Category Archives: Overscheduled Kids

Cirque du Spring Break



Well, I always say a parent’s real vacation happens after Spring Break ends, once the kids are back in school, but mine began early this time—two nights ago, the nice people at Endicott PR provided me with tickets to see my first-ever Cirque du Soleil performance, called “Quidam”.  Neither of my kids could go (too busy with homework, cheerleading workshops and theatre and band rehearsals) so it was a rare Girls Night Out for a friend and me.  And all I have to say is—WOW.  (Well, of course I can say a bit more.  If you’re interested, check out my review at http://neighborsgo.com/stories/80760)


But in this space, I’ll share with you that the Cirque performers’ feats of strength, balance, and agility (and those performers were not all in their teens and 20s) has inspired me to keep up the good work I’ve accomplished in my weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) stretching and muscle toning classes. Excuse me a minute while I go get my giant exercise ball to sit on instead of this desk chair…


There.  Much better. (Seriously, remember the post about the dangers of sitting? I really did get an exercise ball to sit on instead of my desk chair, thanks to my fellow exercise classmate Maxie. While you sit, it gives you a thigh/balance workout, not to mention you can “roll out” and get great back stretches over the ball when you need a break.)


No, I don’t expect to be able to do one-armed handstands while balancing that hand on another person’s head, or hang upside down from a scarf attached to the ceiling, as I saw Wednesday.  But surely the increased strength and agility I do have can help me better manage a houseful of kids over the next week, and the cabin fever that may arise. (Yes, I can already hear the whines of  “Mom, I’m bored” echoing in my head.)


Quidam inspired me in another way.  Its theme of “getting in touch with your inner child” also inspired me to try to have more fun.  I’ve always blogged about the need to get away from desk work and housework and spend some fun time every day with myself, my husband and/or my kids, but that usually hasn’t happened much.  And sadly, if I were more available to have fun with my kids, they’re busier now than ever before. However, Spring Break should definitely give us a chance to have some fun, with NO HOMEWORK (at least that I know of) lingering over their heads, no early wake-ups, no athletic practices, and no music or drama rehearsals.


Woo-hoo! This minivan mom is ready.  Will we soar like Cirque’s  “Aerial Hoops” or free fall like “The Spanish Web”? Stay tuned!  Happy Spring Break!

Wake Me When This Trend Is Over: Teens in Sleepwear

Have you noticed the latest sign that our great nation is taking yet another step toward being an “idocracy”? Teens wearing sleepwear.  All day, instead of “regular” clothes.  I first noticed it last month while shopping at Target—a couple checkout aisles over, a girl and her mom were talking loudly and getting ready to empty their cart onto the checkout stand. I think the girl had forgotten to get something and was wanting to go back out into the store.  She was dressed in full flannel pajamas, pants and top, with slippers on her feet, and wearing a short winter coat. At first I felt sorry for her. ‘I wonder if she just got checked out of a teen psychiatric ward of a hospital,’ I thought.  (Seriously, that’s what I thought!)  But then I remembered the fuzzy slipper craze from a few years ago, when kids were wearing that kind of footwear to school.   When I got to the car, where Allison was waiting, I asked her if wearing pajamas was a new fashion trend.  “No, why would you think that?” she said, annoyed. When I told her what I’d seen, she told me that was ridiculous, and she’d not seen anyone dressed like that at her school.   Emmie said the same when I asked her at home.  But a few days later, I saw this, an article from the Wall Street Journal online(http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204555904577168762962727568.html) that goes into detail about the pajama and loungewear craze among teens “across the country”.  ‘Aha!’ I thought.  My hunch was right!

“Now what do you say?” I asked my girls. “You’re crazy!” they said.  Then in the car one day, we saw a teenage boy walking down the street in pajama pants, and then an editorial appeared last Saturday in the newspaper written by an area teacher. “The Pajamification of America must stop,” wrote third-grade teacher Evan Engwall in the Dallas Morning News’ Viewpoints section. He’s been noticing the trend just like me, and chalks it up as another extension of the growing trend of informality in American society as well as purposely driven by the fashion industry.  (The WSJ article mentioned above cites Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria Secret’s “Pink”, and Aeropostale as some of the retailers who are promoting pajama/loungewear looks. )

Allison finally admitted that a friend of hers wears pajama pants to school a lot, “but I think he’s just being lazy, not trying to be fashionable.” Um, knowing this kid, I think she’s wrong.   And I’ll bet there are more just like him.

At first I was surprised that the school allows it. Then again, they’re usually more focused on making sure skin is not shown, whether via short shorts, sagging jeans, or low-cut, spaghetti-strapped tops—at least flannel pajamas are usually  modest.  But good grief—what I’ve seen is just about the height of sloppiness.  And yet educators are worried that too many kids aren’t college-ready or job-ready when they leave 12th grade? What’s wrong with this picture?  Besides, how can teachers have a “Pajama Day” as an incentive for good behavior or good grades when the kids are wearing them every day already?

