Here’s the song reference.
We joined our local YMCA over the summer, probably for the same reasons most families join the Y; there are a lot of fitness programs and a good gym available, and there’s a swimming pool. Our Y also offers a huge variety of children’s activities and something that had always borne the potential for saving my sanity . . . a nursery where the youngest children can play while their parents have a swim or a workout.
Granted, I love my job; this is my third career, and it’s far and away the best. It does not, however, come with breaks, and there are times when I need to be able to go for a run or a swim by myself, for reasons of both mental and physical health. It’s also good to know that on days when the tribe’s friends are otherwise occupied, there’s always a place they can go to meet some new people and learn a new game or skill.
We had started our Y adventures with one of its greatest offerings, which is a physical education class for homeschoolers. Unfortunately., the class meets during the heart of Mr. Man and Baby Guy’s naptimes, and after a month of disastrous attempts, we had to give up on that idea for this year. There was also a contributing factor insofar as Beanie was actually invited not to return to the PE class; there is a certain maturity required of participants, and as wonderful a wee girl as she is, listening to instructions in a room full of sports equipment and children is not, shall we say, one of her strengths. I’m not sure whether it was taking off her clothes because she felt too warm or scaling the bleachers and jumping from their top (repeatedly) that finally wore out her welcome, but the instructor who pulled me aside was most gentle in her recommendation that Beanie wait another year to join the class. She is, after all, only four years old.
In addition to the PE problem, we had another, slightly more serious, challenge to enjoying our Y membership. Mr. Man is a very devoted Mama’s boy, and he freaks out when he sees me walk away. I love my babies, and part of my expression of that love is raising them to be secure and as independent as is appropriate for their ages. That said, it half kills me to see them crying for a reason that is completely within my control. My reluctance to deliberately undertake an action that I know will drive our oldest son into screaming hysterics is part of the reason that I don’t get breaks; we had a non-grandparent sitter for the first time ever (that’s five and one half years, if you’re interested) in late September. Fortunately, Mr. Man has a toddler crush on the young lady who has become our favorite midget minder, and he’s happy to see her in any context. Baby Guy tends to take his cues from Mr. Man; if big brother finds something upsetting, it must be awful and worthy of shrieks and tears, while if the older guy finds something (that does not result in a plaything being removed from the younger) enjoyable, it must be pretty cool.
That said, I tried to gentle the boys into their stays at Kids’ Corner, the genuinely delightful nursery at the Y. Baby Guy was generally pretty happy to meander off and investigate all the cool toys and cooler tiny people, but Mr. Man resisted all efforts by what I can only describe as an incredibly talented and patient nursery staff to show him that KC is designed to be a place where the smallest people can desport themselves while their parents are catching their breath and their exercise. Twenty minutes of hysterical screaming was all the staff and I could take; Mr. Man was actually audible all the way to both the pool and the gym, and Baby Guy toddled along behind him, wailing at a slightly lower volume and pitch. That factored heavily into the tapering off of our visits to the Y.
Over the past month, we’ve been handling some sad circumstances within the near extended family, and our schedule has been, to an extent, turned upside down so that we can provide help when it’s needed and maximize the time we spend with the extended family in question. Not every lesson comes from a book, and the tribe is, at the moment, getting a lesson in what love looks like when there are no shiny presents or exciting outings. Frankly, I’d hoped to put that lesson off for a while longer. However, the Lord has His own time for every person and every thing, so we’re changing the lesson plans accordingly.
Earlier in the week, Manie and I reviewed what we’d been doing with the tiny people, and what outlets we were providing for them to holler and run. There are an increasing number of times and places where they can do neither, and we wanted to be sure that, no matter what else happens, they have the chance to play like the little kids they are. We talked about the Y, and the Kids’ Gym program, and Kids’ Corner, and swimming lessons, and the Y membership that had been money unwell spent for a couple of months, and decided that it was time to try again, particularly in light of the increasing probability that Mr. Man and Baby Guy may have to spend some time with our lovely sitter in the coming months for logistical reasons.
We went on Wednesday morning, with Beanie and Bugaboo somewhat heroically volunteering to stay in Kids’ Corner with their little brothers instead of participating in the merry mayhem that is Kids’ Gym. Perhaps, I thought, having his big sisters around will convince Mr. Man that Kids’ Corner is an okay place to be. The staff remembered us, and greeted Mr. Man, very lovingly, by name. After a round of hugs, kisses, and quick whispers of thanks for their kindness to the girls and the nursery staff, I headed for the adults’ gym to blow off some steam on a treadmill.
Twenty minutes later, I heard the page on the public address system. I didn’t really need it, as I’d heard Mr. Man wailing the entire time. After a quick stop in the locker room to retrieve my backpack, I scooted over to Kids’ Corner, where I was met by the empathetic smiles of the lovely ladies in the nursery and two purple-faced little boys. Bugaboo and Beanie were cheerfully giving a “cooking” demonstration to a horde of giggling toddlers who were clustered around them by the play kitchen.
