My friend Lori called to tell me about a new yoga class being offered. For babies. I personally am not that into yoga, mostly because my digestive system always erupts the minute I attempt downward dog. But the thought of trying to get my almost three-year old to do those poses (when I couldn’t even get her to willingly put her arms in her coat sleeves) seemed particularly intolerable.
“But it will strengthen her core!” Lori insisted. I thought back to the aforementioned putting on of her coat and figured my toddler’s core was plenty strong.
“Plus, you were just complaining about how your daughter doesn’t walk well, and sits there like a little mushball. Yoga can help.”
Lori was right, only I wasn’t complaining, I was bragging. My toddler’s disinterest in walking meant that I hadn’t had to baby-proof the liquor cabinet yet. That was a good thing. But perhaps she had a point. Everyone in my neighborhood had their child enrolled in some sort of class. Music classes. Dance. Baking with Babies (I was relieved to learn that the babies are the chefs, not the main ingredient). Maybe I just hadn’t found the right class yet.
- Mommy & Me & Music & Mommy
Every town has at least five incarnations of music classes for infants and toddlers. I tried the free trial class. It was…really loud. Several small children were banging on an assortment of wooden drums, waving around maracas, and shaking a wooden egg with a clapboard mouth that resembled the baby from South Park.
“So?” the mother next to me inquired, “Isn’t the teacher great? She exposes the kids to music from a bunch of different cultures. Sean came home from class last week knowing what a didgeridoo sounds like.”
“I can’t really hear the music,” I said out of the side of my mouth. Two boys began fighting over a washboard (which I suppose is cultural, in a Tom Sawyer way). The teacher spilled a bin of hand bells into the center of the circle, and there was a cacophonous dash to grab them.
“How can my daughter learn about the music of different cultures if all these babies are making so much damn noise?” The other mother looked at me the way one looks at a person who goes to see a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and complains how they can’t follow the plot over all the yelling and toast-throwing.
My daughter grew frustrated when other babies kept snatching shaker eggs out of her hands and slobbering on them, and eventually abandoned the instruments to stand by the mirrored wall and make pretend-crying faces. This was not worth $200- we have plenty of mirrors at home, and she can be exposed to cultural music if we leave our apartment windows open on a Saturday night.
- The Soccer Clinic
Between my husband’s asthma and my klutziness, it makes sense that our daughter isn’t the most coordinated. She’s the type of child who will drop a toy and then immediately trip over it. We figured enrolling her in a sports activity would help build coordination and balance.
Last fall, my toddler’s school offered a free soccer clinic. Have you ever watched a bunch of toddlers play soccer? It’s like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, only there’s like, one marble and fifteen hippos scrambling for it. At the end, her teacher reported back that our daughter’s favorite part of the clinic was “putting the soccer balls back in the bag.” Hmmm.
- Swim Class
Maybe swimming (a sport that required no coordination and no equipment) would be a hit. But in baby swim class, my daughter clung to me as if the pool was a giant vat of acid. When I finally submerged her writhing body, I noticed the water around her turned green. The instructor politely inquired if my daughter was wearing a swim pamper. What the hell was a swim pamper? Aren’t diapers made to absorb liquid? We climbed out of the pool and hightailed it out of there in shame.
The gym contained a series of mats, inclines, balance beams, and hoops, resembling an obstacle course used for corporate retreat trust-building exercises. And because all children had to remove their shoes upon entering, toddlers barely able to stand upright were skidding off equipment and plummeting onto primary-hued mats.
My daughter wanted no part of that. She was fine toddling across a colorful mat, but the minute she hit a rope climb or something similarly perilous, she retreated back to the mat. Eventually she sat down and began playing with Gymbo, the giant clown doll that was the gym mascot. This was more disturbing to me than the infant zip line. As we left, the woman behind the counter tried to snooker us into a 3-month membership. If I wanted my child to hang out on a jungle gym with a creepy clown, we’d go to McDonalds, thank you.
- Art Class
My husband and I are both art teachers, and yet we are super-lazy when it comes to exposing our child to the arts. Craft projects seem so, well, messy. An art class seemed just the place to allow our tyke to explore materials and express herself without us having to vacuum Play Doh from our carpets or comb glitter off of scalps.
Being both lazy AND super-cheap, we took a trial art class at the local Y. The first project was a dog collage, made out of pre-cut brown construction paper shapes, glue, and some googly eyes. I laid out the shapes the way they were supposed to look. My daughter seemed content squeezing the glue bottle and letting it all pour onto her paper. My inner art teacher was recoiling at the waste.
“Um, honey? That’s a lot of glue. Should we stick some paper on it?”
Nope. My daughter was fascinated with how the glue was pooling and spreading out. Eventually she put the bottle down and dipped her fingers in the puddle. Then she spent the remainder of the class rubbing her fingers together, pulling dried glue off her skin, and putting the glue flakes in a pile. When I finally convinced her to put some of the paper shapes on the paper, she insisted on stacking them all on top of each other, then added the googly eyes face down.
The teacher walked by. “Nice job, sweetie,” she said to my daughter. Bullshit. This did NOT look like a dog, the eyes did NOT look googly, we had wasted an entire bottle of glue, and my daughter had proceeded to drag her ponytail through the mess.
But of course I said “Wow, honey, that looks amazing!”
We got home and put it on the fridge. My husband walked in. “What the hell is that supposed to be?”
“It’s a dog.”
“It’s looks like a turd. Why is the paper so shiny?”
“She really liked the glue.”
“Y’know,” my husband said, “we have glue and brown paper at home. She could make turd collages here and it would be much cheaper.”
So art class was over. And we never ended up breaking out the collage material. Glue is really hard to get off ponytails.
- Dance Magic Dance
My daughter has some serious dance moves. Sometimes she wiggles around without actually moving any of her limbs. Other times, she runs in a circle. Hence the dance class.
Half the moms sign their kids up because they have a genuine desire for them to learn the grace, rhythm, and confidence dancing provides. The other half just really really want to see their 3 year old in a tutu. It’s pretty damn cute, even if most of the toddlers are just spinning in circles, twirling scarves, or practicing making faces in the wall-sized mirror.
Before my daughter’s first “freestyle dance class,” we had to purchase a leotard, tights, and dance shoes. When we showed up, a bunch of similarly attired toddlers were swaying shyly while the theme to Peter and the Wolf drizzled from a CD player in the corner.
Suddenly, the teacher poured a bunch of shaker eggs into the center of the circle. This felt very familiar.
“Isn’t this exactly what they do over in the ‘Mommy, Music, & Me’ class?” I asked the mother next to me.
“Oh no, this is very different. In this class, the kids all wear leotards.”
I watched my daughter run around in a circle, and ultimately plant herself in front of the giant mirror to practice her “dance faces.” Sigh.
7.) Toddler Tutor Time
My child will do very well in school, get excellent SAT scores, attend an ivy-league college, move across the country to go to law school, and call me once a year to thank me for sending her to advanced math class when she was 18 months old.
This is the dream.
There’s plenty of time later in life for my child to learn how to speak French, cook pad thai, ride a unicycle, or throw pottery. Enrichment can, but doesn’t need to, come in the form of a class. My husband and I have all the tools we need for enrichment right at home: objects that make noise, music, a floor, and most importantly, a giant wall mirror for practicing making faces.