Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Holy Grail: Chicago Park District Gymnastics

Because my kids have such intense separation anxiety, I decided we'd wait for pre-school until next fall, and they'll still have a full two years of "socialization" before kindergarten. Also, if we started now they would probably get kicked out and we'd lose a year's worth of tuition. And I'm cheap like that. I mean, as of late I make banana muffins so I don't waste a few pieces of overly ripe fruit. WHO HAVE I BECOME?

So, I made a pact with myself that in this interim year I'd get them acclimated to structured activities, not just "open play" scenarios, so when they do go to preschool next year and are told to sit down or similar, they don't laugh in the teacher's face and throw a juice cup at her head and demand a lollipop or something. (Which is what they do to me, but all kids do that to their mothers, right? RIGHT??!!)

In keeping my pact, I signed them up for a gymnastics class through the Chicago Park District. Lest you think that sounds relatively simple -- signing one's children up for a class through the Chicago Park District -- let me assure you it's not. It entails sitting poised at your computer on registration day at 8:45 am logged into the CPD web site gazing at a timer counting down until 9:00 am when about 4 trillion mothers are vying for a minuscule number of spots for various relatively inexpensive activities to keep their children busy all winter. Some moms actually get babysitters that morning specifically so they won't be distracted with unimportant aspects of their child's well-being like feeding them -- if you wait even one second too long, you're screwed. The stress involved is sort of like if you are about to be electrocuted for a murder you didn't commit and the executioner is mindlessly counting down "10, 9, 8..." and you know BIG BIG things are going down in 7 seconds. Because being stuck inside with your children all winter in Chicago IS LIKE A DEATH SENTENCE. In fact, being electrocuted is probably more kind. Actually, the Park District should offer volunteers to come to your home and execute those moms who don't get their toddlers into one of the pre-school programs. It's the least they can do.

So anyway, there I was, beads of sweat rolling down my forehead, fingers ready on the keyboards to get the girls into a 45-minute gymnastics class and then the clock hit 0 and I spun into action quicker than Lindsay Lohan did a line of coke after being sprung from the clink. I've never typed the names of my kids so fast in my life, it was like I was vying for a $1 million a year slot in the typing pool. I entered Lulu in a frenzy, hit order and boom! We're in! I silently congratulated myself on being the kind of mother who gets important things accomplished. I type in Moxley and a message pops up -- the worst message a mother can receive within Chicago's city limits -- telling me the class is full. I start to feel light-headed and nauseous like I might possibly puke. Then clarity kicks in and I think: "These are reasonable people, they will let Moxley in the class since her IDENTICAL TWIN got in, right?" Riiiiggggghhhhhttttt.

August 16, 9:15 am: Approximately 10 minutes after receiving the news that the class was full, I high-tail it to the place this gymnastics class is going to go down and speak to a boy of about 12 behind the counter. I explain my predicament. I don't use words like "predicament" because I'm not sure 7th graders have had that vocabulary word yet. He listens. He seems sympathetic. He lets me talk for a good 10 minutes without saying a word. I stop talking. He stares. After an awkward silence I say, "Well, can I sign the other twin up for the class?" And he says, "What twin?" and I say, "My twin who didn't get into the class" and he says "What class?" and now I'm slightly agitated and yell "THE GYMNASTICS CLASS!" He then tells me he doesn't have the authority to sign students up for classes that are full and that the person who does is at lunch. I want to ask who goes to lunch at 9:25 am but I decide to sit on the bench quietly until this person with authority returns from her unconventional lunch hour. Or I should say "lunch hours" because I sat there for nearly two hours and she never came back. I leave to go grocery shopping.

August 16, 2:00 pm: Surely one doesn't lunch from 9:25 am to 2:00 pm, right? I mean, even government workers, right? That would be some lunch! The kid sees me coming and looks slightly scared. This gives me immense pleasure. "Remember me?" I ask. "Yup" he says. "Is she back?" I ask. "Nope," he says. "She likes lunch, huh?" "Yup." My sitter is leaving soon so I call it a day, and vow that WE WILL GET IN THAT CLASS. I implement that technique from The Secret wherein I believe my wish has already happened and picture my two girls, vaulting and cartwheeling and doing triple axles with twists at the end of their balance beam routines.

August 16, 2:30 pm: I call the office and get the voice mail of the lunch-loving lady. I leave a very pleasant message detailing my problem and ask for a call back. I am impressed with my ability to erase all signs of sarcasm when I say I hope she had a nice lunch.