“Mama, please keep bringing them back. The little one was actually starting to have a snack until Mr. Man came over and hollered at him not to have a snack.”
“We’ll keep trying. Thank you so much for your patience, and for your help.”
“It’s not a problem. We’re here to help strengthen bodies, minds, and souls — yours and theirs.”
“I appreciate it. It’s tough to teach this little dude that it’s okay for him to do things on his own, and that this is a safe place.” I explained the family situation, and the need for Mr. Man to be able to cope when Mommy has to be somewhere else.
“We’re glad to help. We’ll try for 25 minutes tomorrow. Sooner or later, he’ll figure out that you always come back. I’m glad we could give you a break, and I’ll pray for your family.”
I bundled the tribe into their coats, spent a few minutes in the hall drying tears and hugging little blessings, two of whom were somewhat distraught over having to leave off their playing, then brought the brood home.
Yesterday morning, Bugaboo and Beanie marched into the kitchen and declared that they would like to go back to the Y. I agreed this would be a good idea, and asked them both to go to the more age-appropriate Kids’ Gym instead of the nursery. Both girls readily agreed. Mr. Man and Baby Guy awoke shortly thereafter, and I advised them that after the girls finished their core schoolwork for the day, we would be headed thither. Mr. Man eyed me warily, and, thinking quickly, I advised him that he could take a couple of Zizi’s cookies for a snack. That suggestion earned me a cautious smile.
The girls and I dropped off Baby Guy and Mr. Man — who declined to remove his coat and clung desperately to his blankie as he cried — then headed back to the gymnasium where Kids’ Gym was in full swing. It was Tricycle Thursday, and the instructor barely had time to clap identification stickers on the girls before they took off at full speed. I laughed as I signed them in, then, with a little sigh, headed down the hallway to drop my backpack in the locker room.
About ten feet down the hallway, I realized that all I heard was the normal ambient noise of the Y, devoid of traumatized screams.
I stowed my backpack and came back out in the hallway, headed for the weight room.
There was still no screaming.
I ran five miles on the treadmill and read about fifty pages of Butler’s Lives of the Saints over the course of the next hour, jumping a little every time an announcement came over the public address system. There were no calls asking me to come to the nursery.
After I changed clothes and re-packed the bag, I headed back out into the hallway, ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in nine years, and proceeded to have a fifteen minute conversation that ended with a promise to meet regularly in the weight room– and arrange for our husbands to do likewise in the evenings.
Still no page over the public address system.
I walked down to the gymnasium to retrieve the girls, who were cheerfully drag racing trikes across the room. Beanie was quite vocal in her desire to remain in the gym riding all the nifty bikes, and was only grudgingly pacified by my promise that she could return the next day to play some more. She still felt a need to inform me, as we walked towards the nursery, that I had “ruined all the fun.” No, I don’t worry about her having any difficulty developing independence.
As we rounded the last bend in the hallway, I heard my name on the PA. I smiled and waved at the friendly lady who stood by the door, and we shared a laugh at the “rapid response.”
“Mr. Man has been having a good time today, but we think he might be stinky. He won’t let us get close enough to check, though.”
“That’s fine, we were getting ready to leave anyway. I see he’s ready to go.” Mr. Man was wearing his coat, zipped up to his chin.
“You know, he was so sweet and so cute about that. Every few minutes, one of us would ask him if he was ready to take his coat off, and he just shook his head and said, “No thank you,” just as nice as you please. He has beautiful manners for such a little boy.”
Talk about a way to make my mother’s heart sing. “Thank you so much. Where’s Baby Guy?”
“He’s over at the table having a snack. Some of the other kids went over there to have goldfish, and he followed them over and sat right down in a chair, happy as could be, and said, “cracker cookie cracker.” He decided to have one of his cookies and a couple of goldfish. Mr. Man had a cookie, too.”
“You guys are miracle workers. Thank you so much.” That last was said over an impatient wail from Mr. Man and a wail of protest from Baby Guy, who was most displeased at being picked up from the snack table.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for little blessings to love, and who love us back just as fiercely. Help us teach them it is good to explore the world beyond our family’s back yards, and that wherever they go, there are friends to meet, love to share, and joy in which to revel; grant that we may show them that exploring and enjoying the wonders of Your world and Your people are a prayer of thanksgiving to You, and that You will guide and protect them wherever they go. Thank You for the kindness of the ladies at the YMCA, and for the Y itself, for the means to purchase a membership there and a van that can carry our family there, so that we may strengthen the bodies with which You have blessed us. Please help us remember to pray for those whom You have blessed differently, and to seek out ways in which we can be Your face to them.