Sunday, February 17, 2008

Perfect Madness - Soccer Style

Today I had a few errands to run in town, so after the Sunday morning routine I packed up the car and took off. I needed to mail bills, run Jacob's soccer registration over to the local sporting good's store, and hit the bookstore for some writing time (which is where I sit now, a cup of black coffee steaming next to me and a hot sandwhich lying it's pretty little cheesey head off to me and telling me it's only a few Weight Watcher's points as opposed to the ten or twelve I suspect the traitor to be).

I was on the phone with Sarah when I neared the sporting goods store for the soccer registration. We are newbies as a soccer family, and Jacob has only done micro-soccer once before. It was in the fall, and we registered by phone. To say we're not aggressive with the sports indoctrination at our home would be a huge understatement. We don't start kicking/throwing/catching balls when the kids are crawling. We play with the kids, but it's more in the form of the sporadic bout of freeze tag out back, or a family hike, or a race throught the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner before we all collapse from low blood sugar. I loathe the sound of professional sports on television, and I've been known to get overly irritated when Bob uses a sport's metaphor (Jen, we went in to shake some fruit from the trees, threw the long bomb/hail Mary/full court pass and we scored).

As I neared the parking lot, I slowed down. "Sarah, I'm gonna have to go. The parking lot is completely packed, and people are parking across the street. This is crazy - what, are they having a huge sale or something?" As I said this, I saw that the people streaming in were, in fact, holding the same canary yellow registration forms that I had with me, my check for the playing fee neatly paperclipped to the top. These were other soccer parents. And from the looks of it, there was a run on the bank and they were literally shoving to get into the store. Right before I hung up with Sarah the blaring of a horn cut us off - people were vying for good spaces so they could rush in with their kids. I actually saw a car without the proper tags pull into the handicapped space and a frazzled looking mom leap out, crumpled form in hand. I described the frenzied scene to Sarah, who advised me to just turn around and leave. "He's not even six, Jen. Just do it next year."

I almost heeded her advice. But this semester I have pulled Chloe and Maddie from their usual litany of afterschool activities so that we might take a moment to catch our breath. I am all for kids having extracurricular activities - in fact, the older they get, the more important I believe they become. If you're a busy teenager, maybe you won't have as much time to get knocked up, on drugs, or shoplift. But my kids are still young. And I want them to learn to enjoy an afternoon after school without feeling like they're being hurdled out of a cannon to their varying activities. And, it's saving me a ton of money. Maybe they'll daydream a little more, ride their bikes after homework, and read some of the great books they have.

Meanwhile, Jacob has endured being dragged to the dance/gymnastics/ice-skating/horse riding festival for his sisters, and I wanted to infuse some more testosterone in our routine. So I decided to sign him up for soccer again. He loved it, it's cheap, and I can't wait to spend some time outside this Spring.

But I wasn't prepared for this. The parents, the competition, the caring so much. Do any of these people believe their kids are going to play professional soccer someday? Most likely, only a couple will even play in college - so why the hysteria?

I stood in line with parents dragging whiney children. I listened to moms complain about how they didn't have the time to take their Sunday yoga class with Ken because of the game schedules...not to mention the game/practice schedules for the child's other activities, plus the same for any other siblings. I listened to moms bitterly recount their involvement in their children's school and how they battled their husbands to not add soccer to the list this spring. "Well, I lost that one. So look who's here, in line, while he stays at home and watches t.v." is what I overheard.

I listened to moms (and joined in for this one) talk about how strapped they were financially after paying the fees and costs associated with all of these activities. I told the group around me that I had my girls doing nothing but school this semester.

It was met with initial silence.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. But they go to a great school, and get to do things like ski, go to California, and participate in plays. So it's not like they'll be bored. Although nothing is wrong with a little boredom, I guess. Stimulates the imagination, you know?"

They didn't. They asked me how old the girls were. They cautioned me that if they resumed dance, they would be placed at lower levels next year.

