By Whitney C. Harris
The cost of having a kid is somewhere in the $200,000-300,000 range these days. In other words, you could be taking a devastating financial nosedive when you decide to procreate. I’m a thrifty mama by nature. So when presented with the prospect of signing up for music, gym, or swim classes with my toddler, I balked. Shell out my hard-earned cash for a half hour of fluff? I figured anything that was being taught or demonstrated at these kiddie classes I could easily do myself at home. Singalong with shaker instruments! Tumble and jump and run around in a safe environment! Get comfortable in the water and maybe even dunk your little one’s head under! Errr, in a bathtub or backyard plastic pool at least. At more than $25 a class, the investment just didn’t seem worth it, especially when there’s so much to save up for, like diapers and organic milk and college.
“If I want to meet other stay-at-home moms and their babies I’ll just run into them at the library,” I kept telling myself, intent on staying out of the class scene and saving my precious pennies. Then, my daughter turned 1 and I simultaneously ran out of steam to entertain her all the time while realizing that I was not enough of a stimulating or engaging presence to meet her needs. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit around and twiddle my thumbs while having a staring contest with my child all day. We read books and listen to music and race cars and trucks across the hardwood floors in our house. We stack blocks higher and higher and higher until the tower we’ve built comes tumbling down. We practice making animal sounds and “choo-choo” like the trains we hear outside our window. We even bake muffins together. We’re around other children all the time on play dates and at playgrounds, too. So while our days are filled with pretend play and little lessons in everyday living—“Here’s how you put on your shoes,” and “This is why we don’t push the dog”—there’s something very special about the kiddie class atmosphere with all the tots focused on the same goal and another (neutral) adult in charge that’s really, really good for both of us. It allows us to work together and also to give each other space at times. But, perhaps most importantly, it helps us bond in some very cool ways.
When I first signed up my daughter for music and gym class, I never considered how they might bring us closer together. In fact, I was mostly thinking about how I would enjoy watching my feisty girl from a greater distance than I’m ever granted at home. But the experiences we’ve had so far have helped us connect on so many levels. Spending 45 uninterrupted minutes as a twosome—away from constant house chores and a frequently buzzing cell phone—does wonders for our shared state of mind. Plus, the structure and repetition give us a solid means of reference well beyond the class time. We recite songs from our Music Together Class on car rides and while waiting in checkout lines at the grocery store. My musical mini even finishes some of the rhyming lyrics, which thrills me to no end. At home, we do baby planks and play airplane on the living room carpet, just like we learned in our gym class. That’s actually where my daughter started to pick up some sign language. The gym class instructor signs her way through all of the exercises for all of the keenly observant children to watch and learn. When my daughter started to do the sign for “again” after we read her favorite book one evening, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Today, she signs all the time, asking for “water,” demanding “more” and saying “please,” all thanks to our gym teacher. It’s opened up a whole new world of communicating and understanding one another.
Classes are now the highlight of our week, and we’re both a little down whenever we skip a session for a holiday or runny nose. In between sessions we still listen to our Music Together CD in the car, work on kid yoga poses and planks and sign up a storm because we have so many class-related ideas at our fingertips now. I’m just glad we’ve discovered all there is to learn and discover and bond over beyond the four walls of our home.
Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 18-month-old daughter. Find her at whitneycharris.com.