I’m also surprised that any parent allows it, especially if they foot the bills for their kids’ clothes. They’re letting their kids go out in public like this? Engwall has noticed “pajama people” in airports, attending soccer games, everywhere…

Engwall says one sure way to kill the trend is if adults start following it.  But I couldn’t do that. I don’t want to look like a lunatic, and I sure don’t want to wear a bra under PJs.

Maybe we ought to just leave it alone and see it as a statement, that kids today are just too stressed out, busy and sleep deprived from activity-filled schedules and mounds of homework that they might as well just walk around in pajamas…  ? Yep, there were the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers, and now, the Pajama Generation…

Empty Promises: Are We Failing Our Kids By Telling Them They Can “Do It All”?

In January and February, it’s “roll out the red carpet” time here in North Texas for area middle schools, junior highs and high schools.  Which means if you’re entering one of those illustrious institutions next fall, you get to attend a welcome night at said school, and if you already attend one of those schools and are involved in any elective/extracurricular activity that can “show off” in three minutes or less, you are invited, sometimes required, to be a part of this welcome.  And if you’re a parent of a kid in one of these categories, you attend, too, to sit on gym bleachers and either learn (“Umm, is that a beard and sideburns I see on that senior?”) or watch your child perform (“Should I wear my photo button?”).  Over the past six years that I’ve been attending these dog and pony shows, one mantra has been repeated louder than any other.  No, it’s not “Hooray for Making it This Far” or even “Our School is the Best!”, it’s “You Can Do It All!!”  To further underline this, coaches and administrators take to the microphone again and again to point out those students who are obviously involved in more than one activity: the drummer who’s also wearing a cheerleader uniform; the student government member who’s wearing a volleyball T-shirt.  Some kids are active in three or even four major activities.  Or more.  Having one child in jr. high and one in high school, both who perform in various groups at welcome night, I’ve heard the message again and again over the last couple weeks, so much that it made me want to scream.  But, somebody else was already screaming.  It was a principal, loudly informing the crowd as if she was at a political rally: “WE’RE NOT GOING TO TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN ONLY DO ONE THING! HERE, WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO BE INVOLVED IN AS MANY ACTIVITIES AS POSSIBLE!” She went on to say something about how we all know that “an involved kid is a kid who keeps out of trouble”.  (Thunderous applause. Cue the orchestra next, who’d picked out their best catchy rock song to play…) 

I just shook my head, because I now know all too well that this kind of almost maniacal encouragement by the schools, that our kids should get involved in numerous electives/extracurriculars, does not come with the coordination and support from the schools that’s needed for a plan like this to work well, and our kids suffer as a result.   They naturally want to participate in as much “fun stuff” as possible and so they happily buy into this “do it all” message, yet at the same time, they’re expected to get all their homework done every night or face detention the next day; get in trouble if they nod or fall asleep in class from staying up late and doing that homework; and get good grades or risk not getting into the college of their (or their parents’) choice.  The unsympathetic demands on today’s “involved” kids are incredible.

Case in Point: Our 17-year-old is currently involved in drill team, theatre and choir. All the drill team and choir kids were highly encouraged to try out a couple months ago for the school’s annual musical– this year, our high school is one of only a handful across the nation who have been granted the rights to produce “Phantom of the Opera”, so it’s a big cast, and all who made it in, including my daughter, are very excited to be a part of this special show.  School administrators likely approved it because it would be not only a phenomenal experience for the kids, but a huge feather in the school’s cap, a public relations gem, that has already generated media attention. So, with all that in mind, you’d think that teachers, coaches, etc. might give the kids involved some breaks.  Several nights the kids have rehearsed until very late (my child didn’t get home until about 11 last night; for others, it was well past midnight) as is expected, especially the week before the show opens.  Our daughter said she couldn’t do her homework between acts as she was always either changing costumes, doing her hair, or helping others with their hair and costumes, and so around midnight, she settled in here at the house to finally work on some physics.  Yet she was still expected to be at drill team practice at 7:25 a.m. the next morning, as she is on every school day for the next several weeks…and she is just getting over a very nasty bout with brochitis, so what she really needed was a good night’s sleep…and I just read a quote from Dr. Oz about how people who get less than six hours of sleep a night have a 50% higher chance of getting viral infections…but drill team “contest” is coming up soon, and there’s lots of work to be done…

Second Case in Point: Our 7th grader started off her first year of jr. high this past fall with a bang.  She was fired up about being involved in as many activities as she possibly could and was determined to do good in school as well.  She made “A” team volleyball; made the top band; earned first chair in the percussion section, being told she was “the first 7th grader anyone could remember” that’s beaten out the 8th graders; participated in choir; auditioned for “Encore” (the “Glee/New Directions” of her jr. high) and earned a spot in that; ran for an office in choir and made that; did respectably on the Cross Country team; and kept up her grades, not to mention participated in several activities outside of school.   At one point in the fall, she was assigned her first big jr. high class project, involving a lot of research, printing, cutting, and pasting.  I was pleased by the way she planned ahead, starting well in advance (over a week before the deadline) and worked on it every day, squeezing it in among all her activities.  Yet the night before the project was due, after coming home from playing in a volleyball game, she was still working on it. She worked until 1 a.m. and finally decided to go to bed and finish it in the morning. Which meant she would have to skip her weekly percussion sectional, a group class, scheduled for 7 a.m.  She finished her project, but a few hours later was notified that because she’d missed the sectional, she’d been dropped to last chair.  LAST CHAIR, which in her section is eight spots down from the top.  She dejectedly told me after school that day that she knew she’d probably never make it back to the top during the school year, no matter how hard she tried, because they don’t have chair tests that often…and I thought, this kind of punishment from a program who once told her, “You Can Do It All!” …???

