I finally took Peapod to her first formal activity – a trial Gymboree class -- and she did not behave like those toddlers on the brochures do. In fact, she was ‘that kid.’ You know, the one that cries and clings to Mom’s pant leg while everyone else is clapping, singing and squealing with joy over the bright red tambourines?
It started off well enough. We arrived a few minutes early, and I had time to make her a name tag and take her little shoes off and store them next to mine in the cute wooden cubbie. We then took our places on the mat, next to the cluster of adorable moms, dads, babies and toddlers. My first clue came when, upon observing the other kids who were happily exploring and making all kinds of sweet clatter, Peapod scurried up my lap and clung to my neck, glancing back suspiciously at her peers. The tipping point came when the instructor burst into her world.
She was lovely and enthusiastic and probably everything that any child psychiatrist would say a Gymboree instructor should be, but she scared the bejezuz out of my Pod of Peas. Her voice was husky and loud, she wore rainbow socks and a bright orange polo shirt, she carried a stuffed clown (“Gymbo” was his name-O) and had generously applied dark brown liner to the outside of her lips. This last fact came as a shock to my daughter when the instructor leaned in close and merrily sang the “Welcome Song”, sending her into a screeching downward spiral.
I held Peapod and rocked her, letting her observe the action from afar, which seemed to calm her after a few minutes. By that time, the group had broken up for ‘open gym’ and kids were toddling, drooling, climbing on mats and generally having a good old time, so I set Peapod down near stack of mats and hoped for the best. A ball rolled toward her and she picked it up and handed it to me. We handed the ball back and forth a few more times until a really cute 15-month-old boy came and took it away from her. She just sat there, blinking at the back of his overalls as he ambled away, shaking his prize.
“Well?” I asked her. ‘Well?’ she stared back at me. “If you want the ball back, you should go get it,” I proclaimed to my ambivalent 11-month-old. She just looked at me like I was speaking German. Baby Girl didn’t even make a motion to crawl over to the little thief, she just sat there and meekly observed as the world passed her by. My mind raced. Was my child doomed to live the life of a wallflower? Would she constantly just let people walk all over her and get that last bite, window seat, newest crayon, speaking part, choice assignment, best promotion her whole life? Would she be meek and forgotten in a world that belonged to fearless go-getters? My heart was wilting and all I could do was scoop her up and hold her close while the fun buzzed busily past her.
Then it got worse.
The instructor had us put the kids on top of a cloth parachute, while we held the handles and walked in a circle. This caused some of the younger, less physically developed kids to tumble awkwardly to the middle, which elicited some tears from a few; others just giggled uncontrollably. Peapod at this point just seemed to get mad. Red faced, she screamed and clawed at the parachute, trying to get out, slipping clumsily down. Heart breaking, I wanted to reach in to get her, but nobody else was rescuing their kid, so I didn’t want to over-react and scare her more. Or worse, make her think she needed rescuing. Finally, another mom leaned over to me and asked carefully, “Is she ok?” “No! No, she’s not.” I answered curtly, finally coming to my senses. I plucked my baby out of her misery and held her till she calmed down.
Less than five minutes later, after the class was over, Peapod was completely Zen. And shortly after that, she was asleep in the car.
Back home, I put her down for a proper nap and watched her fall back to sleep. She looked so calm, happy and confident. Her peace at that moment seeped into me and I remembered something my wise Esposo once told me about confidence and self-assuredness. He used to teach elementary school and so had the perspective of having observed lots of kids in lots of situations and had often marveled at what a compartmentalized and fickle thing confidence was. A kid wasn’t simply confident or not confident. Rather, a kid might be confident in math class, but scared at the swimming pool, self-assured playing baseball, but terrified by the go-carts, sparkling at the microphone but speechless at the after-party. This was just one of those situations where Peapod wasn’t her biggest, baddest self.
And who could blame her? Didn’t people stop wearing lip liner in the ‘90s?