If there is a hell on Earth, it is located in a baby-sized gymnasium.
Taking the little girl I nannied to Little Gym class was indisputably the worse experience of my life, every time.
The idea of Little Gym is for urban pre-pre-school kids to gather for social exercise. If you’re a toddler fitting the very specific demographic of two to three years old and Chicagoan, Little Gym opens its doors to you. They offer hour-long classes run by “an energetic, fun-loving person who has a natural ability to put smiles on the faces of young children!!” (LittleGym.com). The instructor of our class, Tom, was seemingly a twenty-seven year old virgin who consumed a bottle of antidepressants a day; his enthusiasm was so artificial. I never understood how he ended up working at the Little Gym, or why anyone would be drawn to an atmosphere like the Little Gym. I always pictured him being an ex-high school gymnast star who, after an injury ten years ago, started working at the Little Gym because that’s all he could do with his gymnastics training after failing professionally.
Tom was trained to speak like a clown in order to appeal to the children. He taught classes all day using this awful, high-pitched voice, accompanied with this awful, cartoonish smile. He eventually conditioned himself to naturally speak like a clown, even when engaging with adults. Sometimes he asked me to help him spot the children on the balance beam, and instead of asking me normally, he clapped and shouted, “And if Miss Claire de Lune would accompany me to the balance beam, I would be such a grateful grasshopper!”
All the other nannies and/or mothers laughed at his kid-friendly sense of humor, and I’d quietly join in, in obedience. But I always secretly wanted to slap him across the face and tell him to get his shit together. I don’t know why you call me Claire de Lune; we are not friends and I am not one of your baby-clients. Now ask me again like a fucking man.
However, I couldn’t imagine him conversing in average adult conversation, he seemed so far removed from reality. His strikingly pale skin always had me questioning whether he ever actually left the Little Gym. Do you ever go outside, or are you always locked up in here teaching toddler aerobics? Do they let you out? Are they hurting you, Tom?
The Little Gym class wouldn’t have been so bad if they made Tom do all the work; but, unfortunately, the nannies and mothers are expected to participate. Every Wednesday I was forced to quack like a duck or play tag with a three year old. Do you know how unexciting it is to play tag with a three year old? Four of their sprinting strides is equal to one adult step; if I wanted to play for real, I could have outsmarted them all, ran in front of them, turned around, tripped them, and tagged them all at once while they were face down on the floor. They wouldn’t even know what hit them. But you can’t really injure a kid like that while other adults are watching. You have to pretend as if you’re having a so much fun pretending to run after them. The minutes go by sluggishly, and if I was just allowed to read a magazine, I would’ve been fine; however I was stuck in Tom’s alternate universe where everything is kid-certified-glee.
What I always found strange, yet compelling, was how competitive the mothers were with their children. First of all, it’s an ‘exercise’ class, yet so many mothers dressed their kids like they were going to church. Little girls wore bows and designer dresses. It seemed like all the boys were wearing khakis and Burberry sweaters. Seriously the kids had better clothes than me; I learned a lot about style from them. There was even one boy who always wore Gucci loafers, even though it was obviously so much more practical to wear gym shoes.
Most amazingly, the mothers- without even realizing it- interacted with each other like high school mean girls. They were so bloodthirsty for their child to be the best “little gymnast” that they would show off their children’s skills like they were show-dogs. I always envisioned the mothers being former high-powered career women who “gave it all up” to be a mother. However, though they escaped their workplace, they could never erase their workplace mentality. Their children became their new careers; therefore the children lost their own identities and just became an extension of their mother’s.
One particularly unpleasant mother always volunteered her daughter to be the class’s example student (our Best in Show). Tom taught a new exercise every week and after explaining it with words, he asked for one student to come up in front to demonstrate. Before Tom could even finish his sentence, this overbearing woman would blurt out how her little Rachel could do it.
“Ray Ray will do it!” she yelled. “We just practiced summersaults at home last night, I know she can do them!”
Tom, being his enthusiastic robotic self, always allowed it, and this woman would push her little three year old to the front of the class and demanded that she do a summersault. As Ray Ray performed one of her remarkable drills, her mother filmed it on her iPhone, and clapped dramatically when Ray Ray was done.
“Good job, Ray!” she squealed with a smile that showed every single tooth.
It wasn’t that good. She didn’t even roll forward, she just flopped to the side.
The worst mom, who I’ve literally had nightmares about, was a fat, well-dressed woman who always looked as if she had a piece of sand in her eye that was irritating her whole face. Her name was Mel, and though she wasn’t physically interactive within the class, she was always shouting at her son, Brody, giving him pointers. It should be noted that you never trust a woman who actually names her son Brody. What grown woman actually calls her son Brody? Brody is a name for sexy surfers and reality star heartthrobs. It is not a baby’s name. If the baby grows up and wants to change his name to Brody, that’s fine. But babies can’t flash out of the womb with little Ray Bans on, going “Hey ladies, I’m Brody”. It’s inappropriate.
To Mel’s relief, Brody was the most popular baby boy in class. If little Brody did a good summersault on the mat, Mel and her mommy bitches would clap and say, “Good job, Brodz!!!!!!!”
Then a poor, quiet, outcasted mom would softly encourage her redheaded son to try and repeat Brody’s glorious summersault, only to watch her son fail miserably and end up rolling around and licking the floor. This mom would look up giddily at Mel, nervously anticipating her judgment, but secretly hoping she hadn’t seen at all.
But Mel had: “Mm… Funny. Your son can’t seem to summersault yet. He should practice at home. Let’s see if Brody can do it again.”
This translated to: if your rolley-polley son ever tries to rival my sexy baby Brody again, I WILL cut you.
Every Wednesday for four months I prayed that the child I nannied would wake up sick so we could skip Little Gym. And every night following the months I quit my nannying job, I prayed that I would never have to walk into a Little Gym again. It’s exterior is ordinary, if not friendly and inviting; but walk into the Gym and enter it’s strange interior, and you are forever wounded from the small insanities that surround you.