It’s definitely time for administrators, teachers and parents to take a hard look at the messages they’re sending kids and how they’re following up on that message. For starters, can’t parents “just say no” when kids say they want to “do it all”? Well, it’s tough.  We say to our kids, “How can you?” and then they remind us of the numerous upperclassmen who were trotted out and praised mightily on welcome night, who appear to “do it all” and are alive to tell about it.  Kids figure, if that high school boy and girl can do it, so can I. And the parents let them give it a try…It’s not until the kids and parents are knee-deep (or is it waist-deep?) in several activities that we realize that “lifestyle” is a lot harder than it looks, and a lot harder to change.

As mentioned earlier, to help ease the pain of a
multitasking teen, there needs to be more coordination of schedules and sharing of information between coaches, directors, teachers and administrators.  Surely in this computer age there’s a way to at least coordinate activity and testing schedules.  For example, when football players, trainers, cheerleaders, band members and the drill team are required to be at an “away game” on a Thursday evening, from right after school until late at night, couldn’t teachers at least push their Friday quizzes or tests until the following Monday, or extend the Friday due date for a major project? Should kids really even have homework due on a Friday like that? 

At the same time, if administrators are going to keep using super-involved kids as examples of how to be a good, well-rounded high school student, then they also need to let them inform the newcomers, both kids and parents, how it’s really done so they can make more informed decisions when choosing classes, and get needed tips to help during the year.  Let us have a Q and A with those high-achieving kids. Let us find out about how they cope, or maybe how they don’t cope.  Are all of their core courses advanced? Do they have room in their schedule to attend tutoring, or have they had to hire a private tutor in order to keep up their grades? How much sleep do they get on average? Do they have a job? How do they handle all the fundraisers involved with their various activities? How do they stay organized? How do they keep up with basic stuff like keeping their room clean and doing laundry? (Our high school has just started a once-a-week class for freshmen called S.O.S., which brings in senior girls and boys to teach about how to be successful at the school, and I’m hoping that what they cover is similar to what I’m talking about…)

More than anything, I think we need to start valuing quality over quantity. If a kid is involved in only one, maybe two, activities, yet does them well, and keeps all their grades at a B or higher and manages to “stay out of trouble”, isn’t that praise-worthy? Isn’t that the kind of kid who’s probably the most balanced, because maybe they’re healthier, and maybe they’re also spending time with their families and friends, or exploring their community, or just enjoying life instead of being stressed-out all the time?

Might not make for a very exciting dog and pony welcome show, but it sure would be a meaningful one…

Putting the Fun Back Into Kids’ Fundraisers

A lot has been written and debated about kids and fundraisers (I once wrote a section cover story for the Dallas Morning News about the topic eight or nine years ago), but things don’t seem to change much over the years– basically, as kids add more activities to their schedules and a family’s life gets busier, not only do they/we have to think about practices, team photos, physicals, release forms, concerts/games/tournaments, private lessons, parent meetings, parent volunteering (Who wants to be the Snack Mom? Um, how about The Prop Pop?), “buttons”/car decals/yard signs, and possibly traveling to out of town events, a lot of activities come with fundraisers.  Either the school hardly funds the activity and the organization must raise funds in order to do what they want/need, or they’re independent and don’t get any school funding, or the group’s wants/needs are so lavish and/or numerous that a school couldn’t possibly help meet those needs– and the kids (and parents) must hit up friends, relatives, neighbors and anyone else under the sun to “pony up” and help them out. Don’t get me wrong– fundraisers can be great lessons for kids in salesmanship and economics, not to mention marketing. We’ve had some positive experiences with them in our household.  But often these opportunities can get lost due to the fact that a lot of the time, several fundraisers are happening at once. How can our kids possibly do well at any of them when that’s the case?

If they’re already burdened down with homework overload, lack of sleep, and too many extracurriculars, do we dare expect them to keep up with numerous order forms and sales goals? How can an organization itself do the best it can to meet its goals when it’s scheduling a fundraiser at the same time as every other club/group/team? Do these organizations not ever think that, with the power of the Internet, there might be a way to set up a local calendar where they could all check in and space their fundraisers? Schools constantly send the message to kids during orientations that “yes, you can be in more than one activity”– so why don’t they make it easier to do that? Is it right to ask grandmother to buy raffle tickets, popcorn, overpriced giftwrap, and candy bars all at the same time, following it up with a letter that asks her to “just write a check” for yet another organization?