August 20: Having not received a call back, I once again go to the office. There is another kid, albeit not the same kid, manning the desk. This one actually has an IQ that might be at or above the 25th percentile range. This pleases me. He gets out a list. He shakes his head solemnly. He writes my name down but tells me signing people into over-booked classes "is above his pay grade." No, the woman whose pay grade it's not above is not available. I'm beginning to think she's like the Wizard of Oz. I leave a note for her. A very pleasant note with my phone number and a smiley face. I feel a sense of resolve. I am getting Moxley into this class or I will die trying. If the latter, their father can explain their mother was a very brave woman of conviction who died for a noble cause. The cause of trying to get Moxley into a 45-minute gymnastic class for 18-month to 3-year-olds sponsored by the Chicago Park District. And if that's not worth dying for, really what is?

August 27: I have received no phone call. No returned messages. But I am not irritated. I am empowered. I saunter into the office and smile sweetly at the lady behind the counter. This one is old and I sense she is not Oz. I sense she is an underpaid, disgruntled, hardened grandmother who wishes she was retired but can't because her no-good ex-husband took off to Vegas with their retirement savings and a hooker. I spend 7 minutes (I timed it) explaining my desperate circumstances and reference "the list" on which I saw the young gentleman write down my name. Grandma is unaware such a list exists. Did I get the guy's name who wrote it down? I did not. She frowns at me with a look that calls me a liar. I don't take it personally -- poor woman is used to liars. Her husband ran off with a prostitute after all. I ask if the Grand Poobah of the Park District with unlimited powers is by chance in. She is not and I'm beginning to think I want this woman's job as I could get paid full time and still be a stay-at-home mom to my two kids. And get them into any Park District program I please. I'm told to check back next week when people may have canceled their registration thereby opening spots. Grandma knows as well as I do that NOBODY gets into a CPD class and cancels. Nobody. I don't let her know I'm onto her scam and leave peacefully. "I'll be back" I whisper sinisterly.

August 31: I leave another voicemail. I sound rather casual and sing-songy like this is all no big deal and I look forward to getting Moxley in the class with her sister so she's not forced to sit on the sidelines like a fourth-string reject on a football team. I hang up, satisfied with my non-confrontational tone. I am going to kill Oz with kindness. Literally, I hope.

September 3: I am starting to channel Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. "I will NOT BE IGNORED, PARK DISTRICT!" I do some breathing exercises wherein I try to picture butterflies but instead picture bunnies boiling on the burners of this thus-far faceless person. Perhaps she doesn't even exist, I begin to think. Weirder things have happened in Chicago. Dead people routinely vote here, so it'd be no big deal if someone was scamming an extra paycheck from a phantom government worker who was allegedly in charge of registration for the city-sponsored pre-school sports program. Maybe this is bigger than my gymnastics dilemma. Maybe I am destined to expose a giant corruption scandal that will bring down city government as we Chicagoans know it! At this point, we are on our way out of town for Labor Day Weekend and I have no time to go to the office. I leave a very loving message noting in a very non-accusatory manner that this is about the millionth time I called and won't someone please do me the courtesy of a return call? Please and thank you!

September 10: It dawns on me I actually might not get Moxley into this class. It dawns on me that I might be a failure as a mother. It dawns on me that I have become a deranged lunatic over a 45-minute, once-a-week class that given the age group will consist of somersault instruction. I have a defeated aura about me as I shuffle into the park office. There are about 14 people in front of me with varying issues (none as urgent as mine!) and then I notice an unfamiliar face behind the desk. Could it be? I feel like Dorothy when she finally laid eyes on the Wizard of Oz: unimpressed and duped. But I also feel hopeful. At least a decision maker is in my midst! I wait about 55 minutes and am sort of nervous, like I'm about to meet a rock star. Albeit an aging rock star wearing a pink hair scrunchy and nylon gym shorts. I introduce myself. No glimmer of recognition at the name. I wonder if perhaps she routinely gets 500 voicemails from the same mom every registration session so it's no big deal or if she simply deletes her voicemails without listening to them because she's too busy lunching during breakfast time to bother. I explain my situation. She gets out "the list." I see my name. She tells me several names are ahead of mine so there's nothing she can do. I admit defeat. I ask for a refund for Lulu and figure we'll join something more expensive like The Little Gym instead. No big whoop. And then she says: "You needed to ask for a refund two weeks before the start of the class." I feel a vein in my head explode and wonder if I'm going to die of an aneurysm right there in the Chicago Park District Office. I joked about dying to get my 3-year-old in gymnastics but I'm REALLY GOING TO DIE TRYING TO GET MY 3-YEAR-OLD IN GYMNASTICS. I sort of lose my mind and start spouting an unintelligible crazy rant I barely recall about how do I tell one twin she can't participate while the other twin is doing backflips and shit and how can they not give me a refund when I've been trying FOR WEEKS to get this resolved and who the hell eats lunch in the 9:00 morning hour anyway?!!!" She shows no emotion. She looks at me and says calmly, "We may be able to get you into the 11:30 am class instead of the 10:30 class. Would that work?" "Yes! Yes! For the love of God, yes!" I felt a flood of emotion one should only feel in therapy. Then she says: "I have to go over the list again, I can't promise anything." SHE SAYS SHE'LL CALL ME.

