Where Did All the Fun Go?

Yesterday after gymnastics, which my lovely Eliana couldn’t wait to start this fall, she said quietly in the back seat of the car, “I felt like if I needed you, I couldn’t go to you.” Her voice was so sad.

The teacher told one girl to “shut it.” She insisted they do core-strengthening in boot camp style rather than making exercise fun. I saw her “spot” one girl in a back walkover while glancing over at another girl – good thing girl #1 didn’t fall.

Honestly, when my daughter asked to sign up for gymnastics, she wasn’t looking to become Olympic athlete #632. She wanted to have fun, flip around, meet other girls, laugh. And that’s not even close to what’s going on.

The coach seems to want to train all the 9-12 year-olds in her class military-style to make it on the gym team. But what about the girls who have no aspirations for competitive gymnastics? What about the girls who just want to have fun and get some good exercise?

Same thing is happening in tennis with my boys. There is no form instruction or art of the game – it’s all wait-in-line-to-hit-two-balls-then-wait-some-more. 

I’m not sure when after-school activities went from being fun to being drill-sergeant serious. And I know for a fact that I can’t stand the new perspective.

Childhood is supposed to be about exploration and imagination and creativity and play. it’s supposed to be about trying new things to see whether you like them and no-harm, no-foul when you discard an activity that you don’t.

My kids finish a long day of very-academic school at 3:30 and they rarely have energy to let loose in the yard and shout to the clouds. And even if they did, the amount of homework they have precludes much play time anyway.

I’m sad about today’s childhood norm. It’s taken as acceptable – and even preferred by some parents – to over-program. Yes, it’s a topic I’ve ranted about before, but when I spend $200 on a gymnastics class where a twentysomething punk scares the bejeezus out of my kid, well, I’ve got a bone to pick.

What’s the alternative? I know I can’t create a paradigm shift for society at-large and I’m not renegade enough to drop everything and homeschool.

I wish I were. Because before my eyes, my little ones are growing older, taller, bigger, more mature and they’re entering the competition-is-everywhere world we live in. 

There is hope, though. We still cuddle in bed and do yoga together and my eldest has even learned to meditate. I am enough of a rebel to at least set that example and keep the bar high – they know they don’t have to accept or succumb to what everyone else blindly falls in step with.

At least, I hope that’s the message. Maybe in time we can spread the word and really make a difference in this world we call home.

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