Ok, maybe it doesn't suck. Ok, maybe it does.
Whether it sucks or not, I've bought in. Sort of. J and I have signed on for a bunch of classes this summer that involve him flinging his body around a padded cell of primary colors, bopping around to music that makes my back teeth hurt, and frolicking on this enormous parachute-thing that never fails to elicit my "Ew, Bacteria" face when it is pulled out.
But we're doing it. Why you ask? Well, with M, I remember doing baby yoga, music classes, water babies (a lot of good that did), and more. She was my first and I was determined to make the most of those precious first years. Plus, let's face it, I had a lot more time on my hands.
With J turning 18 months I realized that I wasn't really putting forth the same effort that I did with M. It suddenly became clear. I needed to get with the program and start indoctrinating him into the time-worn tradition of Forcing Your Kids to Do Lame-Ass Shit. I needed to get him out there and expose him to some other kids with neurotic, suburban moms that feel like they always need to be doing SOMETHING.
And there we were. A class of about 10 kids about J's age -- 18 months. Running, jumping, screaming, spreading germs...J kind of watched. (He's one of those kids that surveys the scene to see if it's worthy of his time and energy. Not the jump-right-in type.) Then the teacher called everyone to the center by shaking a tamborine. The experienced Gymboreerers froze and immediately ran to the middle of the room. It was like little, wobbly mice sprinting toward cheese. A few of them face-planted during the frenzy.
Our first activity was a mini-obstacle course that involved a number of padded tunnels the kids were expected to crawl through (see, I wasn't completely off base with the mouse comparison).
No kid wanted to climb through the weird padded tunnel. No mom was willing to NOT have her kid climb through the weird padded tunnel. So there we were trying to coax them through using the often-used, but never-effective High-Pitched Voice Technique. "Come heeeeeere, sweetie! Come to momma!"
The first kid finally made it through after his mom dangled something to eat (or maybe it just looked like something to eat) on the other end of the tunnel (again, mice). The second kid was not having it, but his mom was a fighter. She just kept it up at the other end. Her voice got higher and higher and higher until I half expected the windows in the place to shatter, her head to explode, my head to explode, or some combination of the three. I had this incomprehensible (or comprehensible, depending on how you look at it) urge to take my hand and...SHOVE. Yes, I said it. Shove that diaper-padded hiney right through. Thankfully, High-Pitched Harriet stopped squealing and just grabbed her kid's hands and pulled him through.
Then there was the mom with THAT kid. You know. There's always one kid that no matter what methods of coercion or bribery a mother uses, absolutely refuses to do anything except run around the room like his ass is on fire. I just thank my lucky stars that J wasn't THAT kid...this time.
The poor maniac just started off on the wrong foot. He came right into the class and just started snatching things left and right from other kids. And, when his mother -- who looked pretty much like the definition of "hanging on by a thread" -- would calmly and sweetly attempt to have him return the ball, puppet, etc. he would lose his noodle. You know what I'm talking about. We've all been there.
I could also tell this was her first kid. You're SO much harder on yourself with that first one. You analyze and over analyze. You worry and over worry. You are like a friggin' nervous flea jumping around like YOUR ass is on fire. I knew what she was thinking. "Why? Why won't my kid just get in the gd circle with the rest of them?" I saw her clapping her hands in the circle, alone, while all the other moms sat with their kids. She would forcibly smile and laugh with the other children while her son was off in the other corner of the room, jumping inside an inner tube and madly waving his arms in the air with his tongue sticking out.
And, ladies and gentlemen, this is why Gymboree sucks. It's not because of those germs lurking in that nasty parachute or the lame teacher that never, ever remembers your kid's name when it comes to Bubble Time...It's because Gymboree gives you yet ANOTHER reason to second-guess yourself and your kid. That mom was miserable, and her kid could have given a flying fig about circles and tunnels. They'd probably both be happier running around in circles at the playground.
I tried not to stare during class, but I was fascinated. It just made me remember how small things -- like sitting in a circle and singing Itsy Bitsy spider using bizarro Gymboree lyrics -- can seem so huge when you're tired, haven't had a second to yourself in lord knows how long, and have been beating yourself up for falling short of being the mother you want to be instead of giving yourself kudos for the mother that you are.
I caught eyes with the mom and we smiled at one another. And then it hit me. Maybe there was another side to Gymboree that I hadn't thought about. Yes, the kids get a chance to learn some songs, dance around with a creepy stuffed clown, and if they're lucky, even get involved in a physical altercation or two with another toddler. But, it's also about that knowing smile YOU get from other moms. The acknowledgment that this is some hard-ass shit we're all embarking on. That sometimes it's confusing, frustrating and exhausting being alone with your little maniac -- no matter how much you love him.
And with that, the class ended. We gathered ourselves together, got our Jimbo stamps, and went our our merry way. We knew we'd be back next week, ready to immerse ourselves in some more Willy Wonka, acid-trippy kid fun that sometimes makes your head spin to the point of vomiting. But, maybe we'd also get an understanding smile. A knowing nod. A word of encouragement.
Maybe Gymboree doesn't suck that bad after all...