September 17: I have not received the promised phone call. I leave her a voicemail. I sound like a wounded, yelping dog on its deathbed. I think this woman could work magic at Gitmo. She is a master manipulator. I am ready to confess to anything to get into this class, including but not limited to that I, not Drew Peterson, murdered everyone he's ever been married to. I go to the office, she's not there. I leave her a hand-written note on scratch paper with a bitten, inch-long pencil provided to me by the kid -- the slightly more intelligent one -- working behind the counter. I briefly look at the note and realize it looks like it's written by a psychopath. Which it was. I fold it, press it into his palm and beg:"Give it to her, won't you?"

September 20: This class, in which only one of my twins is registered, starts in 48 hours. My feelings toward this woman have become so complex I wonder if we knew each other in a past life. I think about her more than I've ever thought before about someone I barely knew. (Except Daniel Craig, I guess that goes without saying.) I lay awake wondering why she wants to deny my children access to toddler gymnastics and thereby possibly someday the Olympics, why she hates me so much and if she is just a figment of my imagination, which would at least explain why she won't call me back. I get in my car. I slump in the drivers seat for way too long, wondering if this woman sits around thinking of ways to make me miserable while she eats lunch during breakfast-time and asking myself if she eats lunch at breakfast, when does she eat breakfast? After much internal debate I decide she must eat breakfast for dinner. I drag my tormented soul into the office. I wonder if I should have gotten a $100 bill out of the bank to bribe her. All city employees in Chicago take bribes -- why didn't I think of that before? Our eyes meet. I see a flicker of recognition in her eyes. Yet I have to explain AGAIN why I'm there and she replies "There is no movement" on the waiting lists for any of the pre-school gymnastics classes and reiterates that they can't refund the registration fee for the twin who did get in the class. I sigh, I am done. I give up. Keep my $50 City of Chicago! I no longer wish to serve as a pawn in your very twisted game! I turn to go and hear her voice call out: "Can you do the 9:30 class instead?" I whip back around. She wants to get my hopes up so she can tear me down, right? She continues: "I can switch Lulu into the 9:30 and sign up Moxley right now." I grab for my credit card before she changes her mind. I hear the machine accept payment and am handed a receipt. Lulu and Moxley are official students in 9:30 Chicago Park District Gymnastics! Victory! VIICCCCTTTTOOORRRRYYYY! I think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, not because he survived an epic battle but because I always think of him and that day was no different. I walk amongst heroes. We have faced tough battles and come out winners. I am one with greatness.

September 22: It is our first day of gymnastics class. I practically scream with glee when I go to get them in the morning: "WE HAVE GYMNASTICS TODAY!!!! ISN'T THAT EXCITTTTIIINNNNGGGG?" They are not quite as enthusiastic as I am. All morning I say things like, "We'll do cartwheels and balance beam and have soooo muucccchhhh fun!!!!" I wonder if someone slipped an Adderall in my coffee. We arrive early and head toward the gym. I pass other moms in the lobby and want to shout, "You bitches have no idea what I went through to be here!!!" There are 2 floor mats, one small bouncy thing, one pair of rings, one colorful wedge apparatus and two balance beams. The girls head for the rings and begin playing. Okay, this is fun. I take several pictures. It's now 9:25 and we're walking on the low beam. At about 9:28, the entire toddler population of Chicago storms the gym, sort of like a reenactment of Spain's Running with the Bulls but far more dangerous. The ratio of kids to equipment is approximately 4 million to 1. We wait in long lines to roll down the wedge apparatus which has several holes with foam sticking out. An understandably frustrated child charges the rings knocking into Lulu. It's 9:45 and the moms start wondering where the teacher is. One mom takes charge and goes to the desk. Oz appears wearing her trademark gym shorts but really mixing it up with a purple striped scrunchy and informs us THERE IS NO TEACHER. "This is a caregiver-led gymnastics experience," she snorts condescendingly.

