In her new role as “mayor-ess” of the Kids Corner at our local YMCA, Gigi has taken it upon herself to introduce me to any new friend she makes during her hour-long visits. Once I have finished with my yoga or exercise class and return to the Kids Corner Playroom to pick her up, I follow the multi-stepped procedure of signing Genevieve out, retrieving my YMCA ID card from the multi-pocketed wall-hanging and grabbing any of our snacks, jackets backpacks and the like that have been tucked away in the storage unit by the entrance. Sometimes, Gigi is so engrossed in her play that it will take a few minutes before she notices me. When she does, however, she rushes over from her play amongst the Barbie dolls and tea sets to greet me warmly. “Mama,” she says loudly as she wraps my legs – mid thighs -in a fierce hug, “I’m so glad you’re back.” Then, she begins to pull at my hand and says, “Come meet my new friend.”
“Mama, this is Stella. Stella, this is my mommy,” Gigi says distinctly, carefully adhering to the standard script for a proper introduction. I reach for Stella’s little hand to shake it, but she instantly backs away and tilts her head down in a clear gesture of shyness. “She’s only three,” Gigi says, as if to explain her new friend’s hesitancy to greet me or even look up at me. (Gigi is but three and half herself, but to hear her tell it, she’s practically four.)
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Stella,” I say. “Did you have fun playing together this morning? You have such a big pile of Barbie dolls here…and tea sets. Did you have tea?”
Mayor Gigi continues to do all of the talking while Stella continues to look down, fixing her stare at the Barbie pile in front of us. She thinks I don’t notice but she sneaks a quick peek at me when I turn to Gigi and say, “We’ve got to go, honey. Maybe we’ll see Stella some other time this week when I come for another class. Okay? Say good-bye to your new friend.”
The girls exchange good-byes. Genevieve wraps her plump arms around her new friend to give her a hug, which the friend accepts graciously. Stella still won’t acknowledge me but she gives Gigi a brief smile then turns her attention to the heap of Barbies on the floor. Genevieve and I depart the Kids Corner, hand in hand.
There have been many such introductions to “Kids Corner” play mates over the past few weeks since our family has first joined and slowly become acclimated to the airy and sunny Saratoga YMCA. The YMCA buildings are laid out on the grounds of an old elementary school campus, complete with outdoor walkways and a “rolling roof” that covers the pool when temperatures are cool but can be rolled back swiftly to expose the pool waters to sun rays and wide open sky if temperatures rise enough.
Recently, during a week when no summer camp had been scheduled for him, Charlie was forced to join Genevieve on a few visits to the Kids Corner. If you thought to yourself that Charlie probably had an opinion about the Kids Corner, you are absolutely correct. Charlie felt strongly that the infantile play area was not only beneath him, but the fact that he was being forced to attend it with his younger sister was enormously insulting. As is often the case with Charlie, he did not hesitate to lead me in a loud discussion about the injustice of the situation.
“You’re making me go to the Kids Corner…the place for babies?!”
“It’s not just for babies. I’ve seen bigger kids, kids your age, the last few times I brought Gigi. Some of the bigger kids were playing chess.” (This was true. During our last visit, I had made special note of the fact that four older children – three of whom were boys – were in the room. I had to admit, they didn’t look entirely thrilled to be there, sitting at a table with a chess game laid out before them. One was muttering and rolling his eyes a lot. I was careful to leave these particular details out of my sales pitch to my eight-year-old.)
“That place is ALL babies. And with babies and little two-year old pesky kids, there’s going to be loads of stinky diapers and tons of snots and boogers,” he complained. (Charlie has a real problem with stinky smells, what with that bionic nose of his, which, sadly, he inherited from me. Boogers, well boogers are his own unique problem and a drippy nose – if it’s not his own – can really send Charlie into a tailspin.) I tried to alleviate his concerns about the snot potential by pointing out that I had seen a lot of tissue boxes in the playroom the last time I was there. “Babies don’t use Kleenex, Mom. (Loud, extended sigh.) They drip snot, they sneeze globs of snot, they wipe snot where they shouldn’t. It’s soooo gross I’m going to die.”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to hope for the best, Charlie.”
As we entered the Kids Corner, Gigi rushed ahead to survey the room. She was an old pro at the drop-off procedure and she quite enjoyed taking command on this particular morning, when so often it’s been Charlie who runs the show. “Come here, Charlie. This is where Mom signs us in and here’s where she leaves her ID card. Look, I see big kids over there at that table. They’re playing Uno.” Charlie was midway through a massive attack of eye rolling. I was busy at the sign-in book (I wrote both children’s full names, their ages, checked off “NO” for allergies).
Gigi, still the mayor, very much in command of her room, led Charlie by the hand to the book center. There was a “Calvin & Hobbes” book she’d eyed the last time she was reviewing the book covers (looking, I’m sure, for the familiar “Fancy Nancy” cover design or a little something from the “Dora the Explorer” collection). She knows how much Charlie enjoys “Calvin & Hobbes” and so, like a thoughtful cruise director, she proudly pointed out the title. Gigi’s little friend, Stella, came running over to her. Gigi, still holding her brother’s hand, immediately started in on an introduction. “Stella…this is my younger brother, Charlie. Charlie….this is my friend, Stella.”
“Gigi!” I am NOT your younger brother. I’m your OLDER brother!” Turning toward the little friend, “I’m her OLDER brother!” Charlie exclaimed through gritted teeth. But the girls, I saw, were already making their way from the book center to the cubbies where the Barbies were housed. Charlie searched about the room looking for me. Our eyes locked for a moment, but almost immediately I had to look away, for his eyes glowered, piercing me with a gaze so direct that I grew cold with fear. Oh boy was I going to hear about this. I ran from the room to my yoga class, leaving boogers and evil eight-year-old eyes swiftly in my wake. Deep breaths, long stretches and quiet moments beckoned. I rushed along the concrete walkway toward the yoga studio looking for my escape, searching frantically for a moment of bliss.