Mixed Heights

You know how you go to a fair or a carnival or whatever and there is a rock climbing wall and an extremely long line and you don’t want to stand in line for 16 hours so you tell your kids, “We’re not going to stand in line for this climbing wall, but there is a climbing gym in town and I promise I will take you there soon, okay?” And, then, for the next two years, they’re all, “When are we going to go rock climbing?” and you finally have to step up and actually take them?

^ That.

I found a local rock climbing gym called Earth Treks and discovered that they had a Friday night climbing class for kids. I was really glad to find this because it meant that I didn’t have to figure out how to help my kids climb myself, because that seemed like a lot of work that, frankly, I wasn’t capable of. Outsourcing the climbing instruction seemed like just the thing.

Our climbing date was this week and we headed out, two-thirds of my climbers excited to be going. It turns out that Quinn was worried about falling, so once I told him he’d be in a harness and totally safe, he felt a little better. Then, when we got to the gym and he saw all the climbing walls, he freaked out and started yelling about wanting to climb the really tall walls.

So then three out of three were excited.

This was shaping up to be a really positive thing. We found the right wall section and met our staffers. Early arriving kids got to traverse around the bottom section of the rock wall and all three of my kids were thrilled.


Witness: An actual smile.

The problem—and you know there was one—is that the class wasn’t all that well organized. This particular class was over its limit also, meaning there were 12 kids, instead of ten. Plus, two out of the three instructors weren’t very organized with their lines, meaning pushy kids were allowed to cut.

This was problematic for Quinn, because even though he is pushy, he has a really hard time standing in line. Several kids had climbed twice by the time Quinn got his first climb. For some kids that might not have been a big deal, but Quinn totally fell apart. Before he even ended up at the front of a line, he was sobbing and whining and saying he didn’t want to climb anymore. For a kid who had been super excited to be there 20 minutes earlier, it was quite a change and it made me really sad for him.

It was also problematic for Sam because he was polite and he got the shaft a couple of times until he finally gave up and didn’t climb any more. More on that later.

Let’s start with the great stuff though. Jack jumped in a line with a great staffer who was paying attention to her line. He climbed a couple times, making it to the top of the wall like a rock star.

He even took the time to learn some of the climbing terms from the placard on the wall. It was ADORBS.

He even took the time to learn some of the climbing terms from the placard on the wall. It was ADORBS.

Jack then took the opportunity to explore the climbing equipment and spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it work. His staffer was really cool about letting him figure it all out. She showed him knots and was altogether really cool with him.

I made him do this.

The carabiner was his gateway gadget.

I have no idea what this piece of equipment does, but I think that Jack does.

I have no idea what this piece of equipment does, but I think that Jack does.

Sam did a great job climbing, but he has a fear of heights. He has actually climbed a wall before and did great, but it was too much for him today. He came down after only going halfway up. He wanted to try again later, but he ended up getting cut in front of and by that time only one staffer was helping kids climb and the others were running a “game,” which really just involved swinging on a rope swing (which, honestly, we could have done pretty much anywhere), so when the kid who cut in front of him took an extremely long time to climb, Sam eventually gave up. It made me incredibly mad and was a big part of my feeling unsatisfied with the whole experience. Sam wanted to climb more, and probably could have done better and maybe conquered a fear, but he didn’t get to, even though that is what we signed up—and paid $29 a kid—for.

He looked awesome when he did climb, though.

He looked awesome when he did climb, though.

Quinn also only made it halfway up on his first climb. He got really scared and kind of froze. I told him that I was really proud of him (because I was—making the kind of effort he did was fantastic) and that he didn’t have to climb anymore. He managed to sort of calm himself down and decided he wanted to try again. Fortunately (?), he’s pushy, so he managed to get another half climb.

This was his first, scary climb. His technique was a little off.

This was his first climb. His technique was a little haphazard.

The whole set up was a little weird. The class was 2-1/2 hours, but after an hour and a half, they stopped climbing and started the rope swinging game. By this time, the instructors were also kind of drifting in and out, meaning there were only two instructors the 12 kids for a big chunk of time.

Sam liked swinging on the rope and did it a few times, but Jack and Quinn ended up just lying on the floor.

Something we could do almost anywhere.

Something we could do almost anywhere.

Something we could do literally anywhere.

Something we could do literally anywhere.

We were supposed to be there until 9, but all three of my kids were bored by 8:30, so we took off. Maybe they did something awesome after we left, but if something manages to bore ALL THREE OF MY CHILDREN at the same time? Well, that is quite a thing.

I guess I’m glad we went because my kiddos got a chance to try climbing and if they want to try it again, we can find another way to do it. I do feel a little bit like if it had been better organized though that they might have had a better chance at liking it.

I think the staffers were competent and kept everyone safe, but I seriously wanted to jump in and line kids up and keep everyone ordered. The addition of the extra kids made the wait lines so much longer as well. I bought our tickets for the class in June to get a night where there was room for all of us. I’m annoyed that it turns out that you can just show up and push your way to the front of the line.

Even though I’m glad I took my kids for the experience, I am really mad that I didn’t step up for my kids enough—especially Sam. I should have been pushy for him. Instead, I let him learn that if you are polite, you get the shaft. I’m also mad that I have to feel that way. The climbing gym should have done a better job with class organization. When we left early, one staffer said, “Oh, are you leaving?” and no one else said anything. I was angry all the way home.

I think my kids had a decent enough time, but I just ended up annoyed. I’m trying really hard to remember that I gave my kids an experience that they wanted and now that they know what it is like, if they express interest in doing it again, we can find a one-on-one way to do it next time.

