Although I?m 32, none of my friends have kids, so I was pretty much going it alone. The only things I had to guide me were my surreptitious observations of other moms down the aisle from me in the grocery store, and the direct mail advertisements that were now coming to me by the dozens each day. Actually, they weren?t addressed to me but to my alter ego, Greta Gerber. I would never fill out the form on a baby food company?s Web site because I hate knowing that my name and address will be sold like cheap candy to hundreds of greedy hucksters. But Greta Gerber is a real coupon whore and wants to get one dollar off of 12 jars of Gerber Dinners?that, and she?s curious about how many different companies the Gerber Corporation will sell her name to. The answer is, hundreds. And one of them was Gymboree.
Gymboree sent me a coupon for a free class, ensconced in a mini three-page memory album, with pages to record ?My First Smile,? ?My First Tooth,? and ?My First Class at Gymboree.? I figured?what the heck?I?d give it a try. It might be just the sort of ?mom thing? I was looking for.
The woman who led the class was?no surprise here?sunny and chipper. She sat us in a circle with our babies on our laps, and after a brief introductory chat, led us in singing songs to our kids. Many of them were classics of the childhood canon, like ?The Itsy Bitsy Spider,? and simple songs like ?You Are My Sunshine? (actually a heart-wrenchingly miserable song if you know all of the verses), but some were altered versions of old favorites, especially designed to remind you that you were at Gymboree, and not at some competing faction like My Gym or any other miscellaneous ?Mommy and Me? class. For example: ?The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town,? was sung as, ?Gymbo the clown goes up and down, up and down, up and down, Gymbo the clown goes up and down, here at Gymboree.?
Gymbo the clown, incidentally, is a puppet that we would wave up and down before the babies? eyes as we sang, and could buy, if we so desired, at the Gymboree store right out front for only $19.99.
When the 45-minute period ended, I was cheerfully encouraged by the sunny and chipper leader to sign up for a regular series of classes. But something was telling me not to do it. It wasn?t just the $49.99 fee, either. I said I?d think about it and perhaps come back for another class.
That evening, I mulled over the pros and cons. It almost seemed like a good idea?the baby had fun, and it was a rare opportunity for me to come into contact with other mothers. But something was nagging at me that I couldn?t quite put my finger on. It only occurred to me that night as I was rocking the baby to sleep and spontaneously started singing, ?Gymbo the clown goes up and down, up and down, up and down,? exactly what was so evil about that colorful corporate playroom. At that moment, I realized that there must be hundreds, maybe thousands of Gymboree moms serenading their babies with the exact same song at the exact same moment in the exact same way, all across the country, in an eerie chorus of conformity. Some of them might even be waving that dammed clown up and down, up and down, just as they were instructed to do in class. And if I joined, I would be just like them. I would be singing the same songs, playing the same games, maybe even buying the same products.
Besides the classes, Gymboree sells toys, clothes and CDs, and now when I reflected on that class, the way the word ?Gymboree? was woven into songs at every opportunity, the whole thing seemed like one big product placement. But instead of being in a television show, or in a film, it was being placed in my brain. And in my baby?s brain. ?Gymbo the clown goes up and down, up and down, up and down…?
I never went back. Now, in addition to the childhood classics?I do still use the Itsy Bitsy Spider routine they taught us in class?I also sing ?She Don?t Use Jelly? by The Flaming Lips, and ?Big Rock Candy Mountain? from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack to my baby. I know these songs aren?t traditional. But they will be for the two of us, and that?s all that matters.
L.J. Williamson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, knitting and smashing the system.