Doesn't the word "class" imply it is in fact TAUGHT by a TEACHER? To summarize a very convoluted and long-winded post, I LOST SLEEP and more importantly MY MIND over getting my kids into a "caregiver-led gymnastics experience" during which after 20 minutes my children informed me they "think it smells poopy in here" and "never want to come back." Mommy doesn't want to come back either, I told them.

PS -- Anyone ever do Little Gym? We have a free trial class on Tuesday. Five minutes after I registered for it online, a very nice woman called asking if I have any questions, what to expect during class and other welcoming niceties. BITE ME CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT.

PPS -- Just in case you think I'm exaggerating, which I'm prone to do, the Chicago Tribune reported that some CPD class spots fill up within "less than half a second" online.


  1. WOW! That is quite the saga! And all that for a "care-giver led" "class." That's ridiculous!

    So I think you need to do something with this post. Like put it out there so Oz and her superiors can see.

    And BTW, my favorite part was the "I will not be ignored!" Classic!

  2. ha! Little gym sounds great! Nothing in Chicago is ever easy.

  3. I understand the obsession completely. I waited on line to get my girls into pre-school at 1:00 am. (I was not the first in line)

    I admire your resolve and can also recommend cyber stalking; Facebook and Linkin are great ways to spam their email as well as leaving phone messages.

  4. Oh my goodness - I can't believe that. How did you not totally kick her ass after she said that?

    I take my twin 15 month old girls to the Little Gym and absolutely love it! There is a teacher and lots of equipment and much better than Gymboree or anything else. They are kind, make sure you are comfortable, and I think the girls are learning so much.

    Best of luck,

  5. This was a WORK OF ART. This is exactly why SAHM moms start to lose their marbles after a few years at home. So little respect. So much time invested to move a mountain. Sometimes it feels like the people running my world are always sitting behind a desk with a phone -- pediatrician's office (as an aside, why do the phone people wear scrubs? May be called in to help with a procedure?), middle school secretary, hair salon scheduling twit. I could list 100 more. Raising these children often feels like the ultimate Sisyphean task. Thanks for the laugh this morning. Caregiver led classes can suck it. Good luck with Little Gym.

  6. little gym and gymboree are both wonderful places. my son enjoyed both. so did my friend's kids when they were younger, and my sister's twins do little gym now. it's a bit pricier than Chicago Park district but i'm pretty sure it won't smell "poopy." unless of course you get that one mom, or dad, or sitter that pretends it not their kid with the poopy diaper and lets the kid keep playing, smelling up the joint. and that mom was never me at the gym class. i was the mom making rude comments and shooting the stink eye until said person finally took the kid to the changing room. or just wait for Moxley or LuLu to call the kid out. take care and have loads of fun.

  7. Oh holy hell. I was tense just reading that! Utterly ridiculous. No kids yet but when I do the Park Ridge park district better not pull that kind of crap. Hope Little Gym turns out much better!

  8. I'm laughing so hard, I almost peed my chair! LIttle Gym rocks! We took a class there and did my twins b-day party there one year. Gymboree classes are great also. I hate to sound like a snot, but you can't do the public park district thing when it comes to class registration. It's bureaucracy from hell. As you now know... I remember spending countless hours on the phone and in person with a park district explaining that I had two children that yes, indeed, were the same age and yes, I did want them in the same class. They had deleted one child from their online registration program. I ended up screaming to the woman wouldn't this be easier if you just had a twin or multiples box on this long ass form??

  9. This is the funniest thing I've read in a long time. And I'm even including things I've written.

  10. Loved loved loved every word. We go to My Gym -do that have that there? I love it. The twins love it. They don't talk to me or the kids in that weird perky voice that they use at Gymboree which always reminds me of that woman on Sprout interstitials who wears the same purple outfit every day. Anyway, it's worth a little extra dough to not TEACH YOUR OWN FUCKING CLASS.

  11. If it makes you feel better, I live in a pretty small city (compared to Chicago)and our city rec program is the same story. I give up. Also, is it bad that I wish for crappy things to happen to you just so I can get my kicks reading about it?

  12. I hate it for you when bad things happen. But I love it for me because your telling of the story makes me laugh until I wet my pants.

  13. How can people laugh at this? This post should have a warning for people with anxiety disorders who regularly get incensed on the behalf of others on whom gross injustices are perpetrated. I could actually FEEL my blood pressure spiking. I'd tell you to forward them this post, but clearly they're too fuckwitted to read or comprehend it. Just deluge them with little notes saying 'you suck' over and over.