Although to be honest, I doubt they’ll ask again.

If they never do ask to go climbing again, at least they’ll always have traversing.


14 thoughts on “Mixed Heights

  1. It sounds like it could have been really great. You should send this to the place and see if they give you your money back or free tickets to try again or something.

  2. Ugh. I’m sorry it was such a poor experience. It looks like it could have so much fun if it was organized well. My kid would have had the same issues. He a rule follower and it makes him crazy when others don’t. And most 10 year old boys don’t. So yeah.

  3. I think a politely worded follow-up letter to the organization would be an excellent way for you to model being politely assertive.
    I always wonder, where are the parents of the pushy kids, and why don’t they step in?
    If we say nothing, nothing changes.

  4. You should email the gym and complain. That’s a lot of money for a poorly organized class. And next time, I would just jump in and organize the kids. I have a tendency to do that anyway. The not-so-well-hidden scout leader in me can’t help herself.

    Is there an REI near you? They offer climbing classes for much cheaper. The wall isn’t as big, and there is generally no rope swing, but I’ve only ever heard good things about their group classes. Some of the REIs around here also have open climb days, where you pay $5-$7 per climb. It does mean only one person can go at a time, but I was in an REI during an open climb once, and there were very few people wanting to climb, so it seems like your boys would mostly just be waiting for each other, and you can tell them to stand in line without bossing around anyone else’s kids.

  5. I hope you do let the gym know about your experience. Hopefully it was a fluke and not their general m.o. But, you know, the smile and the bravery shown by Quinn? Worth it right there, eh?

  6. Jean, I would have been upset also. 29 dollars is a lot of money per kid for that kind of experience. :(

    Another climbing option, should you choose it, would be at Arundel Mills. There are climbing walls in Bass Pro Shop. You have to be 10 or 11 to climb though. I think 10. The Howard County Y also has a climbing wall with Open Climb sessions.

  7. I agree with the people who say call to complain, but for a different reason: they did not fill the time you bought. If your kids were bored by 8:30, you at least lost out on 45 minutes of a 2.5 hour class. That’s almost 1/3 of the time. That’s not acceptable. Absolutely mention the disorder as well, but that was a lot of money for them to not fill the time.

  8. I third, fourth, and fifth the suggestions that you write Earth Treks and give them feedback. The staff may be competent climbers and teachers, as you say, but they clearly aren’t competent at managing events with lots of participants. I have a lot less self-control in public nowadays than you do–I would (and have, in the past) asked the impolite/line-cutting kid to please move to the back of the line, as loudly (but never aggressively/angrily) as possible. This usually shocks the rude kids and embarrasses staff enough so that they take action. I figure that if these kids’ parents aren’t going to teach them these *very* basic social rules, then they’re leaving it up to the village (me) to instruct their child. It also embarrasses my children, too, but I look at it as a way of teaching them to stand up for themselves. And they’re getting dangerously close to puberty anyway, so the sooner they develop a thick skin for parental embarrassment, the better. :)

    And, frankly, you *should* be kind of ticked about the rope-swing thing. Seriously? I’d be all, “I didn’t pay $29 per kid to have them spend half their climbing time doing something they mastered at age 4 during the $5 Open Gym sessions at Silver Stars.”

    I seem to remember that the city of Rockville has an indoor climbing gym in the park by the Civic Center–the walls aren’t as high, but it’s much cheaper, less crowded, and maybe more kid-friendly than Earth Treks. And if you want another climbing adventure, Talia did a birthday party last year at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring and LOVED it, but it’s pretty expensive ($50 for a 3-hour ticket).

  9. Thanks, everyone! I’m debating whether or not to send Earth Treks a note. I probably will, just so they might be able to improve things in the future, if they care. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get any of my kids back there for the class again. I will definitely check out the fantastic suggestions you all gave me and will look to them in the future.

  10. :( I would be exactly the same as you. Wanting to step in but holding back then mad at myself all the way home. Gah!

    In my opinion you did great by your boys and they did great and even though it wasn’t necessarily what you hoped for…it would definitely be a check in the positive column. :D

  11. Hi, The traversing part looks fun, however I’m sorry that the social aspect wasn’t. [Where were the other parents? Did they remind their children to wait their turn?]
    Anyway, I’m kinda happy that climbing mountains might not be in your children’s future.
    I watched the movie North Face, which features beautiful mountain scenery, a tragic love story, and lots of other plot lines. I saw this movie as part of the cinema club at the Avalon, where you don’t know which movie you will see, in advance. It does give you the opportunity to impress [or, annoy] your friends by saying ‘Oh, I saw that [pre-released movie] last week. Loved / hated it.’
    Spoiler alert:
    In North Face, almost everyone dies. I want to see HAPPY movies. There should be a cinema club for that. Just saying.

    • Parents didn’t have to stay. There were about three of us who did. It’s weird in those situations because I never know if stepping in makes the situation worse or not.

      • Hi there,
        Just catching up with the blogs that I read, and noticed your reply. :)
        To me, this does seem kinda weird. I don’t think you should have to decide what to say or do, or to NOT say or do.
        If the kids are under, say, 13 yo, I’d really like to have the parents present. So, you could chat and decide what might work best for the entire group?
        Ah well, I don’t have children.

  12. I should also mention that the cinema club is really excellent!
    It’s just the surprise factor that is a little stressful, for me.

    They definitely choose great movies. A few of the movies didn’t get widely distributed here in DC, so it was nice to see them without going all the way to E St. :)

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