No, of course not, and so in our house, some fundraisers we flat out refuse to encourage our kids to do, while others we support.  But sometimes, they feel like losers when they return a blank order form–  the teacher or coach (or overhyped fundraiser salesperson) goes spaz over awarding Joe Blow and Suzy Doe their trip to Six Flags, while your child doesn’t even qualify for the light-up yo-yo… and sometimes, if no sales are made, parents are required to write a check for a minimum amount or your child cannot participate on the team or is given some other type of “punishment” (no joke!).

I like the fundraisers that are “events”– car washes, carnivals, auctions, bazaars…a genious one I’d never heard of before is coming up soon for us: a shred-a-thon, where the area school band booster clubs are teaming with a document shredding company. Neighbors and friends are encouraged to bring their old files, etc. to a parking lot on a Saturday, and for around $5 a box (or something like that), they can have their documents shredded in front of them. What a win-win situation– everyone has old files they need to clean out and don’t want to just put in the trash, the kids need to raise money…and if people are allowed to then use their shreds as cushioning when shipping holiday packages (or dump them into the school’s recycling bin, where they earn money per pound recycled) , it will be even better… 

Another good idea is to have a bazaar or farmer’s market type event to bring together all the groups that are selling things by order form– how great would it be for a mall or shopping center to offer space, free of charge, for kids to do this sometime, maybe near the holidays? People would already be in a shopping mood, and they can stop by your table to see what you’ve got and help out kids at the same time. That chocolate would look so much better on display than in a box! And, they’d be bringing all those fundraising kids and their families to that place of business, families who would most likely do some shopping there themselves


Yes, fundraisers can be good experiences if the adults in charge look at the bigger picture, that our kids’ world is not the same world as the one in which we grew up, and come up with new, less-stressful ways of raising money.  But of course, you have to be prepared to volunteer, possibly even be the one in charge, if you decide you want to help your kids’ group make that change!

Kids and Summer Boredom: Should Parents Come to the Rescue?

I got screamed at yesterday.  Surprisingly, not by my teenager, but my soon-to-be teenager. And just what were those oft-repeated, often-heard-in-summer-words, this time uttered at the top of her lungs?  “I’M BORED!!!!!!!”  Followed by: “WHAT CAN I DO?!! FIGURE OUT SOMETHING FOR ME TO DO!!!!!!!  Followed by bedroom door slamming, and after that, crying.  Geesh.  I thought I was over those years of “Mommy, please fill my every waking void…”

So that I could get even a shred of work done during the summer, I used to do just that, at least two to three days a week: schedule day camps, mothers-day-outs, etc., planning far in advance to fill the summer calendar, beginning as early as late February.  But as kids get older, I think they need to be more responsible for filling in their time, to foster creativity, independence, etc., and so each summer for at least the last three summers, I’ve cut back on scheduling with Emmie, and it happened around the same age for Allison.  Yes, I offer suggestions and do help them fill in some of the time with planned camps/activities/volunteer work, but it’s definitely less scheduling than before.  As a result, I have seen some creative stuff happen– I remember a cool bulletin board collage Allison created one summer, and this summer, Emmie’s tried to do a lot of money-earning activities, like a lemonade stand with a friend, extra yard work, and last week she hand-rolled all the pennies in Andy’s 20+ year-old, giant penny jar, netting $30 for herself and $30 for charity.

Yet, why has this summer been christened by her, several times, as The Most Boring Summer Ever?  Is it because it’s the hottest summer since she’s been born? I don’t think so.  She still gets outside in this heat, whether it’s to jog around the block, or ride her bike to the neighborhood pool. Is it because we chose to take our vacation early in the summer rather than later? Maybe.  Normally, we’d be out of town during this late part of the summer, and it seems like a lot of her close friends have been out of town lately.  I keep telling her to “expand her friends list”, to not just call up girls from her school class.  What about from gymnastics? What about from Girl Scouts? What about the friends she made at past summer activities? Sometimes that works– it netted her a fun day out at an old friend’s house last week… but when no friends are returning calls, and your kid doesn’t know what else to do, and they’re tired of reading, watching TV and practicing their musical instrument, should a parent step in?

Before the screaming started yesterday, I felt sorry for her, so I stopped what I was doing and started looking up info on other city pools (our neighborhood city pool is closed on Mondays).  “I’ll take you to another pool,” I offered. I have yet to go swimming this summer, and thought it might be fun. But she said it wouldn’t be fun with just me, that she needed to have a friend go along, and no one was available.  And that’s when the screaming began.  I politely clocked out of my “boredom busters” job for that day. “You know, when you act like that, you won’t get any help from me,” I said.

I was relieved to get out of the house soon after, to go pick up Allison from a drill team activity.  When we returned, Emmie had gotten out a set of watercolors and was sitting on a stool, painting on a white piece of paper at a kitchen counter.  It was a book cover, with each word a different color.  “WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR BORED!” it read.

