Old Dad Problems: Chicago toddler gymnastics and bad knees

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood  of Chicago with Professor Foster (his “Brown Mom” wife), and their daughter Viva, who is ready for her Yurchenko Pike.

So it looks like Daddy is on “taking Viva to Toddler Gymnastics at the Park District duty” this summer. If you’ve never enrolled your child in classes at the Chicago Park District, they’re pretty amazing – low prices, lots of offerings, casual atmosphere. Oh, and as with any classes for toddlers, the parent must participate (read: wrangle) the child throughout the class, ensuring that you get to spend these precious, fleeting developmental moments together.

Unfortunately, it also ensures that you’ll be stumbling through activities with your child, constantly reminded how poorly your joints function as you crash into middle age.

The first challenge of attending Toddler Gymnastics is deciding what to wear. It’s not that big a deal for the toddler – they’ll be barefoot and in some toddler clothes. Now, Toddler Gymnastics isn’t exactly an Olympic qualifier – it mostly focuses on beginning balance, jumping over very tiny distances, attempting to (literally) pull one’s own weight, and getting a hand stamp (more on the hand stamps later). Really, you could put your child in a party dress for as little actual athleticism as it requires, but you won’t, you’ll put them in a little T-shirt and shorts. But what about you? Too much spandex and you’ll look like you know what you’re doing, then they’ll wonder why you grunt every time you have to kneel. Dress in business casual and you’ll look like the sad worker drone that you are, desperately spending the few minutes between the office and bath time trying to bond with your child so that they’ll remember you when you keel over in a staff meeting at 45. Dress too fashionably and you just plain won’t be able to move around. (And when, may I ask, are clothes going to stop being so skinny? Asking for a friend. [The friend being my tender bits.]) I tend to wear whatever I wear to the LA Fitness facility I visit more in theory than in practice.

Now that you’re dressed and at the Chicago Armory, or wherever you take your child for Gymnastics, the humiliation begins. The good news, Dads, is that everything is covered in mats, and there are several trampolines, which will take the shock off your knees (which went south on you sometimes between getting your master’s, 10 rounds of fertility treatments, and the day you finally had a baby north of 35 or 40 years old). The bad news is, as with most parenting activities, you have to get up and down A LOT. Off the floor, off stacks of mats, off balance beams and pommel horses and other things you mostly only see in sports drink ads. Sometimes you may be required to jump up and down. This is what they don’t tell you about being an Old Dad: your mind will be more ready than if you were a Young Dad, your heart will be more ready than if you were a Young Dad, your wallet will be more ready than if you were a Young Dad – but your knees passed their prime while people were still listening to music on CDs.

And then there are the Moms – many are pregnant with Child #2. Many have Child #2 strapped to their front as Child #1 reaches for the parallel bars. And, yet, these ladies somehow get up and down off the floor as fast as the little Russian 2-year-olds who come in wearing leotards and do actual flips on the bars while you and your child struggle with standing up from taking off your shoes. I get it, Moms, you’re more agile than me, even though you’re carrying 30 pounds of person, placenta, and fluid around in your midsection. I’m carrying 15 pounds of Portillo’s around in my midsection and I can’t stand up from sitting cross-legged. You don’t have to rub it in.

Warning: You will need to pay attention to your child (and they will want you to watch their accomplishments), so do not be distracted by the young ladies in the adjacent Trapeze classes. Yes, they may be in body suits and they may be sporting a lean musculature that makes it look like they could tie you in knots (in a good way), but they are an unneeded distraction and a sure way to cause you to look off while a toddler flies from a trampoline into your groin.

Now the good news: Should you not literally fall apart while getting up and down from floor work, should you not get kicked out of the building when your 2-year-old decided she’s rather go join the Tai Chi class for seniors across the gym instead of participate in her own class, and should you not be shamed into leaving when a nine-month pregnant lady wearing twin 1-year-olds in Bjorns has a better stretch than you – class will end with a congratulatory hand stamp for your child. This is secretly why your toddler allowed you to bring them to class in the first place. No one REALLY likes Gymnastics, because, while incredibly difficult, it is boring. But every little kid loves hand stamps like they’re the greatest prize since Helen of Troy and they’ll never, ever, wash off. (Even though they’ll be mostly rubbed off before you get to the front door). Your child will be very happy (if they can stay in line long enough to get their stamp). You will hear about their cool hand stamp for the rest of the week, and Hand Stamp Time means it’s almost time to go home and congratulate YOURSELF on surviving Toddler Gymnastics with the Daddy equivalent of a hand stamp: Pale Ale.

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to the WDP podcast for free on iTunes! You also can listen at whitedadproblems.com. (Do note that the show has a potty mouth and is definitely for Over 17 Only.) And follow the Dads on Facebook and on Twitter: whitedadprobs.

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