The conversation I had with the woman at the local taco stand began innocently enough. The place was full and there was an extra space at the picnic table I was sitting at with my daughter, Alex. The woman was my age, maybe a little older, and immediately after she asked if she could join us said, “So what classes are you taking?”
Now in most situations this would be a normal topic of conversation. Kids nowadays have so many extracurricular classes and activities — especially in my neighborhood where most of the kids from pre-school age on up take a lot of prep courses to get into good schools. I looked over at Alex and then returned my gaze to my newfound mom-companion.
“None right now, she’s not ready.”
The mom was shocked. I could see it all clearly in the expression on her face. It’s almost like I committed a mom-crime or something. I mean how could I not have my child enrolled in several different classes? What kind of mom was I? Maybe I should be written up for child neglect. After all, who in their right mind didn’t have their child going to classes yet?
I reached over to tug at Alex’s foot. “Nope, no classes.” Alex let out a little cry. We were getting close to naptime. I gently rocked the infant seat that she was reclining in, talked a little bit more and then after a few minutes bid the mom goodbye and took my 8 month old back to the car.
Nope, no classes.
For the longest time I was the only mom I knew who didn’t go to classes with my baby. Most of the moms had their kids doing everything from the free parenting classes at our local community college to baby swim lessons. “Music Together”, Mommy and Me, Gymboree, and baby signing classes all were names tossed around when our kids hit the 4 month mark. My fellow mom friends were always talking about trying something new, packing their barely cognizant little ones off to classes that cost more per 20 minute session than the 90 minute yoga classes I used to take at an upscale studio. The small talk at the taco stand wasn’t something out of the ordinary. Everyone, it seems, takes it as normal that kids who can’t even crawl should have something ‘educational’ to occupy their time.
Forget staring at the ceiling fan, playing with stacking blocks, or raiding the Tupperware drawer. The best way to ‘raise’ a kid is to start them off right – by putting them into a structured environment where they can ‘learn’ something. News flash – kids are learning each and every second of the day, and here’s the rub – one of the best ways they can learn is if we get out of their way.
Childhood used to be all about fun. Now it’s about who is doing what where.
Don’t get me wrong. I did eventually sign Alex up for parenting class once she was about a year old when it no longer interfered with her nap schedule. She gets to play with a lot of cool toys – many of which are old standbys that have been around as long as I have – as well as interact with other kids. I get to hang out with other moms, kvetch and eat a donut now and again. There is a schedule but there’s no agenda for the kids. They have song time, story time, and free play. It’s a great deal. Especially since all this is… free.
Free non-structured playtime with toys and a few carbs once or twice a week should be good enough. But, for many of the moms in my class, they still have their kids signed up for even more things to do. Trying to organize playdates with these moms is also always an issue. “We have ‘x’ class that day” being a common refrain. Just recently at a birthday party one of the moms had to rush their kid off to his class, just popping in to say a quick “Hi. Happy Birthday!” Poor kid missed having ice cream cake just so he could go to…school.
I’m all for kids playing together and learning how to be social. Playdates, which I shunned pre-momhood, I have learned to accept as a necessity — getting out of the house a must for my sanity. But I just can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would shell out big bucks to put their kids in classes. My best memories of childhood are of running around, playing in the park, getting dirty, and making up games with other kids. Parents were actually kind of boring. They never could come up with good storylines or understand how a box could become a castle with just a few blankets and a broom.
In many ways I feel like I’m a mom from another planet. I could really care less if my child learns about music theory by the time she’s 2. It seems enough that she sings her ABCs on her own while beating some pots and pans on the floor. She’s experimenting with rhythm and melody in her own unique way. Why would I pay $100 per month to have a ‘childhood development expert’ teach something that my child already is doing intuitively?
So these days when I say I have no class, it takes on a whole new meaning.