Joy & Connection

We are Serious Fun.

At 42 years old, what possessed me to get my first tattoo? A matching tattoo with my 27-year-old employee no less. Am I, as my mom fears, having a mid-life crisis? Well it all started like this… 

It was 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. We’d finished teaching morning classes. I’m honestly not sure how it came up, but our gym manager Kelli, who has other tattoos, mentioned she was thinking of getting a tattoo one day of the “Get Moving” guy from our The Little Gym ad campaigns. Basically a line drawing of a guy running. And I said something like, “Why? That’s not a even a cute graphic! If you want to get a The Little Gym tattoo, you should get- ‘Serious Fun’ (our The Little Gym tagline)” So we commence joking around about this prospect. She’s like, oh, great idea, and we can add some of the stars and bubbles! We start talking fonts and options. At this point, there were three of us in the conversation. Me, Kelli, and my business partner Corey. Kelli pulls a program up on the screen and starts designing the tattoo idea. We’re all in agreement that it would be pretty cool. Kelli says, “Let’s do it.” And she picks up the phone to call her tattoo guy. At which point Corey says, “I’m out.” He later explained Kelli and I were a little more spontaneous then he’s comfortable being… So at 5:30 that night, Kelli and I went to her tattoo guy and got matching tattoos.

At this point, you might be siding with my mom about me having a mid-life crisis. But here are my reasons, spontaneous as they were, for why I went along with Kelli and branded myself for life: 

1. Serious Fun is not just a tagline. It’s a life philosophy.                                            

When I bought into The Little Gym Franchise in 2007, the official tag line or motto of The Little Gym was “Motor Skill Development made Fun builds Confidence that leads to a lifetime of Success.” First of all, that is way too long to tattoo on my forearm. But more importantly, when corporate did focus groups with parents, they realized that even the most loyal customers of the franchise had no idea what that statement meant, and they didn’t bring their children to the gyms for that purpose anyway. They brought them there primarily because their kids had fun. And the parents recognized there were things going on in the classes that were beneficial- but primarily they wanted their children to have fun. And so a new tag line was born- Serious Fun. That’s it. Now when someone asks what we do at The Little Gym we say we have Serious Fun. First of all, that is MUCH easier to teach a teenage staff member to say, and secondly, it put the focus exactly where it should be- on the fun. Do we build confidence? sure. Do we work on motor skill development? sure. We also work on turn-taking and following directions, and balance and flexibility and core strength. But mostly we have fun. And not just the kids. We expect the staff to have fun too. It's in their job descriptions. And I promise you, work, whether volunteer or vocational, is so much richer and more fulfilling when it is joyful. And things don't have to always be either or. Serious or fun. I've watched serious learning happen daily over the past decade. All while having so much fun. 

2. It's time for me to move on... 

As much as I have LOVED owning and operating my The Little Gym for the last 10 years, it will be time for me to move on soon. This month, I am turning over the gym completely to my current business partner Corey Hernandez. And although he might not be ready yet for the tattoo, he is more than ready to lead the Serious Fun. Corey and I have been friends since 1999. He helped us move the furniture into the gym. Literally. Then after he and his wife Ivy had their son Landon 6 years ago, they started bringing him to classes twice a week. So he has been a long time supporter and friend to me and the gym. He officially came on board as my business partner in January of 2015. And I have every confidence I am leaving the gym in fantastic hands.

Corey with his family and friends at his son's first birthday party 5 years ago this week.

Corey with his family and friends at his son's first birthday party 5 years ago this week.

I will still be teaching through the end of the Season in May 2017. So I'm not quite ready to walk out the door. But when I do go, I'll have my new tattoo as a constant reminder of all the Serious Fun I had with my students and my staff. And speaking of my staff, that brings me to the final reason I got the tattoo. 

3. Kelli asked me. 

Kelli started working at The Little Gym part-time over five years ago on her 22nd birthday. I've watched her grow and flourish over the last five years. And I couldn't be more proud of the job she's doing now as our General Manager. She is more than capable (and eager!) to help Corey run the gym for years to come. She embraces the philosophy of the program and works to make sure each family feels welcome in our gym. And she feels so invested in our business, she wanted to get a tattoo representing it. How could I not join her? 

