Friday, September 29, 2006

Nothin' to Do and All Night to Do It

I attended a PTAC meeting earlier this week at Skyview. Due to schedule constraints, I was never able to attend the PTAC meetings last year, so I was thrilled to realize that, at least for now, I can make it to these Monday-night affairs.

At one point in the meeting, we were brainstorming ideas for events the schools could hold to help bring parents and students together, maybe raise some money, show school spirit...that sort of thing. And while I consider myself a creative person, my mind was a complete blank. I couldn't think of one activity or idea. On top of that, I didn't like any of the ideas others came up with.

After the meeting, while I was getting ready at home to let the day come to a close, I thought about my inability to contribute to or even support what went on at the meeting. After putting Max and Tuck to bed (the girls were already there), clearing off the kitchen table, folding that last load of laundry, getting lunches ready for the next day, and checking the calendar so that there would be no unwelcome surprises come Tuesday morning, I flopped into my recliner, exhausted. And that's when it hit me: I had no good ideas, nor could I support anyone else's, because I don't want one more thing added to my schedule. I don't want another school event I feel obligated to attend, no matter how fun it might be.

What would truly be great is if the school district could get together and give its families one night a month--one night--free of sports practices and games, extracurricular activities, meetings, events, and homework. One night a month to just be together as a family, with nothing to do, nowhere we have to go, and all night to enjoy that nothingness. No responsibilities to school...just empty hours for us to fill --or not--as we choose.

We've never been a family that schedules every waking moment with some sort of organized activity. I have the good fortune to work from home, so I have even more flexibility than many parents, and I don't need to rely on daycare schedules. I usually walk with my elementary-aged kids to and from school; Max rides in with Wes at 6:40 a.m. each weekday so that he can be on the marching (band) field by 7:00 sharp (and I do mean sharp, or the entire band has to run laps if one kid is late), and then I pick him up from cross country practice between 5 and 5:30 p.m. most days. Evenings are spent with the kids doing homework, us parents helping when appropriate. Add to that bath time, story time, and the getting-ready-for-bed process, and we're until well into the night. And then there are those nights when Max has an out-of-town cross country meet, or a band competition, and I have to stay up waiting for the phone call to pick him up. Last weekend, he called at 12:10 a.m. on Sunday, having just arrived back at the school from a band competition that was supposed to get the kids home by 11 p.m. Saturday night.

All that (and I didn't even mention the community playhouse, which requires the younger kids to be at 2 practices a week, 2 hours each practice, efforts which will culminate in more than ten performances and will require them to miss 2 full days and 2 half days of school), and I have just one kid at the high school level, where extra-curricular activities really seem to kick into high gear. There are families who have more than one there, and who still have children in the middle and/or elementary schools as well. It's a logistical nightmare.

So the thought of yet another event or activity does not appeal to me. I see how hard students are pushed in school, and while I understand that we're just trying to keep up with the pace of the world, I want there to be some sort of boundary where these kids come home and have a chance to just be kids again. Not students. Not athletes. Not thespians. Just kids. Kids with time on their hands to do whatever...even nothing, if they choose. I remember doing nothing; it's a sweet memory.

I don't think my fantasy is unrealistic. I was an involved student myself. I played tennis and basketball, helped manage the track team, wrote and edited the yearbook, participated in two choirs, competed each year in state vocal competitions, took piano lessons, was a member of several school clubs and organizations, and eventually was a peer mentor for kids from families where substance abuse was an issue. Add to that youth group at church and, by the age of sixteen, a part-time job at the public library, and I was busy.

But I fondly remember, despite my crowded schedule, having down time when I could read, play piano, play with friends (an activity we later called "hanging out" because it sounded cooler), or just stay in my bedroom with the door shut, thinking...dreaming...imagining. I don't see Max getting much time for that sort of thing, even though I monitor and limit how many activities he's involved in simultaneously so that he doesn't spread himself too thin. He's currently in marching band and cross country. That's it. And he's a strong student, academically. He should be able to handle 2 activities and school. And he does, but not without paying the price of having some freedom.

