Must be an American

Sitting in JFK a few hours from boarding a plane to move to England. The last few days as I've packed up all my belongings, I couldn't stop a flood of emotions and thoughts about my American identity and who I'll be (and how I'll be seen) when I'm no longer living in America.

I visited England for the first time in December of 1992. I have a vivid memory of attending a holiday service in a beautiful old church in Cambridge. A woman was walking around near the worship area with a video camera. (In 1992 those were bulky and conspicuous) A lady sitting in front of me said in a disdainful tone, “she must be an American.” I immediately slid down in the pew, lowered my head and made sure to not speak so my accent wouldn't betray me. 

I’m not sure what message was delivered from the pulpit that day. But the message my 18-year-old self received then was that being an American was something to be embarrassed about…that my people were unrefined and out of place in such a dignified setting. Who knows if the woman in the church with the camera was American. And certainly that judge-y woman was not the best representative of the English... But I did carry that insecurity about how people (especially maybe educated, fancy people) see Americans. 

Fast forward 25 years, and I now find myself moving to England and married to a British citizen. The same one I visited 25 years ago. But that’s a different story. This is the story of me leaving my homeland. And my feelings about it. 

I know sometimes Americans are a seen as a joke. I remember backpacking through Europe and meeting Americans who had put Canadian Flags on their bags so people would like them more... And truthfully, I’m not always proud of American policies and practices. And some of our history is indefensible. Sadly, I’m certain future politicians will make mistakes as well. But my story is distinctly an American one. Good, bad and ugly. I am who I am today because of my American upbringing and lifestyle. 

I am the granddaughter of Appalachian people from West Virginia and Kentucky who moved to Ohio for industrial jobs. My grandparents married in their teens. As a child, I watched my paternal grandfather struggle with his own racism when my father married an African-American woman. I watched my maternal grandmother dance to Rocky Top on top of the bar in the bowling alley lounge. I grew up in a rental community in Ohio’s most dangerous city. I played t-ball. I went to vacation bible school and church camp every summer. I was a girl scout. As a teen, my social life revolved around Youth Group and Marching Band. I took family vacations in cars to the Smokey Mountains and DisneyWorld. 

I was the first in my family to graduate from college. My dad retired from the Air Force. My first husband was a Marine. I taught high school near Yorktown, Virginia. I taught English to international students in LA. I opened my own business in Alabama. I was a PTA President and a Business Coach of the Year. I shuttled kids to play dates and after school activities. I started a somewhat self indulgent blog… 

I love country music. And Bon Jovi and Madonna. My favorite holidays are the 4th of July and Halloween. I believe you can make your dreams come true. I was taught to stand up for what you believe in and to fight injustice anywhere. And like my American idol, Dolly Parton, I know it’s okay to have a big, flashy personality if you have a big heart and generous spirit to go with it. 

So after reflection, my 43-year-old self has internalized a new message. I'm not leaving my identity behind at all. I'm taking my Appalachian ancestors and their dreams with me. I'm representing my people and forging a new future for myself. I'm engaging with the world the way I was brought up to- with curiosity and hope. And if I overhear someone in a my new hometown of Manchester referring to me with a, “she must be an American”, I am going to hold my head up high and say proudly, “she is…” 

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My Complicated Family Tree: Story of a Grateful Stepchild

Not too long after I separated from their father, my oldest daughter joked around saying she hoped if I ever got remarried the man wouldn't have kids. She said she didn't want to have any step siblings. When I asked why not, she replied, "Haven't you ever seen a fairy tale?" I laughed. Then I pointed out that if I did get remarried, I would be the stepmom of the story. Which would make her and her sister the evil stepsisters. That blew her mind a little bit! Then she said perhaps the truest statement ever, "Yes, but you're not wicked. You're just overwhelming..." Fast forward a while and now this summer my girls will be getting a stepsister (they are no longer concerned she might be evil!) and I will become a stepmom.

And so not wanting to be too overwhelming, I decided to do a little research.  As I skimmed through descriptions of books written by experts and stepparents with all kinds of advice, it occurred to me. I already know quite a lot about best practices in stepfamilies. In fact, my childhood was kind of like a Master's level course on the subject. Both my parents had stepparents. I had stepparents. Even my stepparent had stepparents.