Hmmm. So what? Do I think that my kids are going to be professional dancers, sports players, musicians, or equestrians? Probably not. None of my kids are prodigies. They're all bright, to varying degrees, but none of them are likely to even score an academic scholarship with the competition out there. So why should I kill myself? And them?

A dad I know in town, a doctor, said something recently at an event with such wistfulness it really stayed with me. He said when he was a kid, he went to school then went home. Period. He had friends, he played, and he enjoyed his childhood. Now, he has a large family and all of his children are in hours and hours of activities each week. They hire nannies to help with all the driving.

It got me thinking. I hope it does for you, too.

30 comments:

bipolarlawyercook said...

I think it's hard to find a balance. There were no sports for girls where I grew up until high school, and I could've used an enforced dose or three of organized running around. But the cost of these things is appalling, and there's no enforced equity like with school sports, where all the kids can play, and damn the registration fees. I did meet so many of my good book friends during those years.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Our wake-up call to being overscheduled came when my mom was diagnosed with cancer 6 years ago. We quit everything on the spot. When it came time to resume activities, we realized how much we appreciated some downtime. Since then we've been more selective about what we do.

I'm a huge fan of scouting, so for a long time it was scouting and one sport per season. That can still seem like a lot with four kids, but thankfully we always had great carpools.

You can judge by your kids' and your stress level if your doing too much. Too much stress=drop something. You are so right about the bizarre expectations of some of those parents. It's so important to keep your sense of perspective and not get caught up in the crazy competitiveness that permeates our society today.

sara said...

Go, Jen, go. I feel like I am fighting against the trend right now. My two older ones, 5-year-old twins, have *gasp* NO afterschool activities. Nothing scheduled. After school, we head to the playground or just home where they hang & play. I can feel the pressure (outside? internal?) to get them into soccer, into music, into yoga, etc. etc. as all their peers seem to be doing, but we made an intentional choice to wait & have some down-time together. As they get older & want to explore more outside interests, we'll take it one school year at a time, one season at a time....

Mamma said...

Oh I hear what you're saying. It can all get too crazy, but on the flip side our family has developed an amazing group of friends over baseball. It's a very tight community and my three boys are getting terrific exercise--which I need them to get. Something has to wear them out. ;)

Mamma said...

I should add though that baseball is our ONE activity. No cub scouts, no piano lessons (yet). No other sports. I completely agree with you about over-scheduling. Kids need time to just be kids.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

Right now my 5-year-old "only" does soccer. She's interested in dance, and I'm going to sign her up for a dance summer day camp. But I have tried to keep her activities to just one so far..so good! She is also interested in Girl Scouts, so we might try that in the fall.

One of my co-workers was recently telling me that her kids were in soccer, tae kwon do, taking ice skating lessons, swim lessons, and her son was playing t-ball. Her kids are younger than 7!

My daughter is definitely interested in dance, so we'll see how this summer goes and then I might sign her up for fall soccer and weekly dance class. But I don't want to overload her and I didn't want to overload her this year, since she was starting kindergarten.

I agree with you...when did it become abnormal to just be a kid and not have a crazy extracurricular schedule?

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

It's crazy out there, that's for sure. And the real downside is that if you buck the trend and let your kid just play outside in the afternoons or on the weekends...he has no one to play with. The other kids are at their activities or inside watching TV or playing video games.

jakelliesmom said...

I am very much like you, Jen. Jake just started soccer a couple of weeks ago, Ellie does one after-instruction activity at her preschool and that's it. I refuse to get caught up in all the things other people do for many reasons, not the least of which is giving my children time to play alone, with each other, and to be creative without being told what to do.

I want them to be able to look forward to the things they do, and to also have time for a leisurely browse through the library without having to run off and do something or anything.

The Flying Monkeys said...

My son started Karate and goes 3 nights a week, Monday Wednesday and Friday, but I am ready to just do Monday and Friday and Saturday, plus he has Sunday school on sundays and Piano on thursdays! Karate has helped with focus, and he finally has his white belt! good blog!

kristenspina said...

I agree about the scheduling. And I've done my best to keep it simple here. It's not a popular philosophy, but damn, I like me some down time!!!

Mommy Cracked said...