And honestly, I love the idea that I am now branded and joined for life with my final gym director. Because as proud as I am of all the work I've done at The Little Gym over the years, I am the most proud of my mentoring of my staff members. I opened The Little Gym to make a difference in the lives of children and their families in our community. And I imagine I did some. But it's hard to quantify and measure those kind of long term differences. But what I am absolutely certain about, is the difference working at The Little Gym made to many of my young staff members. I have tears in my eyes even now as I type this just thinking about all the incredible young adults who shared their gifts with me and my business. And I know that many of them, like Kelli, feel working at The Little Gym changed their lives for the better. Some of them in quite significant ways. And that has been the most unexpected, best ever benefit of owning and operating my The Little Gym.  

And so now my literal bond with Kelli will serve as reminder of the metaphorical one I will always share with all my former staff members. And I hope each of us, wherever we are in the world, will remember and draw on the lessons of Serious Fun we learned at The Little Gym. And carry on in that same spirit always. 

You can join us in our Serious Fun revolution. You just have to love life and work with a joyful heart. The tattoo is optional... 

My Final Staff December 2016- Shannon, Kelli, Lyndsey, Victoria, Angel, Anna P., Anna T., Kendall, Mallory, and Corey. (Not pictured Nicolette)

My Final Staff December 2016- Shannon, Kelli, Lyndsey, Victoria, Angel, Anna P., Anna T., Kendall, Mallory, and Corey. (Not pictured Nicolette)

2016 Serious Fun

2016 Serious Fun

The Little Gym Roller Disco Party 2007

The Little Gym Roller Disco Party 2007

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Staff Picnic 2010

Staff Picnic 2010

Costume Party 2010

Costume Party 2010

Opus Tadpole Event 2011

Opus Tadpole Event 2011

Staff Training 2011

Staff Training 2011

July 2011

July 2011

TLG 80's Roller Bash December 2011

TLG 80's Roller Bash December 2011

Costume Ball 2012

Costume Ball 2012

July 2014

July 2014

Super Fun Skate Party 2014

Super Fun Skate Party 2014

Fall Ball 2015

Fall Ball 2015

Serious Fun Skating Party 2015

Serious Fun Skating Party 2015

Staff Party 2015

Staff Party 2015

Summer 2016

Summer 2016

The Space In Between...

This is another post where I don't know how to begin. Because I'm not sure where the story starts really. In some ways it starts in 1992 with a boy. Let's call him Steve (mostly because that's his name). And in some ways it starts in 2017 with a ring. Let's say it looks like this (because it does)...

That's my hand wearing the ring. And this is my engagement announcement of sorts. Because I'm going to marry the boy from 1992. This summer in 2017. In Ohio near where we met 25 years before while working at a camp together. And then my children (and my dog) and I are moving to Manchester, England where Steve is a Drama Professor. I know that's a lot of information to process. You see why I didn't know where to start? 

Let's go back to the ring. Isn't it lovely? When Steve gave it to me, he explained that the sparkly bit on one side represented our history, our relationship in 1992 and the sparkly bit on the other side was our present, our relationship now. And the two bits are joined by a silver band representing the 25 years in the middle that we carry with us, including our kids. And that the ring isn't a complete circle, because we haven't arrived back where we started all those years ago. We are in a close, but different sparkly place. (A magical place with email and facetime! In 1992, when he returned home to England after that summer, we had to handwrite and mail letters. But I digress...) 

I love my ring. And the metaphor Steve created when he gave it to me. (Although his daughter thinks it's the sappiest thing she's ever heard!) But I want to expand on the metaphor. (Because I'm even sappier.) What makes this ring design work is the space in between the two sparkly bits. The space gives the diamonds room to shine. The ring looks delicate and precious because of the space. And at the same time, the space makes the ring more resilient, more able to grow and expand as my finger might. The space is what makes it beautiful and strong. 

My daughter told me she was glad it hadn't worked out with me and Steve in 1992 because it meant that she and her sibling and Steve's daughter all got to be born. And she added she was glad it is working out now because she gets nice new family members. I told her I couldn't agree more. I don't regret for a second one minute of the space between those sparkly bits. Not to mention there were plenty of other sparkly bits over the last 25 years. And I am certain there will be many more. And what makes my whole life beautiful, and my spirit strong, is all of it. All of the space and all of the shiny. 

