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May 6, 2013

There are days when I truly, in my heart of hearts, wish Owen had an ‘Off’ switch. I love the boy beyond words, but suggesting that he has “boundless energy” simply doesn’t do his boundless energy justice. I’m finding myself looking to flick the imaginary switch on his neck, vainly imitating how Solo and Leia turned off C-3P0 in the Star Wars movies… Nothing permanent, but enough to “shut him down” and give him (i.e., me) a break.

To help him release some of his pent up energy, Meg and I enrolled Owen in Monkeynastix at the community center. For half an hour each Sunday morning, toddlers between the ages of one and two hop, skip, roll, crawl and flip to the beat of classic ‘80s pop and venerable children’s cult heroes like Rafi and the Doodlebops. Seemed a good idea. The boy has energy; this would burn that energy.

Each class begins the same way: the children and their parent or guardian sit in a circle and, together, stretch to the polite encouragement of their teenaged instructor. She begins the warm up by asking the kids to lift their arms and stomp their feet before beginning their main activities at the other end of the gymnasium. Some of the kids are too young and are only able to do their stretches with the direct help of their parent; others, the older ones that are already “too cool for school,” tend to sit and wait patiently for the real fun to begin.

And then there’s Owen…

Seems stretching is for suckers and, while the others are touching their toes, Owen (who never sat in the first place) takes flight in the opposite direction and runs full clip from one end of the gym to the other. Meg and I are forced to abandon the group and try our best to shepherd him back to the flock. Once he’s been forcibly returned to the circle, it’s no more than seconds before Owen is off again like a rabbit. Only this time, the quiet serenity of the stretching circle is broken by my dashing child bellowing at full volume:

“Uuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!”

Though fairly quick, he’s less graceful swan and more waddling penguin, which only adds to the sight of the stands, filled with the parents that haven’t been tasked with stretching their kids, laughing at Megan and I vainly trying to corral our frenetic 18-month-old. Each Sunday, I’m more sheep dog than doting parent.

“Uuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!”

When the stretching circle breaks, the children are prompted to step over obstacles, crawl through tubes, dangle from bars and all sorts of other Monkeynastix-goodness for the remaining 20 minutes of the class. (Yes, while the others have been wiggling their feet, by this point, Owen, Megan and I have been on the run for a full ten minutes.) It’s a bit of a free-for-all as you are expected to wait your turn and perform each task one at a time. Or, as Owen sees it, push the smaller children aside and wedge in front of those too big to be nudged (i.e., tripped) out of the way. The odd time we’re actually able to strong-arm the boy into lining up for an obstacle proves a short respite as it's usually only moments later that he again bolts from our grasp. By time we reach him, he’s often running in circles, clapping and dancing along to whatever is playing on the radio — Flock of Seagulls, Elmo, Culture Club...

It’s a pretty informal group, this Monkeynastix… no one takes attendance and few families seem to interact with the each other. Funny then then that everyone knows Owen’s name.

Yeah, everyone knows Owen.
“Uuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!”

When the class (finally) ends, most of the children seem somewhat winded and calmly make their way from the gymnasium. Owen, however, has only just limbered up and is raring to go. He lets loose a torrent of tears and has a tantrum when we tell him it’s time to go home.

That’s when I reach for the back of his neck.
Damn it… still no switch.