I applaud your decision not to over-schedule your kids' activities. I, too, was the kind that went to school and came home, but had tons of neighborhood kids to play with and, gasp, we used our imaginations!! And I look back on those times so fondly. You sound like you have a firm grasp on the moderation thing. You go, girl!

Beck said...

A family I know has three kids. Each of the kids is in multiple DIFFERENT activities, with the result that the family spends absolutely no time together. To hell with that, i say - I have no interest in raising junior prodigies. The Girl is in piano lessons for half an hour a week, The Boy swims for half an hour once a week and the Baby has playgroup and the rest of the time, they can be KIDS.

Katrina said...

I kid you not, I know a mom of twins that is freaking out over whether or not they will get into *great university nearby* or not if they aren't in the right PRESCHOOL and aren't participating in the right activities!!!! The kids are TWO YEARS OLD!

They already got to several activities with their nanny (notice not usually with mommy or daddy) and I can tell they will be scheduled to the max.

Lucas is in Cub Scouts and that's plenty. Why not let kids be kids these days? Drives me insane.

painted maypole said...

my daughter, age 5, has taken a full total of 9 swimming lessons. Besides church stuff, that is her only planned extra curricular activity. i LOVE it. I had a friend look me in the eye and say "don't put your kid in soccer. you will never see the inside of your home again." i heeded her advice. BEsides. I'm always at rehearsal. How could I get MQ to all her stuff, too? ;)

Lawyer Mama said...

It's a tough balancing act, isn't it? When I was a kid I played baseball (they didn't have softball for girls), boys soccer (again, none for girls) and was on a swim team. But I always remember having lots of time to play. I think the trick is just one activity at a time with lots of breaks.

The hubs wants to sign Hollis up for toddler soccer this year and I'm resisting. I know it's only the beginning....

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Wow. You are so in my mind right now, it scares me. I just had a discussion with a friend who didn't believe me when I said that my daughter will not play soccer next year b/c it is too competitive---SECOND Grade soccer is too competitive! I've seen the games, heard the yelling and know she'd hate it. Our town is obsessed with sports and it makes me crazy.

And, yeah, the whole, "they need to be doing "X" by the time they are 5, or they'll be too far behind to catch up" crap has got to stop!

wheelsonthebus said...

This may not be a popular opinion, but I think it depends upon the kid. Some kids need those activities for the structure and the team aspects. Others like to sit home with legos.

I suspect (although it's a little early to tell) that we have one of each. I hope we have the courage to follow their leads, pushing them a little out of their comfort zones but also allowing them to be themselves.

Circus Kelli said...

Yep... I hear you. Our neighbors are always going somewhere, doing something, the kids always 'on the run'... Last semester, Punkin had after school Spanish class. This semester, Sweet Pea has once-a-week gymnastics. Right now, we "take turns" with the kids extra activities. I'm all for my kids "participating", but let's not get crazy about it... we all need a chance to sit and breathe now and then.

Mary Beth said...

I remember coming home from school and going down to Clinton Avenue, a quiet street behind our house, where a lot of our friends lived. We just played! And if no one was free, we played in our yard. We turned parts of our yard into pirate ships and star ships and whatever else we were interested in at the time. And none of us have to be entertained as adults because we learned at an early age to find things to do.

I think there are kids today that, when the organized activities stop, they have no idea what to do with themselves. And can you see them cheering on an older sibling? "I think my sister is that one ... or maybe that one? At least I'm pretty sure I have a sister. MOM?!"

imbeingheldhostage said...

AMEN! I used to pick out cloud shapes on a summer day, play slip-n-slide with friends or run a lemonade stand, I want the same stress-free life for my kids. However, I can't help feeling like the oddball when super mom mentions the dance, soccer, art, gymnastics etc... for her super kids. My older guys do play footie (soccer), because they love it, but I limit how many clubs they play with.

Doug said...

You make several very good points. We tried to limit the kids activities to one per season. That way we didn't get overwhelmed and they got to try a variety of activities. At some stage they need to pick the activity they're going to devote themselves to, because unless they are a prodigy, they need to focus on one. For my daughter it's softball, and they play/practice year-round. I was at an indoor tournament this weekend....with her summer team....3 hours from home.

