A trip to the toddler gym is a learning experience for Dad
Since I’ve stopped working in an office, I’ve had many hours to reflect on my past deeds: good and bad. But the one that stands out as most heroic was the day I promised my wife to take our daughter to toddler gym. OK, I volunteered because I thought it would be fun. But then again, I used to think that babies automatically stopped crying when you picked them up.
I clamber back upstairs and lift 18-month-old Alina gently out of her crib. Crying commences as if on cue. Doesn’t she know we’re going to have fun today?
I start to change Alina’s diaper when older sister shuffles by on her way downstairs. I dress Alina quickly and hand her off to Mommy, then try to convince Julia that instead of watching Sesame Street, she should get dressed. Get usual reaction to Daddy’s decrees, “I’m too tired.”
Tossing two bowls of cereal on the table, I retrieve Alina and place her in front of one bowl, run back upstairs for Julia’s clothes, then proceed to dress her while Cookie Monster devours a whole package of what appears to be giant Oreos.
“I want those for breakfast,” Julia demands huffily. She gets them.
Finally everyone is ready. We drop off Julia at neighbor’s house and head for town with the radio turned up loud so Alina, whose eyelids are already drooping, doesn’t doze off in the car. Switch to a heavy-metal station for insurance.
We arrived at the rec center with seconds to spare, and head to class with Alina clinging desperately to my leg. Seven pairs of mothers’ eyes turn and stare at us as if Godzilla himself had just made an entrance. I smile back weakly and pry Alina off my leg. She immediately lets out a howl. The mothers now smile, relieved to know that their suspicions of my true nature were right.
“Circle time, circle time!” exclaims the leader. I join the other toddlers and their mothers on the floor. Alina stands apart on a one-foot high trampoline and stares.
“Come sit in my lap,” I implore in my most reassuring voice. She stares back at me with the same look that the mothers had when we came in.
“Oh, don’t worry. She always does that,” the mother next to me confides.
“What! I paid $60 for her to come here and stare?”
The other kids are now intently watching the leader as she presses various parts of her body together in time to a calypso beat. They all start to press the same body parts together in time to their own personal beats. I conclude they listened to the same heavy-metal station on the way here, then consider whether I would ever walk again if I touched my nose to my knee. Decide I wouldn’t, so I scratch behind my ear instead. Alina continues to stare. I’m beginning to think she’s onto something.
A little boy decides to join Alina on the trampoline. She begins to cry. Desperate, I remember my wife’s advice the night before.
“Mommy says that you love to hang from the horizontal bar,” I say. Miraculously, she holds out her hand, still crying.
I walk Alina up the ramp leading to the bar. Crying intensifies. Lead her back down the ramp. She shakes off my hand, runs up the ramp and grabs the bar, then smiles. I smile, too. A little girl now on the ramp yells, “Ma tern, ma tern,” and starts to cry.
I tell Alina it is time to let go. She grins at me. I look at the little girl crying; I look at Alina smiling; I look at the little girl’s mother eyeing me with that I-knew-he-couldn’t-handle-it stare again; I look for a place to hide.
Alina’s grip finally gives out and the bar is free for the crying girl, who has already left for the balance beam. Alina spends the remainder of toddler gym walking up the ramp and hanging on the bar until her fingertips turn blue.
We finally get back in a circle and sing good-bye to every child. With a sense of accomplishment and relief, I gather together diapers, jacket, socks, sneakers, assorted snacks and Alina and head for the door. There waiting for us is our neighbor with her daughter and Julia.
I smile at them all, calmly take both girls by the hand and head back in for four-year old gym class, content in the knowledge that having fun is hard work.