Little gym, big gym

Last Saturday Carlton and our family and friends celebrated his fourth birthday at The Little Gym in Snellville.

Carlton and friends at The Little Gym
See? Smiles everywhere. Carlton and his friends had a blast.

Though Carlton only took classes there for six weeks, he often asks to go back. The birthday party was the perfect excuse.

The folks at The Little Gym were organized, well-staffed, professional but personal, and they made the entire experience a pleasure. We got to watch the kids have fun and take pictures while the staff ran the party. I can’t recommend The Little Gym enough. There’s a reason Parents magazine named The Little Gym the number one place to host children’s birthday parties.

Along with my recent job change, I’ve changed gyms as I seek to find a schedule that makes sense for me. I’m no longer at the Fitness 19 around the corner, though I had a good experience there for several years.

Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech
The BIG gym. Actually, it’s the biggest gym I think I’ve ever been in.

Now, I’m at the palatial Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech, the modified former venue of Olympic swimming and diving. It’s massive, with 14 machines of every type, and the equipment is so new I don’t even know what to do with some of it.

All this gym talk had me thinking about the similarities and differences between Carlton’s gym and my gym. So here’s my analysis, using the five senses as an organizing principle:

Sight: The Little Gym is full of bright, primary colors appropriate for children who are learning such basic concepts. The big gym has the appropriate Georgia Tech old gold and white with the navy and black accent colors tastefully and athletically applied. Both are well lit. Obviously, the patrons of The Little Gym are quite a bit shorter but after a rousing game of follow the leader or parachute circle, no less sweaty than their larger equivalents at the big gym. The key difference? The Little Gym people have way more smiling going on.

Carlton gets dizzy with the parachute game
No skydiving required for this parachute, but Carlton still got a little dizzy.

Smell: Without putting too fine a point on it, adults who are exerting smell bad. Children who are exerting have no real smell; unless they are so busy playing they forget to take a potty break. Both gyms smell of antibacterial cleanser, although I have to say The Little Gym has some of the “Scentsy” candle air fresheners that are aromatherapeutic–a nice added touch.

Taste: When I’m at the big gym, all I have is water. It’s pretty much tasteless, unless some of my salty sweat drips down my face while I’m at the water fountain. At The Little Gym, we had juice pouches, popcorn and cupcakes. Now that is fuel for a workout! I do eat a protein bar and a banana or apple after my workout, but as far as breakfasts go, it’s lacking.

Sound: Both gyms have up-tempo music playing to help you get revved up. At The Little Gym, they played a number of hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s such as “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” “Rockin’ Robin” and others. At the big gym, it’s typically a mix of hits from the ‘90s, dance tunes, and hip-hop. It’s enough to make me want my ear buds, but I tend to tune it out most of the time.

The view from the high dive platform
Mere mortals are not allowed up on the high dive platform, but it does make for a really nice view of the big gym’s pool.

Touch: Nearly everything at The Little Gym is padded. There are parallel bars, a high bar, rings and other apparatus that feel the same for the kids as they would the grownups, but overall, it’s soft place to fall, jump, tumble, flip and bounce. The surfaces of the big gym are less forgiving. There is a rubber floor, which absorbs the impact of dumbbells and barbells, and the four or five mats do offer some padding for stretching, yoga or other forms of fitness-related torture. In general, though, the big gym isn’t a place you’d want to fall down.

OK, so what’s my point? All of this is obvious, you say. Well, it’s clear that kids have more fun at The Little Gym than adults do at the big gym. And I think the reasons are in my analysis above. But more than the atmosphere and the physical setting, it’s about attitude.

No matter what color the walls are painted or how the place smells we can all bring a little more child-like play to our fitness. Not only would we enjoy it more, we would probably get healthier in the process.

I think I need a little more Little Gym in my big gym.

OK, it’s your turn. What do you like about your gym? What don’t you like? Have you had any experience with the Little Gym or places that are similar? Leave a comment below and share!

A foot in two states

Heavy clouds and the threat of rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for a trip on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway last Monday for Carlton’s third birthday.

Lance and Carlton on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Lance and Carlton inside car 549 on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

For weeks leading up to the big event, I felt pangs of sentimentality about my youngest son following the same journey as his brothers from toddlerhood to full blown boyhood. I wanted – maybe even needed – this day to be meaningful and memorable.

After a 2-hour circuitous journey from Lilburn to Highway 5 that took us through Forsyth and Cherokee counties, we arrived in the quaint town of Blue Ridge all set for our low-speed adventure.

Thanks to a school holiday there were a few families among the 515 passengers on the full train, but the clientele was mostly seniors, including a group of Lutherans who filled our car. My wife and I had agonized over the decision to purchase seats in a closed car rather than an open air car. As it turned out, we had plenty of opportunity to enjoy both.

With the airbrakes wheeshing and the whistle blowing, the Lutherans belted out a rousing rendition of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” It was value added.

The train covered the 13-mile journey to McCaysville in right at an hour. The leaves weren’t quite at their peak, but we weren’t really looking at the leaves. The boys seemed more interested in the snack bar and the on-board toilet.

I could write an entire essay on the juxtaposition of the hillside mountain homes with the ramshackle houses along the Toccoa River, but let’s just say the scenery was a mix of urban escapism and quaint nostalgia backdropped by an occasional golden- or crimson-leafed hardwood.

When we got to McCaysville, our volunteer hostess, Frances, helped us escape the train before the Lutherans, allowing us to get at the front of the line at Georgia Boy BBQ. After pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, beans and sweet tea, we poked around in the railway’s northern terminus gift shop before following the walking map to McCaysville City Park overlooking the river.

The boys worked out their restlessness, and Carlton met a friend, a boy about his age with the appropriately Southern name of Atticus. They pointed at ducks in the river, enjoyed the slide and swung on their stomachs like toddlers do.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway engine
Thankfully, the engines don't talk or sing on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

We headed back a few minutes before the train gave the four blasts on its whistle to signal the return trip to Blue Ridge. Carrying Carlton, I stopped at the blue dotted line in the parking lot of the IGA grocery store.  Frances had told us it was the state line, separating McCaysville, Ga., from Copper Hill, Tenn.

Deriving an odd thrill, I straddled the line, holding Carlton close.

“Hey, buddy. We’re in two states now,” I said, prompting a puzzled look from the newly-minted three-year-old.

That’s how I felt – a foot in two states. I still wanted to be a parent of a toddler, at least for a day longer, but I knew Carlton was quickly maturing into boyhood.

There would definitely be more monumental birthdays and more significant rites of passage along the way, but for me, this was the moment I had been searching for to validate my grieving the loss of Carlton’s infancy and early childhood.

The ride back was nap inducing, but Carlton sat in my lap and forcibly held my eyelids open. He didn’t want me to miss anything. Though drowsiness almost overtook me, I didn’t want to miss anything either. It all goes by too quickly, even on a slow train.

We concluded the experience with a fried apple pie at Mercier Orchards and set off back toward Atlanta. It had been a good day. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway provided a journey I’ll cherish for a lifetime.