Saturday, January 29, 2011

Potential for Shame

There is a post in me that I need to write, that I've needed to write for three weeks.  I didn't write it three weeks ago, haven't written it (other than in my head 50 different times) since, so I haven't written much else either.

The thing is, I'm not even sure what all it's supposed to say.  But here it is, a third Saturday where I feel like I need to write, it, so here we go.

I'm not a very athletic person.  I come from a long line of very intellectual, non-athletic people.  In the olden days, we would have been the wise village elders, fed from the products of someone else's hunting.  So with that heritage, I want to introduce my daughter to fun physical things from an early age.  I'd like her to know the joy of physical movement before she realizes it's a chore like the rest of us feel.  When she started climbing on anything and everything she could, I knew it was a good time to start gymnastics.

One morning while waiting for open gym to start, I was watching a class.  A group of about 5 girls, aged around 7 or 8, being taught by a short, thin girl who looked to be a teenager.  Their task was to stand on a colored line with their arms straight above their heads, bend their knees and go into a backwards roll, then put their hands flat on the floor beside their heads and push up out of the roll.  The first girl did it okay, the second girl made it, and the third girl struggled.  The "teacher" went over to help her, and kept making her do it over and over again, trying to show her the proper place in the movement to brace her hands and push up.  I was on the other side of a glass window from the class, so I didn't hear the words that were said.  But I thought to myself this is a situation ripe for "shaming".

The thought came to me so quickly it almost took my breath.  You put young girls in the care of someone who herself looks like a young girl, and expect her to "teach" in a positive way, when she herself might not have ever had that as her example.

I figured I was overreacting, as I tend to do, and put it out of my head.


I don't remember being shamed.  Oh, wait, yes I do.

That's how I had intended to start this post on the 17th through 24th iteration in my brain.

I was in a dance class doing plies with all the other girls when the "teacher" asked who wears underwear under their tights.  Several of the girls pointed to me, so I guess I didn't need to raise my hand.  She informed me that I didn't need to do that.  I couldn't hear from the roaring sound in my ears from trying to hold back tears.

One day while trying on costumes for an upcoming recital, I hid behind the coke machine to change so noone would see me naked.  I was then chastised by the teacher for not trying on the costume OVER my other clothes because "that's just gross".


Last week from gymnastics, I came home complaining.  "I feel like we're in the wrong class," I told my parents.  By then we'd had two different teachers, who had - I felt - unrealistic expectations for my daughter.  The class is supposed to be for 18-36 months.  There is alot of jumping (my daughter can't jump, a motor skill I've been told may not develop until closer to age three) and ALOT of waiting in line to watch other people do things.  My daughter doesn't understand "come stand on the blue line" even if you say it to her 15 times in an increasingly loud voice.  It's not that she doesn't hear you, it's that she doesn't understand the concept.  I try to help her and guide her, but my kid is not going to stand idle for 10 minutes while you try to get all the other kids to line up. 

The kids are expected to sit down (along the colored line, or along the short balance beam) and watch one child being led through the entire obstacle course of equipment.  Who expects a 21 month old to do that?  The kids are expected to jump over things, follow verbal instructions, wait their turn.  When doing something really cool, like the trampoline, the "teacher" wanted to wait until all the kids were sitting indian style along the side to watch as they were allowed to go one-by-one jumping down the trampoline.  Who expects that of a kid that age?  So most of our class time is waiting for everyone to sit on a line, or everyone to watch one person do something.  Of course the parents are there to help with the waiting in line and the physical stuff, but it just seems like they are expecting something of these kids that isn't developmentally appropriate.

Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic here, if they are, please tell me.

My dad got mad at my bitching.  He reminded me that they found us a spot in this class and to be grateful.  (It was then that I remembered that my parents were the ones footing the bill for this also, for which I am very thankful.)

Today was more of the same, only for a shorter period of time, because of class pictures.  One of the last things we did was an obstacle course, where one task was to jump from the floor up onto a thick mat.  The children were expected to jump from the floor up onto the thick mat AND land on their feet.  One little girl who is much older than my wee one, and seems good at gymnastics, tried to do the task.  She actually landed up on the thick mat, but not on her feet.  The teacher's response?

"Ope, you've got to land on your feet."

