Mindful Play

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

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.

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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






Be Still and Blow Bubbles

Be Still and Blow Bubbles

Don't just do something, stand there. What profound advice. In the midst of all our busy lives, it's sometimes difficult to just be. To be present to the miracles around us and hear our own heart beat...

So today I'd like to share with you the secret magic of bubbles...

I own The Little Gym of Huntsville where I teach Parent/Child classes. In every class, we have bubble time. And bubble time is magical. Every single day in every single class. You blow bubbles, and toddlers and babies stop everything else they are doing and they watch the bubbles. Every time. And if a child is crying before I start blowing the bubbles, the tears stop almost immediately when the bubbles start. And they are present. Present in that magical moment. And I assure you they are not preoccupied that they were hungry or wet or anything else possibly minutes before. Nor are they worried that maybe later they will be hungry or wet. They just enjoy the bubbles.

A Camp Counselor's Work: Saving and Savoring the World

*This is an excerpt from a talk I gave on revelry. I wrote it to be read aloud. So if you know me, please try to “hear” my voice and put the proper inflection and tone in as you read. If you don’t know me- WOW! Thanks for finding and reading this random blog! Please try to “hear” it in any voice you like best! 

…We cannot forget to revel in the midst of our work- because there is always work to do.  We needn’t wait to have “vacations” or ‘nights off” to revel and be joyful.

EB White in a New York Times interview in 1969 said,

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.
— EB White

And if not first, then simultaneously. Maybe the trick is to learn to do both at once- save and savor.

My 11 year old and her friend went to camp last week. They had a fantastic time, and I know they had experiences and learned things that will stay with them for a lifetime. And as I looked at the young camp staff in charge of their care, I was reminded of the best 3 summers of my life- when I worked at a Camp Otterbein in Ohio. 

Camp life is a magical place where for 10 weeks the rest of the world fades away. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. Something I knew to be true at the camp I worked, and after spending a little time looking at camp counselors' blogs this week, I’m now pretty certain it’s a universal secret among camp staffs. 

Here it is: The primary goal of the entire staff is to have a good time. Not make sure the kids have a good time. I mean our primary goal was to make sure WE had a good time. The primary goal. Sure we cared about the kids, sure we wanted them to be safe and have a good time, sure we wanted them to learn things, but I promise you our number one focus was on having fun ourselves with the other camp counselors. We lived for the 24 hours every week when the camp was free of the campers and it became our personal playground. 

When the campers were there, they were at best an audience for us and at worst a prop. It was like camp life was some magical place where the goal really was to revel in life. And it had a sort of fake it till you make it atmosphere. For example if it rained, we didn't want unhappy campers (because that would make us unhappy) so we acted like the rain was awesome, and so it was. 

Before I worked at Camp Otterbein, I attended that camp every summer for 8 years. As a camper my life was changed, and I learned so many things that have stayed with me to this day. However, having worked on staff later with two of my favorite counselors, I can assure you changing my life was not their primary concern. Or even a main concern. And that’s ok.

As 16-year-old camper. Me on bottom left. Favorite counselor in middle top row.

As 16-year-old camper. Me on bottom left. Favorite counselor in middle top row.

On staff together a few summers later.

On staff together a few summers later.

As counselors, our goal was not to change young lives, although I am sure we did, because we were in a position to do so. We were working in a place where we had the opportunity to do good work, with specific confines to operate in, and so we did good work and had the best times of our lives. 

I’m sure if you gathered any like-minded group of 18-24 year olds to work together 24/7, one of their primary goals would be to have a great time. If they are gathered together to work on selling time-shares, that good time will manifest differently than it will in a church camp setting. My point is we didn’t have to stress about or worry if we were making a difference in the world. Our choice to work there already put us in a place to make a difference. So we just kicked back and enjoyed every minute of it. We saved and we savored.

