Cold weather inevitably drives everyone inside. Playground equipment is left vacant and frozen. Library story times and Children’s Museums overflow. Moms and dads stretch their imaginations trying to come up with ways to tire out their young offspring.
Thursday a friend and I bravely ventured out with our three children to our local recreation department’s Open Gym. It is exactly how it sounds. They open up a full sized gym, slap some toddler sized plastic climbing structures, slides, and ride-on toys in the middle, toss some balls onto the floor and charge you a whopping dollar to have free reign over toddler town for an hour and 45 minutes. It is more exhausting than that run on sentence I just typed, but the kiddos love it.
We all piled into my friend’s van, made a quick jaunt through the drive-thru for coffee, then headed to the gym. Just getting inside was a feat. My friend has an 8-week-old and a 2-year-old. Add to that my 3-year-old, our two cups of coffee, and our obligatory kid-related luggage. Needless to say, getting everyone into the building, alive, made herding cats look easy.
Once inside the kids took off into the sea of toddlers and pre-schoolers. My friend and I piled coats and, clutching our coffees like steaming, delicious life preservers, dove in after them. Trying to keep an eye on your own child, while allowing them the freedom to have fun, is a lot like playing a real life version of "Where’s Waldo." Except in this case, "Waldo" is a young child hopped up on peer interaction, capable of taking out smaller kids in one fell swipe. I like to approach Open Gym as more of a game of "Marco Polo."
I listen for either the sound of my child yelling, "mommymommymommymommymommy" or the undeniable screech of a younger kiddo who has just (unfortunately) met my cherub.
My kiddo seemed to be playing nicely for a moment. I decided to sit with my friend while she nursed her baby. We joked about how the gym was like a Top 10 parenting styles list come to life. I started to look around and saw that every style was well represented.
The Hovering/Helicopter Mom was there. Always right beside her 3-year-old, telling him what a great sharer he was or dictating his play. I have to respect her for her dedication but know nothing about her because she is always with her child.
To the left of her was the Pajama Mom. Sleepily following the general area her kid is playing in, she looks like she could lay down and nap at a moments notice. Her outward appearance matches my inward one. I make a mental note to ditch the skinnies and wear pajama pants next week.
In front of her was Cell Phone Mom. She had started off standing next to her playing child but then a text came in and now she is standing alone typing on her phone. Meanwhile her kiddo has moved onto a new area unnoticed. I can totally relate and curse my eyes for not being able to do two separate things. Then, I check my own phone.
Then there is the Fancy Mom pack. They have been friends since high school, al la "Mean Girls." They are always perfectly groomed and accessorized. They travel as a pack and are unapproachable. Their children play with one another but never allow outside kiddos to join their ranks. I envy most of them and want to steal their wardrobes and personal trainers.
Walking by the Fancy Moms is the Friendly Mom. She knows everyone by name and even knows their kiddos names and dates of birth. She is the nicest person you have ever met and will make you feel like her BFF within minutes of chatting with her. Her kiddos are polite and bubbly. This is the mom I hope will offer to adopt me someday.
Directly across the gym is the Loner Mom. She comes to every Open Gym but doesn’t talk to anyone. She sits on the bench, alone. If I smile and say hi she will reciprocate but not pursue a conversation. She may be shy, she may be meditating. Either way, I think everyone envies her solitude on occasion. I know I do. If only I could be as Zen as she seems while watching the kiddos reenact "The Lord Of The Flies."
Then, over on the slide is the Peter Pan Mom. She will never grow up and I love her for it. She is the mom that is running and playing right along side the tots. When it is time to clean up and go home, she protests the loudest. If I could have a fraction of her energy I would be happy.
As I hear the undeniable sound of my own child repeating "mommy" a record breaking number of times I finally stop mom-watching and head over to her. On my way across the gym I pass the Where The Hell Are My Kids Mom. She asks me if I have seen them and I point in the direction I last noticed. I wish she knew just how much I can relate to that feeling. Those little suckers are fast and I can never keep track of mine. Give me a second one and I would have to put tracking devices on them.
I finally reach my own kiddo. She is playing with the offspring of the Picture Taking Mom. I love the Picture Taking Mom. No matter what your kids are doing she always sees it as a moment to capture. The result is a minute by minute photographic documentation of her child’s day. She is also amazing at uploading and tagging all the photos my child appears in on Facebook. It’s like having the paparazzi around, minus everything annoying.
It is finally time to go. It is then I notice the last type of mom. It’s the Stay At Home Dad. This is the rarest of the parenting types and highly coveted. Usually, the Stay At Home Dad is a combo of every type of mom. He takes the best of every other type and makes it work. The kids flock to him like he is the Pied Piper. When Stay At Home Dad shows up, the moms cheer inside. They know that when daddy is around, mom is temporarily off the hook, even if he isn’t your child’s dad.
My friend and I manage to gather our children and dress them for the outside chill. Another successful Open Gym has come and gone. The end always means whiny voices and exhausted bodies. The kids are pretty worn out, too. We grab our kid-luggage and head out into the sunlight. The downtown traffic sounds hushed after being in an acoustical nightmare for 90 minutes. We pile them all back into the van, turn on music to soothe the baby and head back to my house. I look behind me and am met with two very exhausted but very happy tots. That is why we do it. Regardless of which kind of parent we are, we all have the same goal, happy kiddos.
Michelle Stephens writes from the home she shares with her husband, their 3-year-old daughter and two dogs. She is the authority on nothing and may just be the most outgoing shy person you will ever meet. Her daughter is convinced she is a super hero, but most days she feels more like the super villain. Read more of her work on her blog at www.JuiceboxConfession.com or "like" her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Juicebox-Confession. All love letters can be sent to JuiceboxConfession@gmail.com.