No praise, no positive reinforcement, no "good job, and next time try to land on your feet".  Nothing encouraging.  So what if you're the only kid who could even make it up onto the mat, you still didn't do it right.

And it crystallized for me why I hate organized sports.  If perfection is expected the first time out, and positive reinforcement isn't given along the way, it's no wonder I became a bookworm.


Okay, so I knew that having a daughter would mean reliving all the things that were painful about my childhood.  So what if you were pointed at and made fun of because you wore panties under your tights.  So what if you didn't follow instructions and were corrected.  So what if you think everyone is out to make you feel like shit so you see that in every potential situation.  This isn't about you, V, it's about your daughter.

This morning on the way home, I thought about music class.  We started going to music class when she was 5 months old, and went every session until this one - because we switched to gymnastics.  Music class is an ENTIRELY different atmosphere.  The room they are in is very well child-proofed, and the chidren are given free reign in the room.  If they want to run and jump and dance they can.  If they want to stay close to a parent they can.  I remember in one of my first classes, a mother trying to corral a vivacious toddler, and the teacher just smiled and said "he's fine, let him run, he'll come back to the group when we do something interesting."  The class moves immediately from one song to the next, and the teacher never says anything like "okay, everyone sit down, we can't start the next thing until everyone is sitting down".  It's a friendly, joyous place.

I really miss music class.

This is basically the only gymnastics place in the area, unless I want to go across the river.  I haven't looked into any of the dance studios to see if they do any "dance" or tumbling for her age.  We have joined the YMCA and they are supposed to have toddler classes, so I might look into that, or just take her swimming all the damn time as her physical exercise.


But yet, I watch the older girls, girls in middle school, girls in high school, doing flip on the balance beam and dismounts from the bars, and I wonder if my wee one wants to do that someday.  Should I give her the chance to have that training even if it means she won't get the positive reinforcement that I think is healthy?

How do you do this?  Send your child out into the world and hope they don't beat her down the way you were?


Funky Mama Bird said...

Oh, V, I'm so sorry. Can you get a partial refund and get her out of that class?

We do gymnastics, and it's at totally different experience. Lots of encouragement, lots of movement - all the kids going through the obstacle course at once - and the only "waiting" is the circle time between the different courses where the kids have to sit down and clap to 10. My almost 20 month old has learned to jump, forward roll, do "donkey kicks", run and push a wall - and he could do none of that when we started, it was all good teaching.

I know what it's like to not want your kid to experience the hardships that you went through as a child. I was the shy tortured kid who was taunted for never speaking. And I try so hard to make sure my boy doesn't go through that - so I get it.

See if you can switch or go back to music and try to get a refund. Speak up - what they are doing is not geared toward kids her age, and they shouldn't force you to stay.

Genkicat said...

So this doesn't sound like a great class. I'm sure there are other classes that are physical in nature BUT where the "instructors" know what is developmentally appropriate.

But you didn't mention if Wee One enjoys it? Honestly, if she likes it then maybe stick it out. But if she is unhappy - I think that is your biggest cue on what to do.

Really, any class that has children that small, should have instructors that have a clue on what kids that age can and cannot do. If wee one is not liking it, try and get your money back and switch. And if you can't get your money back, there is nothing wrong with pulling her anyway. What is the point if its not fun?

Serifm said...

Meh. To me, organized activity is like butt plugs. It's nice that some people enjoy it, but it's by no means a mandatory human experience.

MommieV said...

THIS is why I will not ever read a comment from you when it gets emailed to me when I'm in my car on the way to work. Despite reading it at a red light, I was laughing too hard to drive most of the rest of the way to work.

This is also why I simply adore you.

Butt plugs in a comment.

This makes my freaking YEAR.

MommieV said...

G - you make a very good point about whether or not she enjoys it. She seems to love it - except when she has to wait.

The last class, after doing one person as a demo, the teacher let them all go through in a line, so that was better.

Now I just pick her up and hold her when it's time to watch and wait, and then put her down when it's time to do something. That's easier than chasing after her and missing the instructions myself.

I think we'll stick out the class and see what happens by the end. I think I'm going to try to talk to the director and see what turns out from that. I think I may consider doing our own physical exercise, especially over the summer.

Serifm said...

Oooh, oooh. I SHOULD have said "Fun when voluntary, miserable when forced." Tee hee. This simile is too much fun.