Right now my life is all about change. I'm in the process of selling my house and my business. I'm transitioning out of volunteer roles I've held for years. I'm preparing to move to a new country. And as I look back, I am so proud of the life I've lived. And thankful for all of the people who occupied the spaces with me. And I appreciate the highlights, the sparkly bits, all the more because of the space, the living, that surrounded them. Take my business, The Little Gym of Huntsville, for example. Opening it in 2007 and handing it over in 2017 are both beautiful highlights from my life in Huntsville, Alabama. Moments in time I will always treasure and remember. But those moments, those sparkly bits, only shine because of all the work that happened in the space between. All the bills I had to pay, all the staff meetings I had to run, all the marketing decisions I had to make, all the windows I had to clean. 

This time of transition is not all just nostalgic musings. I have a lot of work to do to facilitate all these life changes. Sometimes all the work feels overwhelming. But when my stress starts to rise, I try to remind myself that I am living in the space next to a sparkly bit. And that is not a bad place to be. That is the space after all where living takes place. The space that makes the beautiful moments shine and the space that supports the spirit as it grows.  

Stratford-Upon-Avon. June 2016. Our new family. And Grace.

Stratford-Upon-Avon. June 2016. Our new family. And Grace.

Our Rearranged Family

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. I just don't know how to start. I know what I want to say in the middle, and even the thoughts I want to finish up with, but I have no words to start the story... so I leave the post unwritten. And when I run into casual friends out and about and they ask me how Jason is, or how his business is going, I say fine. I don't say, "he's fine, but we've been separated for nearly a year actually." Because that seems like a weird place to start the story. Especially in the middle of a grocery store.  But he is fine. And so am I. And so are our kids. I guess I want to start there. Telling you we are all fine. 

And some of you might be confused. You might be thinking, but wait, I've seen you together this past year. Or I've seen pictures of you at holidays and special occasions. Or if you were at Salsarita's yesterday, you might be thinking you saw us having lunch together. You would be right on all counts. We do still hang out together. We did not separate in anger. We separated out of need to do what is best for our relationship. We decided we function better apart. And it was not a quick decision or an easy process. But we are ok. Really. And so are our kids. In fact, even the day we told them about the separation, they were ok. Our 9-year-old asked, "so does this mean I'm going to have 2 bedrooms?" We said eventually, yes. She replied, "Great. Because I have a lot of toys, and I could use a place to move some of them." 

Now I'm not saying everyone took the news so well. When one of our extended family members heard, she cried. And I felt horrible that we were breaking up our family. And then my soon to be ex-husband said perhaps the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me, "We are not breaking up the family. We are just rearranging the family." Still brings tears to my eyes thinking about that moment. And I cling to its truth. We are not a broken family, we are a rearranged family. This might just seem like semantics. But words matter. And I don't want my children to feel like they are from a "broken" home. 

We have raised our kids to respect differences and accept people and families as they are. They know families look different. And they know that love is what makes a family. And I know from personal experience growing up with step family members I love dearly and parents who showed me a healthy way for divorced parents to act with one another, that it is possible for kids to not be traumatized by divorce. And for families to function well after a divorce.

 And yet when I tell people about our separation, I still sometimes feel shame. Like I've done something wrong. And so sometimes I don't say anything. Sometimes I hide for fear of the pity or judgement I imagine others to be passing on our broken family. But it's time to stop hiding. And time to stop feeling shame. I'm not saying divorce is the best choice for everyone, or even for anyone. I'm just saying it is not a choice to be ashamed of either. Because we are not broken. We still love one another. We still work together to raise our children. We will always be a family- one I am quite proud of actually. A rearranged family. 

So if you see me in the grocery store and ask about Jason, I will tell you he is fine. Because he is. We all are. I wish you all the kind of love and support and happiness I've found in my rearranged family. 

Normal Love

A few months back, a mom in one of my Parent/Child classes confided to me that her child was born with a section of brain missing. I'll give you a moment to reread and absorb. Yes, she was born with a piece of brain missing. I've taught nearly 1000 toddlers over the last decade. I thought I'd heard it all. But I was surprised. And not just because this diagnosis was unfamiliar to me. I was more surprised to hear that anything was wrong with this particular child, let alone something so serious sounding. 

In my interactions with the child in class, it never entered my mind she might have any serious developmental delays. I saw a curious, attentive, well-adjusted, happy, beautiful toddler. And she is all of those things. She is also missing a Corpus Callosum. A fact that her mom keeps a guarded secret. She doesn't want anyone to treat her differently.  

