Oh man. If I have to accompany my son to one more “class” at Gymboree, they may give me a time out. Turns out I’m terrible at faking participation in inane activities.
For the uninitiated, Gymboree is a chain of indoor play spaces. Most parents end up there eventually, after exhausting all the other area venues. They have colorful mats and things to climb on (or fall off of, if you see that glass as half empty).
Everyone wears a large sticker with their name on it, which creates the ambiance of a Small Businessman’s convention at the Northgate Marriott. Of course, my son has an inexplicable aversion to stickers, so I must surreptitiously slap one on his back like a kick me sign.
Most of the time you’re trailing and spotting your kid. Any downtime is spent assessing how well the other moms have bounced back from L&D. There’s usually some predictable chitchat. When two kids pass within each other’s orbits, their parents’ exchange must loosely follow this template:
Parent: Aw, cute kid. How old is she? Skyler! Don’t grab! She was playing with that!
Other Parent: She’ll be nineteen-and-a-half months a week from yesterday. Chelsea, can you share your toy?
To their credit, Gymboree maintains clean facilities. This is especially impressive in light of the chronic incontinence of their customer base. And Gymboree’s obstacle courses make for decent indoor fun. Your child may awaken the Kerri Strug within; and you can indulge your inner Béla Károlyi.
My issue with Gymboree is the transparent corporate blandness. Instructors are given scripted lesson plans. Presumably, this is to a) ensure consistency throughout the chain, while b) presenting a veneer of educational legitimacy. But the instructors seem no more credentialed than your average barista.
Repetition is inherent in rearing children. Often it is tolerable, as with a cherished book or song. But inevitably it’s grating, like with Barney and Elmo. Gymboree falls into the latter camp, with repeat visits becoming increasingly irritating. This is never more true than when music enters the equation.
The other day the instructor played a recording of Bingo, the children’s classic about the farmer’s dog. Except in this version, the dog’s name-o was “Jimbo.” To further confuse matters, the song taught young listeners that Jimbo is spelled G-Y-M-B-O. Talk about lame-o.
Oh wait, my mistake. Gymbo is the company’s mascot. What is that little dingleberry anyway? A clown? A jack-in-the-box?
A short while later the super cheery instructor sang “Ring Around the Rosie” using the following lyrics:
Ring around the rosie.
A pocket full of posies.
We all fall down!
What the fuck, Gymboree? I understand the desire to reinforce your brand. But must you? You do realize that your graduates will matriculate into kindergarten and invite teasing and ostracism by proudly singing the wrong lyrics?
Singing children’s songs should not force soul searching debates over participation, like with the Pledge of Allegiance. Ditto for playing Simon Says, which is typically innocuous and fun. But the game acquires a totalitarian dissonance when recast as “Gymbo” Says. Until changes are made, I’ll be forced to instruct my two year-old in the ways of conscientious objection.
And despite their efforts at Soviet-style indoctrination, Gymbo will never achieve the same cultural saturation as Ronald McDonald or Mickey Mouse.
Finally, when playtime is over, parents must rush their kids past the gantlet of merchandise. The toy display by the door is strategically located to trigger impulse buys by our little consumers-in-training.
Gymboree needs to work out its priorities. Does it want to be “the global leader in early childhood development,” as its website maintains? Or does it prefer squeezing profits out of indoor play spaces? The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But realizing both goals requires a lot more creativity and imagination. Perhaps the clowns at Gymboree should be learning from their young customers.