My Junior Gymnast

As always, each week has shown us special developments in the life of my little L. Over the past week his latest developments have been his consistent – and appropriate – use of “Yeah” and “Nyome/Nyope.” How it shocks me now to have him sitting contentedly in the bathtub, saying point blank that, No, he doesn’t want to leave the bath. “Stay,” he says, as if to reiterate the decision that “yeah” so clearly demonstrated.

Today after the bath, though, he was downright ready to go to sleep, and only at 7:30. Why, you may ask? My little L began his junior gym education today at daycare. Not too high on the fees, and run by certified gymnastics instructed, “Junior Gym’nest” is L’s newest activity. And have I wanted to do activities for him, or what? I sing with him all the time and try to do music, but we haven’t been able to sign up for music classes yet, or swim classes, and now that he is past that “18 month” border so much more is open to him — which includes a sudden paper for “Junior Gym” which arrived in his daycare mailbox last week.

What a thing to be able to offer a little one. We always stared hungrily as we’d enter the daycare and pass the gymnasium area – a large atrium with a lovely treehouse in it, and see it on Monday filled to the brim with those huge multicolored mats and balls and rings and balance beams which I so fondly remember from elementary school gymnastics. Yet this gym class was for my little boy – only 18 months old. So after paying my fee this morning and wresting myself from the strong grasp of an unusually attached Mr. L (along with T we’d enjoyed a lovely weekend together as a family, and after these weekends he has a very hard time getting back to school), I snuck upstairs to watch his classes from above.

Unfortunately, we had gotten to school too late to participate in the class for toddlers his age, but I was able to watch the tail end of the class. How neat it is to see all the children seated in a row and suddenly see them leap to their feet and run around, or pretend to be bears as they stood prone with their feet on either side of the balance beam, their hands pacing the balance beam forward one after the other. And then the toddler soccer lesson – a free for all with random soccer balls and the instructors teaching the children to push the balls with their feet, not with their hands. Ah the persistence of the young 20-month-olds, wanting to pick up the ball to throw it, and so sweet to see them running to and fro and bumping into one another.

And all of a sudden amid this and the end of the toddler class I saw my little L come into the room, in the arms of one of the instructors. As he was going to be the youngest child in the 9 a.m. class I was really happy that they were giving him a little extra TLC – all the other kids were familiar with Junior Gym already – but he was new. L excitedly pointed out the “Goofy” and “Soccer ball” jibbitz on his crocs as the teacher took them off in preparation for the class. When they announced his name and struggled to learn it – well, they did pretty well, and always used his name appropriately. Little L – who had been a mess of tears about 15 minutes prior, was sitting quietly, listening to the teacher, and ever so often yelping Elmo and pointing to the shirt of one of the children next to him.

During the half-hour class, the children did three main activities. The first was a quick warm up where they all ran around randomly. L got up and toddled his way around, not quite running, till THWACK he was hit directly by an older boy who ran into him. It was at this point that I had to reign in my inner lioness – What?! My child’s life being threatened by a hooligan? Ok, not quite: the boy had bumped into him and when a bigger object hits a smaller one you know which one goes to ground. It was my little sprout. But as he cried out the teacher came right to him, picked him up and wiped his tears, and ran around with him, holding him in her arms. Crisis averted and he was back to happily sitting on the mat, waiting for the next activity.

For the next gymnastics activity, little L paid rapt attention as the teacher demonstrated the animals they were to emulate. First, they would run up and down a foam ramp making elephant sounds (and a most impressive pachyderm trumpeting sound she did make), then they would hop over foam logs like frogs; next, they would do the bear-crawl over the balance beam, and finally they would walk on the balance beam like . . um . . . well, another animal. Can’t remember that last one, I’m afraid.

When the teacher announced the call to go, all the kids got up and ran to the activity – many of them jumping on to the foam ramp excitedly. Unsure of where to go first, L took his time and walked to the logs where, feet together tightly and his hands rocking back, he bent his legs then extended his arms forward ready to . . . JUMP! . . .(Or as L says, “Dump!”)

Yet in his original spot he remained, with his feet planted firmly on the floor. (Do not fear, reader, for it is not in a 19-month-old’s repertoire to do a broad jump successfully yet. Give him a few months!)

“Good try!” said his teacher, and took him by the hand through the obstacle course – walking over the ‘jumping logs’ and taking him all the way through to the elephant ramp – which L was fine with until he realized it was a very bouncy surface he could jump on. And instability is simply *not* up his alley, I’m afraid. “No,” L said and he was taken swiftly back to dry land.

After the obstacle course little L and his friends participated in soccer kicks where they were to stand in one place put their left foot in place and kick with the right foot. L was able to do this with fair accuracy, though the force of his kick was on the gentler side.

What a neat thing to see a young child participate in organized activities like this, to be able to follow directions and interact with other teachers and children. It just gets so amazing.

It was even more of a joy to see my little boy – growing more independent every day – in the afternoon, wanting milk from his mom and excited to see the animals at our local zoo. He was all about the tiger cage (wow – a beautiful tiger up close actually) until the tiger started to growl at him. It was the first time I could remember hearing a tiger growl and when L sat on his grandfather’s shoulders 10 feet away from the tiger who was growling at him. . well, he’d had enough and then was willing to go spend a bit more time with the Ocelot, the llamas, and finally his favorite, the river otter. “Ottay! Boom!” he would say as the otter dove in and out of the water. And then a dinner together with my parents outside by the riverfront. An altogether very busy and very fun day!