Now like everyone, I have some issues stemming from my upbringing. Because the adults in my life, like all other adults, had their faults. (I could list both my issues and their faults over a drink some time if you like) But I promise you that none of my issues stem from my parents' divorce or being part of a stepfamily. Because when it came to modeling the right way to blend families, the adults in my life were the very best. Here's some of what I learned: 

It is much easier for a child when all the important adults in their life seem to like each other. No one ever made me feel like there were sides to choose. They didn't even make it look hard to get along. A fact that now as an adult looking back, I can appreciate how difficult that must have been at times. But I have no memories of either of my parents ever saying anything bad about the other. My stepfather and father would go play basketball together. And while I had friends with divorced parents who had to have two of everything because their parents couldn't be in the same room together, in my family, we spent holidays and birthdays with anyone in town to celebrate: ex-husbands, new wives, grandparents from all sides with their 2nd (or 4th!) spouses. My uncle lived in a trailer in his ex-wife and her husband's yard for years to be close to my cousins. My father's mother and her 2nd husband were so close with my mom and my stepdad, you would have assumed they were one of their parents. And in a way, they were. 

The adults in my life growing up taught me that commitment makes a family. Not blood relationships. And once you've made a commitment to someone, you can change the marital status, but they are still your family. And their family is your family. And everyone is always welcome at the party. Crazy ex or not. And even when someone messes up in a big way, if they come back knocking on the door, then you let them in like the prodigal son. And this open, accepting family policy helped me to grow into an open, accepting human being. And I am grateful to my complicated family tree for that. 

As much as I appreciate and learned from all sides of my messy family tree, I am most thankful for the lessons taught to me by my stepfather and his family. Or rather my family on my stepfather's side. My mother married my stepfather when I was 7 years old and suddenly I was part of a huge family. He had 5 brothers and sisters, and they all had kids. My sister and I were the only stepchildren. And yet no one ever made us feel like we were any different from any other child in that family. My grandparents and aunts and uncles treated us the same way they treated all of their biological grandchildren and nieces and nephews. That sense of belonging was a blessing. 

My stepfather was only 20 years old when he married my mom. And my sister and I already had a dad. One who was a part of our lives. And yet for most of the year, we lived with our stepfather and our mom. Again, now as an adult, and future stepparent, I am beginning to appreciate the complexity and difficulty of his position. But as a child, I never sensed there was an issue. 

Because even though he didn't replace my dad, he was absolutely one of my parents. When I fell off my bike and needed stitches, he carried me to get help. He taught me how to drive. And  when I ran out of gas, he brought me some on the side of the road. When I got lost (which happened all too frequently!) I called him for directions. He coached my t-ball team and never seemed to mind that I spent all the games picking dandelions. He grounded me when I came home a few minutes past curfew. He came to every school event and band concert. He took me bowling. He read me stories. He played with me. Sometimes he yelled at me. But always he loved me. And he never asked for anything in return. Just like a real parent. 

And yet as much as he was absolutely a parent to my sister and me, we did not call him dad. Even as we called his parents grandma and grandpa, and his brothers and sisters aunt and uncle, we always called him by his name. If that bothered him, he never let it show. He certainly never made me feel guilty about it. But I always thought he deserved his own title. 17 years ago when my first niece was born, he got one. Papaw. And now my girls have 6 grandparents (soon to be 8) and yet they only have one Papaw. A papaw we all love. 

Grandma and Papaw with their grandchildren

Grandma and Papaw with their grandchildren

I am a grateful stepchild. Thankful for the lessons being a stepdaughter taught me. That family is a living, growing organism. And children need to feel the important adults in their lives like and respect one another. And there is room in the heart for so many. And when we add new members, we never need to replace or push out the old ones. Maybe just do some rearranging. Love is not a competition. And neither is parenting... 

 

 

 

Goodbye Letter for my TLG Family

Dear TLG Friends, 

Since the day we opened in 2007, it has been an absolute joy owning and operating The Little Gym of Huntsville. I believe strongly in the mission and program of The Little Gym International. And I am so proud of the environment we’ve created in our location here in Huntsville. 

Despite my continued love for The Little Gym, it is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life. So l have sold the gym completely to my business partner, Corey Hernandez. Many of you know and love him already. He has owned half of the gym since 2015. And he will continue to ensure that it is easy to do business at The Little Gym of Huntsville. His management style and overall customer service philosophy are very similar to my own. And I have every confidence I am leaving the gym in fantastic hands. 

Ribbon Cutting in 2007. Notice the guy by the blue balloon. It's Corey! Then just family friend. Destined to be TLG Owner!

Ribbon Cutting in 2007. Notice the guy by the blue balloon. It's Corey! Then just family friend. Destined to be TLG Owner!