I can’t wait to read what will go inside…

Race to See “Race to Nowhere”

A few months ago, Allison started saying what many teenagers have probably often said:   “I hate school.  School is stupid.  They give us tons of homework and make us memorize a bunch of useless junk that we’re never going to use—what’s the point?” And I reacted the way many parents probably react:  “Yes, some of it does seem stupid and useless but you have to play the game.  You have to study and do good on tests so you can move on and get to college, where the real learning happens.  I didn’t like all of my classes, either, but my goal was to get out and move on.”


But that conversation kept nagging at my brain.  Even though she was tired and burnt out when she spoke, her words had a grain of truth in them.  Maybe she’s right, I thought (and don’t kids have a way with cutting to the truth?) Maybe there is something inherently wrong with the way we educate our kids … but the overwhelming nature of that thought eventually put it out of my head.   I barely have time to do my laundry, let alone change the world.


Then last week, my PTA president invited me to a screening of the new documentary, Race to Nowhere.  And I decided I can no longer be complacent when it comes to education.


I challenge every parent of a child enrolled in public school to see this new film and see if you feel it’s like This Is Your Life, or gives you, as I call it, a “Killing Me Softly” moment.  I cried.  I’m sure the teenager sitting next to me thought I was a total freak.  On second thought, that kid was probably crying, too, only on the inside.  Because the documentary examines our current state of being when it comes to education, and it’s not a pretty picture.  Hours of homework each night for kids starting in early elementary grades;  tired, stressed out, overachieving, overscheduled kids; parents who are hyper-obsessed with achievement; administrators who are worried about  federal mandates, rankings and scores; burnt-out teachers who are required to “teach to the test”; and the alarmed professionals who are seeing the effects of it all—kids cheating, kids using drugs, kids committing suicide, and kids who aren’t really prepared to be the next generation of great thinkers and problem solvers.  And, families who hardly spend any quality time together any more (“Since when did school dictate what happens after the bell rings in the afternoon?” is one memorable quote from the film).  While documentaries often come under scrutiny for being skewed one way or the other in order to bring the audience to a certain opinion, this film, made by a concerned mom, is spot on.  I see its content every day, every week.  Young children who once loved school and now hate it due to the homework.  Parents who talk about their kids and stress all the time—just this past weekend at a dance competition, I shared a table with a total stranger from another community who started telling me about how stressed out her 17-year-old daughter was, getting only 3-4 hours of sleep each night and putting herself under tremendous pressure to make all A’s.  Friends of mine who are talented teachers have been telling me for years about not being able to teach outside the box, and no longer enjoying their jobs.  Allison has long said that kids copy homework and cheat on tests in order to keep up their GPA.  Parents all around me, myself included, have become more and more achievement focused and worried that if their kids don’t make all A’s they won’t get into a good college. 


But I never put it all together before, all those pieces, and that’s what this documentary does.  It’s a sobering wake-up call.  In our race to “beat other countries” in academic excellence, we’re actually doing the opposite.  We’re raising kids that aren’t taught to be independent, critical thinkers, but rather, kids that are told what to study, what to memorize, and then they promptly put it out of their minds when the course is finished  (one teen in the film is jubilant that her last French test is over and she’ll “never have to speak French again”).  Some points from the film were particularly eye-opening:


-In Asian countries where they have high achievers, they do not have the amount of homework that American children do.  In fact, many teachers don’t give homework at all.  They teach what needs to be taught in the classroom, and their countries offer incentives to draw top students to becoming teachers. In one segment of the film, an American AP Biology teacher decided  to see what would happen if he gave less homework—and his classroom scores actually went up.


-The top money earners in our country did not attend a “top college” and many didn’t even graduate.   In fact, they show that attending a top college does not give students an earnings boost over those that attend an “average” college.  Nor does taking all AP courses in high school.  Higher earnings were affected more by qualities such as determination and (surprise?) the ability to think outside the box.  So if people are under the impression that they’d better go to a top school in order to earn big bucks, they are essentially believing in a myth.


The documentary does not leave the audience feeling hopeless, however.  It (and its website, www.racetonowhere.com) offer many suggestions that can be implemented immediately by parents, students, teachers, and others. (The parental suggestions include things like not enrolling your kids in all AP courses and making time several nights a week to eat dinner together.)  Its sister website, www.endtherace.org,  offers further ways people can get involved to make changes (and also lays out the research behind the statistics in the film).


I hope that everyone gets a chance to see this ground-breaking film—it’s currently on a 6-month public screening tour, and it’s exciting that it’s being shown at schools and theaters across the country.  (In the Dallas area, it will be at the Lewisville Studio Movie Grill this Sunday, March 6.) The Race to Nowhere website has a map so you can quickly see if it will be in your area.  Eventually, DVDs will be available for purchase.