Free time, time with family...these shouldn't be luxuries. Kids should be able to participate in extra-curricular activities (from which, I believe, they learn important skills) and still have a life. I don't see that happening. Those kids who choose to engage in sports and other organizations are now expected to give early mornings, after school, precious summer weeks, and part of their weekends away, too. It isn't enough that these sports and clubs get five days a week; they want more. I have a hard time with that demand, especially when the schools stress parental involvement in their students' lives. How can we be involved when many, if not most, of us are just trying to keep up as maid, chauffeur, and time management consultant? I suppose if a family consists of just one child, the schedule isn't so rigorous. But for those of us who have kiddos across the spectrum, everyday life gets so crowded that there isn't room for connection of any real quality. When I have to stay up until nearly 1:00 a.m. to pick up my kid from a weekend school function and then have to get up six hours later to start the day with my younger kids, how can I be the parent I want to be?

Life is undeniably rushed on every level any more. Society as a whole has forgotten how to be still, and I think the schools play into that. I know: Kids don't have to sign up for sports, band, or anything else outside of academic classes. But for those of us who want to raise a whole child, those activities that mirror our children's personal interests aren't "extra." And they shouldn't require so much of the kids who participate or their families. I don't see why this has to be an all-or-nothing scenario, but that's pretty much what it is.

Family dinners, family movie night, game night, whatever...these are just as important as anything the kids are getting from school. Yet homework and extra-curricular activities and the stupifying number of hours they require prevent family time from happening.

It's a shame, really, because the very people who are working so hard at all these activities are the ones who are paying the price by having nothing but one goal after another that they must achieve and no time to enjoy just being kids.

No more activities or events. Please. Give us one night a month to ourselves. Surely, that's not too much to ask.


Anonymous said...

On one of my many cell phone calls with my son (just about the only communication he and I have once school begins due to all of the on going activities), I reminded him that he needed to be home to finish homework. He calmly and matter of factly said that it was Friday, his only free night, and that he would in no uncertain terms let homework interfer with his "friend" time. I thought for a moment and realized how important his free time with friends is. He too is at school before 7 a.m. and doesn't arrive home until about 4 p.m. only to return to help with some other school function. He also has a very part time job that takes another 10-15 hours a week along with church activities and practices out of town with his soon to be famous (lol :) ) band.
So, as a parent, this week I made the choice to allow him to spend much needed time with his friends, just hanging out and doing absolutely nothing but being a kid. A time for him to let his brain and body rest only to prepare for the next round of activities. Now, if I can only figure out how to get him to want to have some mother/son time. :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that mom-son time comes in last, doesn't it? Good for you on letting him have his space/freedom...I long for the day when we parents don't have to "allow" that...that family/friend time is valued as much as achievement.

Judith K. Witherow said...

Yesterday a friend said her mother in FL had commented on how polite and hard working my three adult son's always were.
Family came first--all members of the family. School and the activities they chose. If they wanted a car they had to pay their own insurance by working a part time job. If grades slipped the insurance was cancelled,and the part time job was finished. This only happened one time.
When I talk to them about how I wish life had been easier they laugh
about how their friends always wanted to be at our house because we had the most fun all of the time. Go figure.
If I thought the school was piling on too much homework I would bring it to their attention. Teachers need to teach not send it all home for parents to help with the work that should have been taught in class.
I watch small children walk by with backpacks that drag the ground because they are so full of books and supplies. Somewhere along the line we have allowed the schools to delegate their paid duties back to the parents, and taken away our job as role models.

Cyndi said...

I, too, have 4 children. I feel like we spend way to much time in the car, going here and there, being "involved". While I was worn out before, once my oldest daughters started high school sports, I went over the edge. The schedules these girls are expected to keep are absolutely ridiculous! The goal is for them to get to compete at a state tournament, but at what cost?! Our family time, their social time, homework time and free time has all been impacted. And I'm beyond frustrated. I agree, we don't need more "activities" to help parents and kids spend time together, we need more time to just BE together.