We kept my son in music since he is not a sports person. He now is in with a good group of kids and I don't worry one bit about drinking, smoking or drugs (not one bit I tell ya). All the private lessons he took to keep him interested and involved weren't cheap, but it's a small price to pay for not worrying.

You will find that as they move up the ranks that it gets more expensive. If you plan on participating seriously, there are practices, equipment, private lessons, clinics, and out of town travel in addition to the fees to play. At a certain level it's not a parent coach, but rather a paid position. Ca Ching.

Jill@Who Could Ask for Anything More said...

Our two older kids (12 and 9) have one activity after school, if they choose, and the older also has teen group at church once a week. Right now our 9 year old is between sports (until summer). Our 2 year old has no activity. And that's the way it's going to stay. We are often met by wide-eyed parents who say the same thing about holding them out, etc. "They will enter at a lower level". We don't care. Our time together as a family is much more important than any sport, choir, etc. One **kind** mom even berated me saying perhaps my kids could be in more activities if I didn't work full time. Then she proceed to complain to someone else 5 minutes later about putting something like 20,000 miles on her new SUV running her kids around all day. I say, whatever works for your family is what's best. For us, it's about family.

Magpie said...

I worry about that. My kid is still too little, but I know there will be stuff on the horizon, maybe as soon as next year. And I want her to be able to dance and play the piano, and chill out and be a kid. Good post. Thanks.

Rima said...

I'm glad you wrote this post. Several friends/family members have asked me lately when was I planning on enrolling the V-meister in dance/gymnastics. Frankly, I didn't have any plans to enroll her in anything just yet - she's only four - but I started feeling guilty, just the same. But she gets a lot of well-rounded enjoyment from her Montessori pre-school program, has playdates with friends, and gets to run around occasionally at an indoor gym. And I think that's fine for now.

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Jen. My husband and I are adamant about not getting sucked in to that mentality. And our boyz are only 6,3,and 2!

Anonymous said...

i have 3 small children and i do not plan to put them into all sorts of activities. my local mom friends all have their children in music classes/gymnastic classes etc and some are only 2 yo! my oldest will be 3 this summer and i will not be sending him to preschool this fall. i just don't think it is necessary. my husband talks of days when little league meant all the kids were sent over to the local ball field and they just played! no parents, no competition and it was just plain fun!

brittany said...

De-Lurking to say that I.LOVE.THIS.POST! I have 3 kids (7, 8, and 9) and we let them choose one thing each after they hit 1st grade. Our goal is to eat dinner together every night. My boys both chose cub scouts & they meet on Monday night. My daughter chose swimming & she goes on Thursday for 30 minutes. I actually had a parent at scouts berate me & say "if you dont enroll her in my brownie troop and as many other things that you can fit into your schedule how can you be sure she'll find her passion in life?" Excuse me? she is seven! her "passion" should be learning who she is & stretching her body & mind by playing outside, reading, finding her own fun in some down time! I wish kids these days could be a little less controlled!

Laura McIntyre said...

I think all these activities is such a US thing, here in Scotland you may have a kid going to dance/football/ netball or something but most of the kids did not. After i stopped doing netball after primary (at 11) never done anything else.
I do agree with the keep them busy as teenagers though , like that idea.

mek said...

I remember telling my dad that I was bored and hearing him say that I should be grateful to be bored, that being bored is a great gift. At the time I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. Now, of course, I see it as pure genius - I do often wish I had the extra time to be bored!

Our daughter is still pretty young - under two - so there aren't a lot of activities for her and anything we do sign her up for - MusicTogether classes - we do as a family. We all do dearly love our music class!

Molly said...

I admire you for resisting.

When I was teaching, there was many a time when parents would write homework excuse notes for their children. They were too "busy" with soccer or dance to do their homework (which was all of 15 minutes worth). When all those EXTRAcurricular activities take over the family's life, it's time to back away. They'll be just fine without 5 days a week of extra stuff.