Be prepared to distract the child on the sidelines

As Jamie and I stood in line at the community centre waiting to sign the babes up for their new after-school activity of gymnastics, I daydreamed of Lars becoming a world class Olympic gymnast.

As Jamie and I stood in line at the community centre waiting to sign the babes up for their new after-school activity of gymnastics, I daydreamed of Lars becoming a world class Olympic gymnast.

This was our first experience with extracurricular programs and the possibilities seemed endless! It wasn’t until I did the math in my head and realized that we would be dishing out 400 bones for 10 measly classes that I began to wonder if a gymnast would be such a lucrative career anyways. … But on second thought, at that rate, I’m sure it is!

However, because I’m a parent and this is what we do, I sucked it up, wrote a cheque and before I knew it the kids and I were walking into their very first class.

Sophie’s three-four-year-old sessions were first and ran for an hour. I figured Lars and I could handle sitting through it so we decided to stay and watch. I figured wrong.

The poor kid was so bored he began talking in tongues to the other parents who sat around us. There he was using a strange and perplexing dialect as he belted out the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song. There were some solemn looks of concern from the fellow moms who sat nearest us, to say the least. I had come unprepared and as a newbie after-school program mom, this was my first lesson.

I managed to keep him quiet and calm for the last half an hour by telling him a story I was making up off the top of my head. The first time in — well, ever — that my wacky story telling abilities have come in handy. As I was spouting off gibberish about Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog, I mentally made note that I would have to take Sophie home for his hour and half class that was next. There is no way she would be able to hack this kind of boredom.

There was only one glitch in my otherwise perfect escape plan. As I nudged Lars to go up to the front of the gymnasium to meet his instructor, he looked at me with the same wary look I’ve seen every morning I’ve dropped him off at his kindergarten class. Nervousness.

Tears began to well up in his eyes and his feet become amazingly cemented to the spot in which he stood. The crazy, outgoing and oh, so funny kid who I had just been dealing with moments ago vanished. In his stead there was a meek little boy who was clearly overwhelmed. In a wavering voice as he pushed back tears with the palms of his hands, he whispered, “Mama please don’t leave me. I want you to watch.”

Well I sure as hell don’t have a heart filled of stinky blue cheese so, “No” was not an option. And as those words ventured into my earlobe, I immediately knew the next hour and a half was going to be tricky.

What I had: a little girl who as soon as she leapt off the gym floor was asking to leave, saying she was starving to death and so bored.

What I did not have: snacks, toys, a purse with odds and ends in it. Anything, really.

I could see the expert after-school-program moms looking at me and shaking their head as Sophie screamed and flailed on the floor five minutes into our stay. And in all honesty, I would have probably mom-judged me, too.

I was ready to throw the towel in and ditch the kid for a cocktail when a woman approached me. She slyly gave me a few toys she had stashed in her purse and a sweet that looked as though it had been living there for quite some time. But it wasn’t my place to be picky — we all know the saying. At that point, I was begging for all that I could get.

I gave the goods to the girl and she immediately settled. I turned my glance towards the woman once more and it was as if she had an omnipotent glow about her. She was my saviour. My after-school-program saviour.

After introducing myself and thanking her a-probably-creepy amount of times, she told me her name was Caroline. It was about that time Sophie started acting up again and Caroline dug in her purse of goodies to pull out a sparkly pipe cleaner for my girl to play with. A damn pipe cleaner! This woman is amazing! It took everything in me not to start serenading my new friend with the lyrics to Sweet Caroline. Because at this point “good times never did seem so good.”

After class, I thanked Caroline again and assured her I would come more prepared next time. She just shrugged, humbly laughed and added, “It happens to all of us!”

I realized then that if more of us moms were willing to lend a helping hand like Caroline rather than judge and criticize, this parenting thing would be a whole lot easier and less stressful. I know that next time I see a fellow parent struggling I will be the first to offer assistance.

Lindsay Brown is a Sylvan Lake mother of two and freelance columnist.

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