Don't look now, but here comes the tax man. Like the bogeyman, he holds a special place in the American psyche—a shadowy predator with an insatiable hunger. Except, rather than coming for you in the dark with a blunt instrument, the tax man prefers a precision scalpel to carve the life out of your paychecks and bank accounts.
The problem with this legend is that it assumes you get nothing in return, as if all tax revenues are composted in a vast government outhouse that forever precludes useful social and economic benefits. Never mind that government expenditures provide living wages and good benefits to millions of people employed in the important business of conducting the nation's business—which, in a democracy, is ostensibly the people's business.
Direct economic benefits notwithstanding, there's a distorted perception that the public sector workers we pay through our taxes do nothing good for us. I ran this misguided perspective past Aimee Roads, recreational coordinator for Tucson Parks and Recreation. She responded graciously, describing all the really cool stuff she does with our taxes.
Aimee runs a program that a good friend of mine attends with her 1-year-old boy once a week at Randolph Recreation Center called Little Movers and Shakers. Parents bring their little ones to a gymnasium at the center for 45 minutes of loosely organized wiggling and giggling. They pay a small fee—a fraction of what they'd pay for a similar service in the private sector—to enjoy this collective activity in a public space.
Alarmed by this report of subversive socialist activity, I tagged along with my friend to check it out. I didn't go in—only one adult per child in the gym—but I watched through the observation window, thoroughly bemused. Inside the bambino rumpus room, shoeless parents and babies walked, stumbled, crawled and rolled around on soft mats; chased colored balls and shiny things; climbed, pushed and banged on various challenging devices; and generally had a great time. The kinetic chaos reminded me of Monkey Island at the zoo.
One of the driving purposes of the program is motor skill development, so there were also structured activities like an obstacle course and rhythmic clapping. I don't have kids (I know my limitations—I can barely take care of my cats) but I must say, it looked like a total gas, especially when they broke out the giant rainbow parachute. (If they ever come up with an adult version of that, I'm in!)
Not surprisingly, Aimee proudly proclaimed that the classes are very popular, and they're not limited to itty-bitty kidlets. Age groups range from 6 to 12 months, 12 to 18 months, 18 to 24 months and on up to beginning level gymnastics for preschoolers and beyond. She rattled off some impressive numbers for each cohort—when you add them up, thousands of Tucson kids and parents are benefiting from these programs.
When the class was over, I chatted a bit with some parents. They really liked the public aspect of it, the opportunities for socialization and the normalization of an organized, regular group activity in their children's experience. My friend even made plans with another mom to get their kids together outside of the sessions.
Aimee confirmed that socialization is an important aspect of the programs and pointed out that kids are not all developmentally equal at a given age. In fact, she's been particularly moved by the amazing progress she's seen in kids who are developmentally delayed—through Down syndrome or some other condition—and benefit from interacting with peers in a low-stress, nonjudgmental atmosphere.
Then she said something that gave me pause: The Tucson City Council has been great at budgeting for and supporting programs like this. I cringed, considering the vitriol politicians are often subjected to for things like that. I could just hear the tax-legend trolls whining, "Why don't they fix the potholes in the streets instead of wasting our money on all this other stuff?"
There's more to life than potholes, folks—there is, in fact, life itself. If I had to rank the things my taxes are spent on, Little Movers and Shakers would be way ahead of potholes. And investing in healthy children and cohesive communities in general would be light years ahead of, oh, let's say, tax breaks for corporations that facilitate the bombing of other people's kids in Afghanistan.
Programs like this give me hope that the Little Movers and Shakers will one day grow up to be Big Movers and Shakers who will help to dispel the tax legend and won't object to sharing a little wealth, or spreading a little love.