Y Not: the trials of joining a gym as a parent

In an effort to retain some semblance of sanity and shift my winter weight gain (from 2013), I decided that this year, I’d become a gym-goer.

Why now?

Part of it was setting an example for our kids for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I’d come across a few articles about kids whose parents had kept up with fitness following the same patterns as adults.

Uh-oh, I thought, if we wanted the kids to grow up to be active, sporty types, the hubs and I would have to do more than just leisurely strolls around the neighborhood with the dogs and occasional, halfhearted attempts at yoga videos on YouTube.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t tried. Between the two of us, we have a fairly lengthy history of unused gym memberships, expired class passes, and cancelled personal training appointments.

Then there was the home gym equipment: the bowflex the hubs used every Saturday night … to sit on and drink scotch — it was the perfect angle for lounging, he said, which made me think the design was flawed from the start; the elliptical trainer we only figured out how to use properly on the day we sold it; the pilates machines I’d bought without properly measuring the space and nearly gave myself a concussion on the first attempt at arabesque legwork.

Then the new baby arrived, and our house no longer had any free space that could be used for a home gym.

Not only that, but with three kids aged five and under, it wasn’t just space we were short on but time as well.

Enter the idea of the local gym and its promise of free high-quality childcare for members. For parents struggling to carve a little bit of time for themselves in a hectic schedule that otherwise revolves around work-commitments, school-requirements, and after-school activities, a couple of hours of complimentary childminding is like finding a spring in the desert.

It all looked so good: the fitness area didn’t have obnoxiously loud throbbing music or people tanned to the shade of high-end couch leather. The classes looked reasonably enjoyable, if such a word can really be applied to sweating profusely in a roomful of complete strangers. I entertained notions of the hubs and I, newly toned and flushed with the elixirs of exercise-induced endorphins, happily chatting as we passed each other at the water cooler.

The older children would have weekly swim lessons and access to the kids’ play area; the baby would be looked after by staff who were properly trained and accredited.

The first swim lesson went, well, swimmingly. The boys enjoyed themselves and had no trouble making friends. Aha! I thought, we would be raising athletes for sure!

But then, on the second week of swim lessons, the instructors changed. The new instructor let the three year-old flounder in the water and get scared, something we’d worked hard to avoid in all his previous experiences with the pool. I managed to coax him back, but his confidence was rattled. Worse still, the instructor didn’t seem to realize this was a problem. When I tracked down her supervisor later she was pleasant, seemed to understand my concerns, but vague on what would be done to prevent it in future.

We persisted for a few more weeks, but as I watched the kids like a hawk for the duration of their lessons – ready to leap in at the first sign of distress, cute outfit be darned – I realized that they were stuck in repeat with new children or new instructors in every class.

As I learned later from some of the other parents, the much-hyped swim lessons were often a source of contention: poorly organized, haphazardly run by instructors who seemed barely old enough to have graduated from “lil dippers” themselves.

Then there was the childcare.

When I signed up, I was told I could pre-book so I wouldn’t be turned away if the ratio of staff to children was too low.

In practice, this wasn’t the case. They’d “changed that policy”, or “suspended it for summer”, or excuses to that effect.

So drop-in it was.
Which is fine.
As long as you actually could drop-in without being made to feel that this was a gross inconvenience.

Now, I realize that babies are a lot of work. They have to be fed and attended to more than toddlers. And I know that not everyone knows how to manage when there are a few toddlers practicing their wrestling moves on the carpet and you’ve got a baby to look after.

But these people probably shouldn’t be working in childcare.

It doesn’t exactly set your heart at ease when you bring your sleeping angel into a place that is supposed to provide exemplary childcare and the person on duty looks at you and your child as though you are presenting them with a particularly noxious bag of used diapers.

At first I thought I was being over-sensitive. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle a baby for half an hour?

These people, as it turns out.

On the few occasions I used the drop-in service, I usually managed to time it so the baby slept right through – I may as well have just plunked him down right by the treadmill for all the trouble he caused.

But as he got bigger, he slept less during the day.

Once, he woke up 5 minutes before I came to pick him up after my whirlwind workout.

The attendant wasn’t pleased.

“I had to feed him,” she told me, with the same expression you might use as when detailing the process of pumping out a septic tank.

She hadn’t actually taken him out of his car seat, just popped a bottle in his mouth, but apparently this was an ordeal of epic proportions.

Then last week, I got a phone call 15 minutes into my run: “Baby’s not happy, you have to come for him”.

“Baby” was, in fact, perfectly content, smiling and watching the other children.

But he hadn’t been happy to be left in a corner by himself (!) and that, it turned out, was all they were prepared to do by way of “care”.

“We can’t be expected to hold the baby” the attendant told me.

“Oh, I thought …” I mumbled, but stopped because the end of the sentence was “… that was the whole point of childminding?” and I realized one of us must be confused.

Silly me had thought that when you’re offering care to infants, holding the baby was pretty much the main thing you did. But obviously not.

I could have argued. I could have remonstrated about spending money for services that simply weren’t delivered or weren’t up to any sort of reasonable standard.

But then what? Would I feel safe bring the boys for swim lessons? Would I feel ok leaving the baby with people who clearly didn’t want to provide even the most basic aspects of care? The answer was unequivocally “no”.

So I walked up to the front desk and cancelled our memberships. I explained why, of course. But the really worrying thing was the receptionist’s reaction: she didn’t try to convince me to stay as I’d been expecting. She didn’t make any effort to address the problems. She didn’t even really seem shocked. She just rolled her eyes: she’d heard it all before.

On the plus side, at his latest weigh-in we determined the baby has tripled his birthweight. This means that between baby, carseat and diaper bag I’m usually lugging around something in the region of 20 lbs all day, everyday. So while I haven’t touched a dumbbell in weeks, I’m still winning the battle against bingo wings.
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5 comments

  1. How awful. They shouldn’t be able to claim they are offering a childcare service when they clearly aren’t. But I think you are right – lugging a baby around is definitely a form of exercise. #bigpinklink

  2. Bravo to you for realizing where your priorities lie and being okay with sacrificing what is less important to you. Sorry to hear you had such a negative experience with child care. Maybe your next option is in-home workouts that don’t require any equipment! There are lots of exercises you can do with only your body weight. 🙂

    Jenn
    http://www.honeydewblog.com

  3. Flipping heck…how crap! What awful service. We have a creche at my gym…I’ve not used it but it seems good and the kids looks happy. Such a shame for you…perhaps a good old fashioned jog if you can get out?!! Thanks for sharing with #bestandworst x

  4. Wow, they really call that childcare? That’s pretty sad. I’ve started doing workout classes in my community when my husband is home to watch the kids. It’s the only way it gets done and I get some alone time.

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