Sleepless in Suburbia

Conversation this morning just before my teen, Allison, got out of the car to walk into school, and just after she’d complained how tired she was and how she’d stayed up until 2:30 a.m. doing homework and how she couldn’t get up this morning and how she’d forgotten her headband and now her hair would look bad and how she was going to be late to school, and…


 


Uncool Mom : You know, sometimes you’ve just got to put your homework aside and say, I need sleep.


Teen daughter: (Getting angry, voice rising) I’m not going to do that!! If I did, I’d fail everything! You’re always saying it’s important to get good grades, so DON’T BE A HYPOCRITE!!  (Door slams, she walks up the sidewalk to school)


 


I didn’t roll down the window and yell at the top of my lungs that I loved her, like I’ve done other times that she’s yelled at me on the way to school…she was sort of right, and besides, I didn’t have the energy, having been up past 1 a.m. myself, offering guidance to my 11-year-old, who had been diligently working on her Science Fair display board until past midnight, even though she started her experiment weeks before her friends.  “Can I go to school late and finish this in the morning?” Emmie asked.  That wasn’t an option, but after she’d finally laid everything out on the board, just how she wanted it, I told her she could go to bed, and that I’d glue the remaining pieces onto the board.  
 


“You never did that for me,” called down Allison from her perch at the upstairs computer.


“You know that’s not true,” I answered, ticking off a list of her memorable experiments—the “Do birds prefer table scraps over bird seed?” one, the “Does shower spray really work?” one, and the ribbon-winning “What keeps cut flowers alive longest?” one, all of which were finished late at night with mom’s assistance.


 


As some of you know from earlier postings, Allison has gotten involved in high school theatre this year and was very happy to get a lead part in a small musical not long after school started.  While the practice schedule was rough, it wasn’t anything compared to the current one for the big spring musical, the annual jewel in the school’s well-deserved theatre crown. (This year it’s “Fiddler on the Roof”.)  She is one of a few freshmen to make it in the show, and even though it’s a small part, practices recently ratcheted up to where they’re now every day from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or later, with weekend practices as well.  Oy vey!  This heavy practice schedule will go on for about 2 ½ weeks, and then things will get better.  But during that time, it’s just assumed, I guess, by the school, that kids do their homework late at night and during any down time at rehearsals, which sometimes is scarce.


 


It’s the same attitude behind so many other kids’ activities on school nights:  Varsity games, both home and away, with the accompanying drill team, cheerleaders and marching band; dance team practices at local studios that don’t start until 8 p.m.; required concerts that aren’t over until almost 9; select softball games that begin at 9 p.m.  And don’t get me started about ice-related sports in Texas, which compete for limited indoor ice time, with many teams getting stuck practicing in the wee hours of the morning or very late at night.  Emmie’s gymnastics team practices every night for 3 hours, two days ending at 8:45 p.m., and two nights ending at 8 p.m. I don’t know how she’s going to keep her eyes open tonight…


 


Yes, as a society we give short shrift to the importance of sleep for kids (not to mention adults)—and yet we all know how important it is.  We know the obvious stuff–that it helps build immunity so kids’ bodies can fight off all the flus and other illnesses present in schools; helps brain function so they’re better prepared for tests; helps kids’ emotions so they can handle stress; helps prevent daytime drowsiness and car accidents; and that after you’ve had a bad day, it gives you a fresh start on a better one.  Most of us have also heard about the less obvious benefits of sleep—preventing heart disease and other major illnesses.  Sleep is such a God-given gift, yet we don’t do much to support it.


 


The contradictions are endless.  Texas colleges want near-perfect grades just to walk in the door, yet the student also must be well-rounded and show involvement in extracurricular activities, so it’s not good if parents say, “No more! Only homework and nothing else!!”  Schools strive for accolades and money that are given when their students attain high test scores and meets certain benchmarks, yet they don’t do anything long-term to encourage those students to get more sleep so that they can do better on those tests.  Kids are told during Red Ribbon Week, “Don’t do drugs” and yet with their crazy schedules, it’s pretty enticing when they’re also told, “Take this drug and you can stay up for three days straight!”


 


While parents can definitely put their foot down and not let their children’s schedules be controlled by coaches and teachers (last night was not the first time I’ve kept Emmie home from the gym in order to put schoolwork first), we can only go so far.  School administrators and others could take small steps that would help our children (and our families) in a big way.  Stop scheduling choir and band concerts, plays, etc. on school nights.  If that means all those groups would have to fight for precious weekend time, so be it.  One concert for each group per year is fine with me.  (Or here’s an idea: do an extra concert during class time, tape it, and put it out on the Internet.  Or sell it on CD or DVD.  Now there’s a better fundraiser than candy bars, and a lot less fattening.)  Schedule school-night games right after school.  Stop allowing anything to hold practices after 8 p.m. when there’s school the next day. Or, if you’re going to allow it, give all the kids involved extra time to finish tests and projects.  And stop trotting out juniors and seniors during freshman orientation who are “kid wonders”, involved in five extracurriculars at once and making straight-A’s, and telling the unknowing audience, “Yes, you can do it all!”, because it’s a lie.  Because if those kids truly are involved in all those things and getting great grades, there’s one very important thing they’re probably not doing, at least not enough.  Sleeping.  ###


 


 


 

Flipping Upside Down for Kids’ Activities

Should parents encourage kids to do whatever extracurricular activity “floats their boat”, or encourage them in skills they can enjoy as hobbies later in life? For example, volleyball or running? Cheerleading or swimming? Skating or dancing? Football or golf? And once the choice has been made, do we think about what that will eventually mean to our families, time-wise and dollar-wise, if they progress?    