I will still be teaching through the end of this Season in May 2017. So I'm not quite ready to walk out the door. There will be plenty of time to say goodbye. But I did want to officially start the process now by thanking you all for your support and business over the last 10 years.

I can not adequately express how much all of you have meant to me. I hope you can see in the pictures below that over the last 10 years, as the staff shirts changed and my weight fluctuated, one thing remained constant: I really loved my job. 

It was an honor being able to get to know so many beautiful families over the years. I hope your children learned from me. I know I learned from them. Every single class I taught was my favorite. Every bubble time was like magic. Every new skill a child learned I celebrated. Every day was Serious Fun. 

Thank you all for being a part of it. 

Warmly,
Angel Hundley 

P.S. I loved owning this franchise so much, I branded myself for life. Literally. You can see pictures and read all about my new tattoo here

And for those of you who are curious about the next chapter of my life, this summer I am moving to Manchester, England. You can read about that story here. 

And now for some of my favorite memories... 

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My We the People

I became an American in Nagasaki, Japan. Well, not literally. I was literally born an American in 1974. But 23 years later, teaching English in Nagasaki, Japan, I found my American identity. I felt connected for the first time to the larger collective. The We the People. 

Prior to living in Nagasaki, my identity was tied to more local groups. Schools and church and family and friends. I do think I was proud to be from Ohio (Go Bucks!), but as a recent college grad who enjoyed feeling righteously indignant, when I thought or talked about "America" at all, it was most often to go on about what was wrong with it. And then I moved to a city our country had destroyed with an atomic bomb. 

Everyone there has a story about August 9, 1945. I will never forget the one the man in the picture below shared with me. He was a student in one of my classes. After he retired, he had decided to learn English. Because he loved America. And he had scars all over his back from flying glass blown out of windows in the blast radius outside of where everything had been obliterated. And he told me how after the bomb, his family hid in the mountains fearing the American troops coming into the city. Expecting the brutal treatment they knew conquering Japanese troops to inflict on their enemies. Instead, they were met with kindness (and chocolate!) by the American soldiers. In those first days after the bombing and in the rebuilding. I could hear his genuine affection for those American soldiers. And I was proud. The arguments about what my government had done and why fell away. In that moment, those soldiers from 52 years earlier became my we the people. I was proud on behalf of their actions. My American identity was born. 

And I've carried that with me for the last 20 years. That sense that I belong to a nation of good people with kind soldiers. And I've tried to be that kind of American. A kind one. 

After this election, listening to our new President's hateful rhetoric, I felt despondent. Untethered in a way that was surprising to me. It wasn't just that my candidate lost. That has happened before. This was not about policy disagreement. I felt like my American identity was being challenged. Because he did not represent me. Or the good people I thought made up our country.

 Apparently there are many, many people in America who have felt for years "forgotten." Like the government didn't represent them. Well now I know that to be a horrible feeling. To feel like you don't belong to our We the People. To feel unrepresented. It is disheartening. Luckily for me, the feeling didn't last long... 

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama 

me with two of the kindest Americans I know. At the Women's March in Birmingham, Alabama 

There have been a lot of "Why I Marched" posts this last week. I honestly don't know exactly why I marched. I wasn't going to. I had a lot of things to do that day. But that morning I felt called to go. I asked my Dad to cover driving and picking up my girls to their events that day, and I set off on an hour and half journey to Birmingham about an hour and a half before the rally was set to start. So I don't know exactly Why I marched. But I do know why I am glad I marched. I found again my We the People.

The park outside of the Civil Rights Museum was packed with the biggest, most diverse crowd I've ever seen in Alabama. Apparently there were 5,000 marchers. They had been expecting a couple hundred. And it was a joyous day. I overheard someone say, "we're just preaching to the choir." Yes. Yes, we were. But sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to see how big and beautiful your choir is. And how diverse. That day in Birmingham, and in photos from marches all over the world, I found again that I am part of a bigger collective. I do belong, and I am represented. But not by politicians. Because politicians and governments should reflect our We the People (and we should fight to make sure they do!), but they are not our We the People. I am represented by all the good people and each action they take to make our world a better place. 

I no longer feel untethered and unrepresented. My We the People are the Woman Marchers all over the world. My We the People are those who believe Black Lives Matter. My We the People are those who speak up for the rights of our LGBTQ friends. My We the People care about immigrants and refugees. My We the People want to take care of our planet. My We the People believe in science and in facts. My We the People value diversity. My We the People respect all religious beliefs. My We the People bring chocolate. My We the People are kind. And My We the People are a mighty number...  

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