Today, I signed our oldest daughter up for a dance class at the Freedom Center, and I just know I’m going to regret it. See, something’s wrong with my essential “Mommy makeup” when it comes to kids’ activities. While everyone else in the greater Northern Virginia area seems to think that it’s a GREAT idea to play Jeeves to the kids, I have this insane notion that I have better things to do with my time than sit on benches and bleachers watching my kids wait in line for their turn to tumble, all the while murmuring to myself, “And I paid for this. I paid U.S. dollars and cents for this torture.”
Maybe we go in for all this overscheduling because we don’t know what else to do with our kids. Back in the Leave it to Beaver days, what they didn’t show you on prime time was that after school June was having a nice stiff drink in the kitchen while gossiping with her gal pals before they both had to start making dinners for their bring-home-the-bacon husbands. Meanwhile, the kids were – if you believe episodes of Beaver’s antithesis, Madmen – either sprawled out in front of the novelty of a television set (today’s Xbox?) or playing hopscotch or riding bicycles (without helmets) because the weather was good enough and their moms had the sense to shoo them outdoors. I know that’s what we do (minus the gin and tonic) when it’s warm out. “Go out and get some fresh air. You don’t need me to entertain you.” But in the winter? Well, let’s face it. It’s the pits.
On Tuesdays, my ten year old’s schedule is busier than a stockbroker’s. First, he has drama club because he’s such a ham at home I suggested he try out for a part. So did fifty-nine other moms. My kid gets to pull the curtains and wear a black T shirt with white lettering that says, “Stage Crew,” on it, and for this, he needs to attend the majority of the meetings. We pick him up at 3:50 and he reads his book and does his reading log in the car on the way to GMS, where he is a Level 6 gymnast. He practices for 3 hours – many times without eating a snack because he didn’t remember to pack one in the morning, and let’s face it – at the age of ten in a family of four children three of whom are younger – you’re on your own in the world of Snack Packing. And at 7:15, we arrive (late again) to pick him up and take him home where he glares at what’s left from dinner and tries to sneak a bowl of cereal in lieu of broccoli and salmon. (The French fries my husband made were gobbled up, but there’s still plenty of broccoli.)
Last week at lunch, I told my fellow teachers that all I want is to move to a farm and milk cows. I wasn’t kidding. I’ve found a utopian community outside Charlottesville where residents take care of livestock, garden, and all share in the organic goodness of the harvest. It’s on the side of a mountain and the first thing I notice when I visit our friends there is how quiet it is. I open the car door and hear silence. Try that around here.
But when I was dreaming of my perfect life in this throwback commune, my friend – we’ll call her Jane – revealed two things: 1) The parents on the farm shuttle their kids to activities too. In fact, there’s a dance class that she’s sure Beth would just love, and it’s only three miles away. 2) In order to “catch a break,” Jane and her husband take little weekend getaways, you know – to places like Williamsburg or the Northern Neck. “Why do you do that when you live where I ‘get away’?” “Oh, there’s so much to do on the farm,” she says, “if we didn’t go away, we’d always be working. Mickey has his fence mending and I have the chicken committee.”
Gee, that sounds an awful lot like the madness we’ve created for ourselves right here in the burbs, minus the teat milking.
Maybe it’s just us. You know – our society. Our perfectionist, workaholic, let’s-improve-I-know-we-can-do-it society. Maybe no matter how hard I try not to get overly involved in children’s activities, there’s going to be one more thing I’ve got to do on the events docket at my son’s gym and one more seat to warm on the bench outside my daughter’s dance class. And if we take the time off to stay home, to sit around our house and play the board game aptly named “Sorry,” like the kids are doing at this moment as I write this, maybe it’s just a matter of time before the volume of their voices starts to annoy me and I think to myself, “We’ve got to get out of this house. What else could we be doing?”
I’ll leave you with the image one very literary minded teacher friend of mine provided during last week’s lunch discussion on this topic. He said that although he agreed this frantic pace we keep by chauffeuring our kids from one activity to another is insane, he sometimes wondered what he’d be doing with his time if he weren’t playing bus driver. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think I’d read too much Machievellli and that wouldn’t be good. I’d just end up filing my nails into points.” Touche.