My husband and I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately as our youngest daughter recently was accepted onto the city gymnastics team.  She’s always been agile, climbing and hanging on everything, always been tiny for her age, so I encouraged her to take classes way back when. (What was I thinking?!)  She’s been taking classes at a local city rec center for several years since then and most of that time, dreamed of being on “the team”.  Each time she tried out, she didn’t make it. I really thought she’d move on to something else, like tennis, her second favorite sport.  But this summer she worked hard in building up her strength (Andy even helped her put a chin-up bar in her bedroom doorway) and she finally passed the team tryout.  We were then faced with the reality of a gymnastics team workout schedule: 3 1/2 hours every night, four nights a week.  There goes the family dinners I’ve long tried to fiercely guard, I thought, and there goes any other extracurricular activity for her (except piano lessons, of course).  “PLEEEEEESE,” she begged as I frowned at the new schedule.  “I’ve been wanting this for so long.  I’ll piano practice in the morning and do my homework right after school.” 

So far, we’re taking an approach not unlike something you’d see on The Brady Bunch– let the child go for it, because she realized a long-sought goal, but at the same time, figuring that the heavy schedule will be too much to handle and the child will decide on their own that it’s not worth it:  
Cue the 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra background music as the young girl sits on her bed, eyes beginning to well up with tears, bottom lip quivering, facing her parents, who also sit on the edge of her bed.
Mom: “Honey, what’s wrong?
Girl: (bursting into tears) “I hate myself! I’m a failure!”
Dad: “Why would you say that?”
Girl: “Because it’s true.  All the other girls on the team like spending fourteen hours a week at the gym, going to the competitions, plus handling the pressure of homework and studying for tests…but I don’t! I hate this schedule. I miss my family.  I don’t have a life anymore!!” Girl sobs and buries her face into her mom as Mom wraps her arms around girl.
Mom: “Aw, sweetheart, you’re not a failure (mom takes her hands and cups her daughter’s face, looking into it).  You’re a human being.  A 10-year-old human being.  No 10-year-old has to handle that kind of pressure. ”
Girl: “But why did you sign me up then?”
Dad: “Because you set a goal and made it, and we wanted you to experience for yourself what being on a gymnastics team really means.  You have to give up so much and be focused pretty much on one thing. But you have other gifts and talents! You can sing like no one else! You can play piano, and you taught yourself how to play guitar!” 
Mom: “You won Player of the Week at Tennis and Swim day camp, not to mention Best Belly Flop!”
Girl smiles.
Dad: “And you like to go on bike rides with your Dad, and that’s just as important as being at the gym– more important, I think!”
Girl smiles again.
Mom: “And you don’t have to give up gymnastics– you can still take a class, and keep up your skills, and maybe be on a team another time, like in high school. Not being on the team now won’t mean you’re a failure. Like we’ve said before, it’s good to be a well-rounded person.”
Girl: “I love you Mom and Dad.”
Mom and Dad: “We love you too, sweetheart.”
Cue music. 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra plays as the three hug. Fade out.  Roll credits.

But what if she likes the workout schedule? What if she can handle it? She started working out with the team this past Monday, the first day of school.  So far, her reviews of practice have been glowing, even though she’s felt a little sore.  And she’s packed her gym bag and piano practiced at 6:45 a.m. every day, just as she promised, and done homework after school.  Once school gets into full swing, we’ll see…it’s definitely going to be a test of her organization, dedication, and stamina (as well as a test of my meal-planning skills!). 

But, for what? She’s already said her goal is not the Olympics.  She doesn’t want to teach gymnastics someday. And, you can’t do a flying dismount from the bars when you’re 30 (unless you’re Wonder Woman and working out at a gym every day)!

I think she wants to prove she can be good at a team sport, since she’s very tiny for her age and hasn’t been a stand-out in soccer, basketball, softball, or volleyball, the team sports she’s tried with her friends.    So it’s a confidence booster, probably at an age (and development phase) when she needs it.  And, she’s very happy– her face gets such a big smile when she talks about the team! 

