, come back and join the group. If you need something, you ask me.” She is ignored. But the child is 3 years old, so it’s gonna happen. The part that gets me is mom and dad. They jump up at the first sign of their child’s movement, run to meet them at the door, pick up the kids water bottle on the way, and start in with the “Doo-ya’s.” “Doo-ya need water? Doo-ya need to go potty? Doo-ya have a boo-boo?” Hilarious. Or sad. Yeah, it’s definitely sad.
Last Saturday I sat and watched and I saw my daughter walk over to the teacher. She looked up at her and said something, and the teacher gave a big north-south head nod, and my daughter started walking over towards the door. I can’t see the door from where I am sitting, but I hear it open, and then close, and then I see her come around the corner and scan the room for me. Her eyes brighten just a bit – she’s seen papa. She trots on over to where I am sitting and says:
“Teacher Emily told me I could come ask you for water.”
“Uh-huh. And, um, and she, and – Papa? Can I have some water?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
And she ran over to the cubby where she had put her flip-flops and water bottle before class, took a couple of swigs, and ran back to join the group. I never budged from my chair. The crashes of a half-dozen helicopter moms pressurized and muted the room. Teacher gave her a little high-five on the way through. I gave myself a little high-five, and was probably a little teary-eyed when I mentally accosted the rest of the parents in the room with a “That’s how it’s done, bitches!”
All uber-parenting and self-congratulating aside, it’s like I said up there: Some of the kids really do have the time of their lives in there, because that’s what childhood is. You get to go and have the time of your life every single Saturday. But then it’s over, that wonderful hour, and what do you do? If you’re 3 years old, you go somewhere else and have the time of your life again. Or you take a nap or you throw a fit, but at that age you know that the next “time of your life” experience is never more than a few hours away. As parents, we’re just watching it happen. If we’re watching closely enough, we see that we’re having the time of our lives, too.