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

Let the bosses boss...

The other day during a stirring rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, I paused after every verse to ask a different 2-year-old what animal they'd like to sing. Some children were shy or hesitant and needed prompting from their parents. "How about a sheep?" Nod. With a baa baa here and a baa baa there... "Doggie. You like doggies" Yes! Child shouts "doggie" and we keep singing. With a woof-woof here and a woof woof there... Then it was Alexa's turn. She confidently says, "a grasshopper!" "Oh, a grasshopper?" I repeat. "What sound does a grasshopper make?" Without missing a beat Alexa offers up a three second high pitch scream that sounded like she was trying to scare someone. Ok then. With a "aaaaAAAAaa" here and a "aaaaAAAaa" there... It was my favorite verse of Old MacDonald ever. 

I admire Alexa's talent for making choices. And making choices quickly and confidently is a talent my friends. Have you ever tried to pick a restaurant for dinner with someone who does not like to make decisions? It can be excruciating. So I like to celebrate and follow the little decision makers in my classes. I say "follow" because frequently linked to the talent of making choices quickly is the desire to change the game. Or the class. Or the song.

One of my favorite TLG memories is of teaching a then almost three-year-old named Norah. I didn't know Norah when she was born, but I imagine she came out of the womb knowing what she wanted to do. She was fierce and mighty and so much fun. Some days she decided she was a T-Rex. Some days she was the leader of her "dragon girls." She would say to her classmates, "follow me dragon girls..." and they would follow her right off the red mat. Who wouldn't want to be a dragon girl? Still makes me laugh, and it has been YEARS since Norah and her dragon girls were in my class.

But for as much as Norah used to make me smile as she'd lead her gang away from me and my directions, she made her mom sometimes shake her head and apologize. And she's not the only parent to say sorry for similar behavior. Because decision makers know what they want to do next and they ask for it. No matter what we are doing. Sometimes this embarrasses their parents. They apologize because their child comes up and tells me directly what they want to do. Even though most of the time, I'm like "Great idea!" Because I believe just like wanderers need the space to wander, and observers need to feel safe to observe, the leaders need to sometimes lead.  

In addition to the apologies, I have often been asked by parents something along the lines of “how can I teach my child to not be so bossy.” To which I say, "What? Bossy? Your child is a born leader. You can’t teach that kind of confidence.” Those leaders-to-be don’t need to be hampered; they need to be nurtured. They need to be taught to respect others rights to say no. They need to be taught that sometimes you have to compromise (even when your idea is the best). And they need to be taught not to be a bully. But bossy? We need some bosses. Otherwise we'll all just be singing some variation of with a woof-woof and a baa-baa forever. 

So gather your dragon girls and sing it with me, "with a aaaAAAAaaa here and a aaaAAAA there...." 

And now may I present Norah the forward rolling T-Rex... 

 

P.S. I haven't seen Norah in about 4 or 5 years, so I contacted her mom before I posted this to make sure it was ok to use her first name. Norah is now in second grade, and her mom shared this with me, "Norah makes me laugh everyday and nothing gets her down.  She is a natural leader and hates to see a child being mean or picking on another child.  I have heard quite the stories from her teachers the last couple of years of them sitting back and Norah politely telling the mean child that they need to apologize and that is not how you treat other children. The last child say "ok Norah I'm sorry" and Norah politely says "I'm not the one you need to apologize too, please treat ... With respect!" So proud Norah. Way to lead. 

Under the Rainbow Parachute

I spend my mornings hanging out under rainbow parachutes and surrounded by babies and bubbles. It's hard to feel cynical in this setting. When the world starts getting a little dark, I bask in the light of childhood optimism. I dwell in their joy and possibility. And I am recharged. 

So here is my holiday wish list for you dear friends:      

May you feel the happiness found under a rainbow parachute, 
and experience the wonder of bubble time.
wonder.JPG
May your soul soar with abandonment.
May you know the confidence of reaching the top alone
and the support of a loved one when you need it most.  
I wish you the optimism found in a baby's smile
and the comfort and delight in being found yourself.  Either in a game of hide-n-seek or by being seen in the real world as you actually are...  
I hope you laugh
and use your imagination to the fullest
and that you play. 
And dance like a chicken. Or a robot. Or anything else that makes you smile. 
I hope you look at things from a new perspective everyday. 
And that you take time to rest and be peaceful. 
May you dwell in the cheer of good company. 
And most of all, I wish you the joy of possibility. 
 Love, Angel  

Love, Angel  






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. 

 

Did your child throw a fit?

Did your child throw a fit?

Your heart is beating fast. You start to sweat. You can’t concentrate on anything around you. It’s like you have tunnel vision. Don’t worry; you are not having a heart attack. You are simply a loving parent watching your child behave in a way you find totally inappropriate. And you are sure everyone in the room is watching your child and horrified. This magnifies your anxiety, and you just want to run. Fight or flight your body is saying. Scoop up that child and flee! And on your way out, you are thinking, apologize to anyone listening…
 
I can’t tell you how many times a parent has approached me after a class at The Little Gym to apologize for their child “throwing a fit.” My response is almost always the same, “did your child throw a fit? I really hadn’t noticed.” And I’m not saying that to be nice. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am direct and honest sometimes to a fault. Ask my staff…
 
But anyway, back to you and your experience...