But, it’s a face I now only get to see about three hours every weekday, and my husband gets to see for one, if he’s lucky…. ###

Slowing Down

Sometimes I love it when it storms.  Especially on Saturdays. Oh, I know that when that happens, there are crying brides all over the county who were counting on fairy-tale outdoor weddings, but consider an upside to Saturday rain– suddenly all the over-scheduled families have to slow down and shift gears, so to speak,  spend quality time at home.   Should we watch a movie? Play a game? Or (horrors) talk???  Because rainstorms mean youth soccer games are cancelled (or baseball, or any other outdoor youth sport).  For anyone that’s climbed aboard the youth sports train (at least in Texas), it normally dominates their weekend, and for a lot of families, picks up steam and gets faster and faster, until both Saturdays and Sundays are filled, and you’re playing on a “select” team and traveling to other states.  Church picnic? Can’t attend, we’ve got a soccer game.  Girl Scout troop heading to NASA? Can’t go, got a tournament.  Cousin getting married? Can’t be the flower girl, I’m the pitcher.  Many things that used to be a “normal” part of life get pushed aside.  A busy weekend becomes the norm, after having a busy week that involves practices for those teams, not to mention other activities like music lessons, karate, dance, …the list goes on and on.  And multiplies depending on the number of children you have.  Not to mention that school and homework are squeezed in there somewhere.  And not to mention rarely, if ever, getting to sit down at the table and eat dinner as a family– dinner is fast food in the car sandwiched between activities. 

So when rainstorms hit on a Saturday, it’s like God saying, “You’re not always in control, busy people…slow down, relax, and take a break for a change.”

I’d forgotten what weekends could be like until this past year, when our family cut back its schedule.  Though my 10-year-old had played soccer since she was 3 or 4, and my husband liked hanging with the soccer dads, I put my foot down.  She was getting into gymnastics whole-heartedly, increasing her classes to two nights a week for two hours each class, plus starting with a new piano teacher who I knew would be tougher, plus Girl Scouts on some Fridays and church choir on Sunday– soccer would mean practice during the week and a game every Saturday, with a game schedule that’s often not set until the last minute.  Since I would be the one driving her to soccer practice, I didn’t want to fit one more thing into my chauffeur schedule, let alone she needs breathing space as well.  In addition, my older daughter cut back her dance class schedule to make room for homework and new activities that came with being an 8th grader.  So at the beginning of this school year, suddenly we realized that we had something we hadn’t had in awhile– free Saturdays. Those family bike rides I mention in earlier posts could never have happened if we hadn’t cut back our schedule.  A trip to a bark park would have only been a line on a “To Do” list.  My husband and I get to attend Saturday morning exercise classes more often, and he definitely has had more time to work on the house and yard. 

I know that youth sports teach valuable lessons, but sometimes I wonder if the lessons are lost when those sports start to consume your life.  I know some third graders who’ve had games at 9 at night, on a school night.  How dare these coaches and organizations do that to families– but youth sports is a business, and the more teams they have and the more games they can schedule, the more money they make– and as in a lot of businesses, the ethics side takes a backseat.  So parents have the responsibility to put the brakes on things, and I know how hard it can be sometimes to resist your child’s wants.  My child badly wanted to play soccer this year (“all my friends are doing it!”), but kids will fill up their every waking minute with classes and activities if given free reign, and parents have to be the wise ones.  The uncool ones.  The ones who can look at the big picture (and the pocketbook) when their child can’t.  With so many activities to choose from, at some point in a kid’s development parents have to say, “In what do they have a natural talent? What should we be nurturing more?” rather than letting them do everything under the sun.  Or, if there’s no talents to focus in on yet, let them try different things– a couple at a time.  I once did a story on overscheduled kids for the Dallas Morning News, and remember in my research and interviews discovering parents whose mindset (and vision of  good parenting) was to have their kids involved in as many things as possible, “to keep them out of trouble”, as some said.  How helicopter and sick is that???  Like their kids can’t be creative enough to find safe fun on their own, to invent something, to write a story, to help around the house, to learn how to do laundry or cook.  Are parents so worried about the world’s vices that this is the only way to keep them safe? Yes, my teenager can often drive me crazy when she’s around the house and bored, but sometimes, as I always say, boredom can lead to creative things. Parents need to have the tools around the house to help make that happen, like art supplies or a kids’ cookbook, but those kinds of things cost a lot less than signing up for yet another activity.

All this is a long way of getting to a point I wanted to make– that kids staying home due to school closings from swine flu, and having all their extra-curricular activities cancelled, can be a positive thing– a lot like a Saturday rainstorm.  We’ve been out a total of 7 school days so far (we had yesterday and today added on). So far, in addition to stuff mentioned in an earlier post, Emmie and I have made an old-fashioned chocolate soda and pizza dough alphabet letters, both from scratch (which included a discussion of why soda fountains used to be at drugstores); she bought herself an acoustic guitar at Target with her own money and taught herself how to play a few songs; she worked on the Scout Weather Watch badge and I helped her learn to read a weather map and do some experiments, and we visited an old sheet music store so she could further teach herself guitar.  None of this is to brag, just to give parents ideas and encouragement.  I wish Emmie and I could do more– it’s rare having this kind of “down time”.  But gymnastics class is a “go” for this afternoon, and I just got an email from her teacher with homework attached, so it looks like our weekly routine may be getting “back to the old grindstone”.  Only in moderation, of course.