We started gymnastics classes for five-year-old M about a month ago. Overall it is going really well, at least from M’s perspective. I suppose his perspective is the one that counts, as the whole reason we decided to do gymnastics is because he really wanted the opportunity to bounce on a trampoline (and we wanted it to be somewhere safe, with professional supervision). He likes the class a lot and I can see him smiling and talking to the other two friendly boys that attend the class with him. He also seems to be enjoying the challenge of doing various new physical feats.
How am I doing with it? I think I’m having some culture shock. I’ve spent most of the time, in the last 6 months, going to LLL meetings, attending unschooling support groups, and attending events with a local attachment parenting group. I guess I sometimes forget how the rest of the world lives.
At the first gymnastics class, at the end of the class, M got a gift of some sort of eraser at the end of class. He also got a hand-stamp that was supposed to be tied to good behavior. Lovely. Coming from our non-rewards based, Alfie Kohn-esque home, this was a shock to my system. M walked into gymnastics class totally happy about doing gymnastics – he had a personal interest, and sought to satisfy it. When he got home and told me about the class, this is what he had to say: “Mom! You know what the best thing about gymnastics class is? You get a stamp and eraser at the end of class!” I say, “I thought you went because you wanted to enjoy gymnastics?” Him: “Well, maybe there are two good things about the class. The gymnastics and the stamps.” I’m not sure if the rewards served to impact the intrinsic joy M got over gymnastics, or whether he was just being distracted by the fun cheap toys. Either way, I was not thrilled. Can’t kids just take joy in an activity they want to be involved with? Apparently many adults think they need rewards left and right. If it isn’t a “good job!” for going down a freakin’ slide (you know that no child would want to go down a slide without a reward, right?), then it’s stamps at gymnastics class. Idiots.
Luckily, the rewards at the end of gymnastics class did not continue for the next month. The first class was done by a different teacher, so M’s regular teacher just focuses on gymnastics. But then Arp and I, with J in tow go to the last class of the regular season the other day. It’s sort of set up for all the parents to observe their kids. The first horror of the day was watching another of the mothers totally castigate her 3 year old for not “behaving” in the seating area (e.g. not sitting still in a seat for an hour). It was irritating to watch. Arp and I had brought 3-year-old J to the event because we don’t generally have or use babysitters. But I knew walking in that she would most likely not sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time, like any 3 year old. I had a plan walking in. Arp and I basically traded off as to whether we were watching the performance or walking J around, or taking her to the car to read a book. This other mother with the 3 year old spent most of her time yelling at her kid and physically yanking him around. When we met once outside (she finally had the sense to take her child for a walk, although still with that yanking going on), she says to me in the nastiest voice possible, “I just love this age!” Later, Arp tells me that she told him, “I can’t wait until he turns 5!” So does she mean that she can’t wait until she can put him in kindergarten? Well, in this case kindergarten might be a more welcoming place than the arms of his own mother. Why do people have kids if they can’t stand to spend time with them?
And the final straw that broke my culture-shocked back? The lovely speech made by the owner of the school at the end of the performance. It was all about how, “studies have shown that it only takes 2 months for kids to forget all their reading and math skills over the summer, so keep your kids reading and doing math this summer!” And the worst comment of the day? “We have to keep up, because all those Chinese and Indian kids are going to catch us!” I was on my feet in a second and it was on the tip of my tongue to blurt out that M was Indian, so was he going to catch someone? But I didn’t. If M hadn’t been there, I might have. I know – I have a bad temper. But that comment made my blood boil. First of all, why would I raise my child with an eye for competitive patriotism? I do everything for M because I love him, not because I’m worried about other countries. Do people really think about that stuff? Plus, it was a culturally insensitive comment. We’ve tried to remind out children how they are Indian too, just like Daddy is, at least partly. M wasn’t paying attention to the comment, but how might he have felt if he thought that his teacher resented India, and wanted our country to be better than it? Well, I guess that would have been an opportunity for learning too, but I was just hoping that that particular topic might be put off a few years more. I guess what bothers me is that I sensed an undertone of racism. It was more than just the sorts of patriotism that I dislike, it’s the racism, the resentment of “the other”, that I really dislike. Is it wrong to want to protect M from that attitude for a little bit longer?