I used to look back with awe at my time at camp. I thought I loved it so much because we were all young and energetic with a great job living in an amazing place. And that’s all part of it. But when I play with my kids for fun and not out of duty, then I touch on that feeling again. So maybe it wasn't about who we were then or where we were, but what we expected from life and our jobs in those moments in that time. Maybe it was so magical just because our primary goal was simply to revel in life and to enjoy the people around us. 

Now one important reason having fun could be our main goal was that we didn’t have to worry about bills, food, shelter, or anything really from the outside world. Like I said, the outside world melted away. 

And so I know as adults in the real world, we can’t just forget all our responsibilities and become self-serving people only concerned with having a good time. At least not completely. But I do think sometimes we could move the goal of having fun, of participating in revelry, even as we work, up to the top of our list and see what happens. 

...Where could you practice saving and savoring? Here is my prayer for you- may you enjoy the dish you brought to the potluck you planned, may you feel awe at a work day as you dig in the dirt and notice the ground below you, may you laugh uncontrollably during the class you lead, may you feel the full warmth of community as you march for justice, may you be filled up with the joy of doing good work in a committee meeting, may you get chills at how beautiful the music is coming from the choir you are singing with, may you revel in the parties you plan and help with- the fundraisers and the holidays, and may you always find a way to step back from the work of saving the world as you are doing it just long enough to savor the world around you. May you replenish your spirit with revelry. Everyday.

I Dwell in Possibility

My 7-year-old got in the car after school the other day and announced, "I still believe in Santa, but I'm getting kind of suspicious of those Elves on the Shelf." Not much gets past her.

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This revelation got me thinking about a blog post I've been writing off and on in my mind for the last 20 years or so. You can see at that pace why this blog only has a handful of entries...

The year was 1992. I was in college watching one of my then all-time favorite movies "The Lost Boys" with a friend who shockingly had never seen it. When the vampires in the movie fly around, the camera angle is from their perspective. So my friend asks, "Are they flying as bats or men?" "I don't know, men I guess." To which she says, "oh that's ridiculous. I don't believe that." Still makes me laugh. Vampires- fine. Vampires turning into bats- fine. Vampires flying around like Superman- ridiculous.

And so through the years I've been mentally collecting these lines people draw in what they are willing to believe. One of my favorites was when my then 4-year-old cousin was watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. He looks up from the tv and calmly says, "Squirrels can't talk." Yep. There you have it. The only logical flaw in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show...

These lines come up at my The Little Gym often too. Just recently I walked into a 3-year-old class just in time to hear a girl tell her teacher, "those snakes aren't real." True. Because the "snakes" were actually just scarves tied around the beam. But notice she didn't say, "those scarves aren't snakes." She said, "those snakes aren't real." So part of me thinks she entertained the idea of them being snakes in her head just long enough to draw her line. And even as she made her statement, she was looking for reassurance... 

What also amuses me is the flip side- the leaps we'll make to justify a belief. (And now I'm just speaking about kids here, so no one extrapolate this to apply to any adult beliefs...) Back to my daughter and Santa. So last year for Christmas my older daughter asked for a robot toy from Santa. She received a blue penguin robot. Blue being her favorite color and penguins her favorite animal. When her younger sister saw this miraculous gift, she said, "see sissy! Now do you believe in Santa? Who else would know you liked blue and penguins? I told you Santa was real!" Indeed. Who else....

A couple of weeks ago my 7-year-old Elf skeptic came home and announced she had "scientifically proven fairies existed." She added, "My friend saw one. And you know, if you see something you can believe it. And if your friend sees something you can believe it. Right, mom?" I had a small moral crisis about how to answer her. Wasn't sure if I I wanted to crush her belief in eye witness testimony. Her dad however, had no such crisis. He told her that wasn't scientific proof. He explained that was the least reliable kind of evidence. Then he listed for her reliable "hard" evidence she would need to prove their existence. The best being capturing a live fairy, but they decided that if she found a piece of a wing or some pixie dust, that would be good enough. So the hunt continues... at least till her belief line in fairies moves... 

As for me, I like my lines widely drawn. I leave room for lots of things to fit. I dwell in possibility...

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
— Emily Dickinson