So while I respect and admire her mom's decision to keep the diagnosis private, I was inspired by this amazing child and asked if I could share her story anonymously on this blog. My first thought was that I wanted to write a story about how incredible the human brain is. Emphasize the ability the brain has to grow new connections and expand. Tell you all that in addition to bringing her to The Little Gym, they take her strawberry picking, and to museums, and to parks, and they do Pinterest Projects, and play in water and sand and paint. I wanted to point out that by exposing her to rich and varied environments and experiences, her brain is building connections and expanding its capacity everyday. I wanted to say that no one should assume someone can't or shouldn't do something because of a diagnosis, or because of a test score, or because of their gender, or because of the opinions of others. I wanted to say, feed your child's brain and your child will learn and grow. Because the brain is elastic.  

But the more I watched the family, and the more I talked to her mom, I realized that as amazing as the capacity of the human brain is, the more amazing part of this story is the capacity of a parent to love a child in a normal, healthy way. This mom did not let a diagnosis or doctors define her child. She is letting her child define herself. At the same time, she is not unrealistic or unprepared to help her in any way she needs. Sometimes she'll ask me in class, "do you think she is doing this because of what I told you?" And so far, I've been able to honestly answer, no. I don't. Every issue her mom has identified to me, I've seen many times in other toddlers with no brain defects. This is not to say that this child will never exhibit delays due to her condition. But when and if she does, her mom is ready to handle them and support her. In the meantime, she treats her like she is completely normal and healthy. 

The result of her family treating her like she is normal and healthy, is that she is normal and healthy. Her mom says she wants her to have a normal life, whatever that means for her. She made a conscious decision to not be frightened by the doctor's list of scary possible outcomes. She told me she decided to treat her like she was able to do anything until proven otherwise. She wrote, "To me it's the same if you were told you're not smart. Then you are not going to try your best. I think you get a better outcome if you feel supported from the very beginning." The same as if you were told you were not smart. While I agree with her, I also want to point out how remarkable this mom is. Her child was born without a piece of her brain. If anyone deserves to feel sorry for themselves or be over protective of their child, it certainly would be her. But she chose not to feel sorry and not to hide her daughter away. She chose to parent and love her child in a normal, healthy way. 

And I believe that when or if any developmental delays manifest, this incredible little girl will still be normal and healthy. That just might look different in her. As it does in many people. Healthy doesn't have to mean perfect. Normal doesn't have to mean identical to everyone else. Maybe being healthy and normal should mean being loved in a healthy, normal way. 

Our children deserve to be defined by who they are and what they have to offer the world. To be supported when they need it but expected to do great things. And we all deserve to be loved in a healthy, normal way. 

 

Confession of an older sister

I have a sister who is 3 years younger than I am. I know this because as an adult she has been a tremendous source of love and support for me. Truth be told though, my memories of her as a child are sketchy. Almost non-existent in a weird selective amnesia way. And as I watch my own younger daughter trying desperately to get the attention and approval of her older sister these days, I sometimes shake my head in shame... 

One day a few years back, my sister said something about my 16th birthday party. I was like, "oh, were you there?" She assured me she was... but perhaps the worst thing I have no memory of is the day she entered puberty. She says she was home alone with me the day she got her first period. My loving response? Allegedly I told her to walk to her friend's house for help (and to get supplies!) because I was about to be picked up for a date... This sounds like it could be true to me....I mean, if I had a date, right?!? And when she told me this story as an adult, I asked her if I knew it was her first time having a period, she responded with a pretty emphatic, "OH, YOU KNEW!" 

So I'd like to say sorry to her now for that abuse. And for all the other slights I don't even remember making. And I'd like to tell her that I see and remember her now. I see the wonderful woman she grew up to be. I see her strength and her compassion. And I'd like to take some of the credit for those things, I mean clearly my ignoring her led to her learning to be strong. And I imagine gave her a sense of compassion for others mistreated and marginalized... Wait. No.... 

There is research to show that the biggest predictor of personality is birth order. This gives me some comfort. I can't be the only older sister in history to have overlooked my younger sibling... So on behalf of older sisters everywhere, I'd like to apologize. It's not that we didn't like you little ones. We never thought about you enough to not like you. It was nothing personal. And hopefully you will give us the chance to be real friends as adults. To see you as you are, and appreciate all you offer the world and our family. Like my sister has.

Thank you Kristy for coming down to take care of me recently after my surgery. Thank you for always being there when I need you. And when you need me, I will never again pawn you off on a friend so that I can go on a date...