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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Gym with a View

Back when I was manning the phones at the gym, one commonly fielded question was whether parents could watch their kids during gymnastics class. Initially, the answer was no. Gymnastics gyms are frequently repurposed warehouses that aren't configured with a viewing area in mind. With wall-to-wall equipment, there was simply no room. Every 6 or 8 weeks we'd squeeze some chairs into the entry and allow parents to watch their child's class.

Still, this solution wasn't enough for some parents. I was always surprised at how this factor was a deal-breaker for a lot of people. We could have been offering 2-dollar classes with an Olympic guarantee, but if Mommy couldn't watch little Madison*, they'd go elsewhere, thank you very much.

This drove us staff nuts. What did they think we were doing back there, letting them run wild while we took smoke breaks? Sitting on their backs for an hour of pushups? And really, did these parents have nothing better to do for an hour (or 2 or 3 hours in some cases)?  Who would use their precious spare time to hover where they didn't even need to be?  Eventually we built a small balcony area to appease the parents.  I put signs up in the viewing area: "Please do not wave to or distract your child while he/she is in class! This is for your child's safety!!!"  It's true: I've seen children trip on mats or fall off the beam waving to their parents.

Later, I had some kids.

And when 3-year-old Kid A was in her first dance class, don't you know I crowded next to all the other parents around the small window so as not to miss something incredibly cute or promisingly advanced that my precious baby would surely do. And when the grandparents were in town, they'd crowd around too.  And if she caught my eye, of course I'd smile and wave and clap and give a thumbs up. When you're a parent, everything your baby does is so cute and sweet and funny. And your 3-year-old is still your baby.

Now we're at a dance studio that doesn't have a viewing area and I have to admit I'm a little annoyed. It's a significant drive to get there; I don't have time to go back home. Neither can I go shopping every week, particularly with a baby in tow. I'm paying good money, and I'd kind of like to see for myself whether my kids are truly enjoying the class and learning anything.  Plus, signing up at a dance studio comes with another issue--I want to know that their values are consistent with mine. Meaning, I want to ensure that they're not teaching my 6-year-old how to bump and grind. At the last dance recital I attended, a couple of suggestive performances made me wonder if a parent had ever peeked in the window during class.

But as someone who has taught gymnastics before, I have to remind myself: almost every child will do better in class when their parents are unable to interfere. The viewing area where my  Kid B, age 3,  now takes gymnastics is probably a blessing and a curse to the coaches.  Big enough to fit plenty of people comfortably, but close enough for overly enthusiastic parents to coach from the sidelines. Close enough for my preschooler to jet out of line and come request a third and fourth hug/sip of water/kiss on a booboo. Close enough for a dad to encourage their kid to try something unsafe when the coach is not looking (I've seen that). Close enough for one crazy woman to shout repeatedly at her teenage cheerleader who was afraid to do a back tuck during her private lesson, "KAITLYN!*  I'm not paying all this money for you not to do this trick!" (I've seen that too).

So I've concluded a few things. The best viewing area is a very discreet one (see balcony description above). Gyms without viewing areas aren't trying to hide something or piss you off.  If you spend an inordinate amount of time in a viewing area, consider picking up a hobby, but if you're still spending an inordinate amount of time in a viewing area, lay low and let the coaches do their job.  That's what you're paying them for.

*(blog posts will henceforth refer to all small children as Madison, all teenagers as Kaitlyn).

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