I’ve read more articles on overscheduled children than I care to count, and I like to think that I’m very in tune with trying to balance school, free play, and scheduled activities. But am I?
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Sometimes I think it would be easier if I really were a hamster. Seriously. That way I could burn some calories in the spinning wheel instead of stressing about how many things I have to do (actually, keeping track of them all is just as difficult). For the record, I’m not a whiner. But every once in a while I like to vent, so please indulge me. My husband and I have been blessed with two healthy children, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a parent every day. Still, I periodically daydream of spending the afternoon with my husband hiking. Or shopping for a couple of hours with girlfriends. All without any guilt—or the need for a sitter. I envision a Saturday or Sunday doing nothing but what I want do. I know it will never happen, but a girl can fantasize, can’t she. You see, our weekends, much like our weekdays, are booked solid.
Like most other working parents, I know first-hand how hectic weekdays can get. I squeeze in my workouts at six and then wake up the household around seven, amazed that they aren’t up yet. That doesn’t give us much time before school (the first bell rings at seven-forty) to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on sunscreen, and pack lunches. God forbid we have time to talk (my constant pleas to “HURRY UP” don’t count). Afternoons are tricky for my husband, who usually picks up from school and drops off at scheduled activities. Thankfully, our sitter had the bright idea to act as a chauffer for the kids three days a week. My little ones think it is cool that a college girl is driving them around town; my husband and I think it is nothing short of miraculous. Of course, this arrangement comes with a considerable price tag.
And, the worry. Are our children too busy? Overscheduled? Does my daughter really need to take gymnastics and ballet classes once a week, be in a Daisy troop that meets for an hour after school every other Wednesday, play soccer (practice is on Sunday afternoons and games are on Thursday evenings), and play kickball (games are on Saturday mornings and practice is on Sunday)? My four-year-old son has a much lighter schedule: gymnastics once a week and soccer (games are Wednesday evenings and practice is on Sunday). Obviously, at this young age, my children don’t need to do anything after school. But they certainly seem to enjoy it all. I’ve read more articles on overscheduled children than I care to count, and I like to think that I’m very in tune with trying to balance school, free play, and scheduled activities. But am I?
All of this constant background noise in my brain exploded into my consciousness when my daughter said rather matter-of-factly while tying her aqua-and-white tennis shoes: “Today, I’m not really resting.” We had just finished eating a late breakfast, like we always do, after church. Only this Sunday, our usual guests (my parents) were out of town and in their place was a neighbor, one of my daughter’s best friends. We were getting ready for kickball practice, and I didn’t want her to be late since she had missed the previous week because of strep. Her little brother had soccer practice at the same time but different fields. As usual, we were rushing, and we still needed to put on our sunscreen, pack a snack, and fill up the water bottles. And all of the other more mundane things I don’t care to repeat.
My six year old was right. Note to self: She usually is. A day of rest—and the whole weekend, for that matter—had turned into another dash-to-this-or-hurry-up-for-that marathon. I thought back to the past 48 hours or so: we met friends for dinner fifteen minutes after arriving home from work on TGIF (fun, but we spent most of the evening telling the children to be quiet), soccer practice (could it have been more humid?), kickball practice (painfully long), two birthday parties (we split teams—boys and girls), the UT Longhorn football game, grocery shopping, dinner at our neighbors’ house, and then church. Where were those moments of free play? I guess there were a handful of them, but didn’t they need more? Didn’t I?
But when our exhausting weekend was over (read: the kids were asleep), I sipped on a glass of wine or two and thought long and hard about what we did—and why. I realized that we spent almost the entire weekend together as a family. And it was quality time. Our children were learning how to use nice manners in a restaurant (luckily the tables next to us were learning too). They were using their motor skills and playing on teams. They both went to their first UT football game, and my son got to see Bevo “in real life.” And such happy grins appeared on their faces as they pranced around the kitchen in their new Halloween costumes, which we purchased after soccer practice. Turns out they had a pretty good weekend after all—and so did I. No one seemed overly tired (including myself), and everyone was in good spirits and ready for bed when it was time for lights out.
Obviously, I don’t know everything about being a good parent; I have a lot to learn and many things to experience. But I do know that time spent on the soccer field practicing or in the ballet studio rehearsing means less time in front of the television watching shows that are too mature. (Thank you, Nick. Actually, we don’t have the television on all the time at our house, but my daughter tries to sneak it in when she can.) I know that during organized activities my children are learning new things, meeting new people, and building self-esteem. And more often than not, there are one or two neighborhood kids playing at our house when I arrive home from work. Usually, they’re all outside painting or jumping on the trampoline, but sometimes, the crew transforms the playroom into a store, with dresses in one corner, shoes on the couch, jewelry on the desk, blocks in a tower on the floor, stuffed animals in a basket, and toys scattered everywhere else. To me that’s an indicator that my kids are getting in some free play time too. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that time spent on organized activities spills over into the weekend? I think not. Yeah, we run around, going from place to place, and, yes, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. But if I can sneak in a laugh with the kids, hear my son tell a funny story, or share a perfect moment with my daughter along way, then so be it. Seriously.