This week marked my first official foray into the world of “activities.” My big boys, ages 4 and 5.5, are in a semi-private swim class together with another little girl, and they are head over heels for their instructor, Mr. Bobby. He teaches them how to “make pizza,” tricking them into proper breast stroke positioning by spreading the sauce on pool’s surface. I sit perched in the shade – or sun, as I will sorely regret in the morning – and glance at my phone and the book I brought, but mostly I watch them, bobbing up and down, and swimming – honest to goodness swimming – after only 2 short mornings in the pool.
It helps that the section they swim in is only 2.5 feet deep, their patient instructor leading them deeper and deeper until they hardly realize their feet are off the ground, they’re buoyant, and their little doggy paddles are effective.
As we leave the pool area and head for the car, my 4 year old, twice in a row, has looked up at me with shining eyes and uttered a hearty and heartfelt “thank you, mama, for taking us to this pool!” And I think to myself, how sweet is this kid for thanking me so specifically?
He’s a good boy, but it’s more than that. He also has delightfully low expectations. And not by accident. I’ve long admired, from afar, the idea of children’s activities, but I’ve hesitated to pull the trigger on anything until this summer. Mostly because I’ve either been too pregnant or too recently-delivered to think about loading up the van for a commute to fun when there’s a perfectly good backyard (or balcony, as it once was) right outside the door, and here’s a cup of ice water and a bowl of grapes, have fuuuuuuun!
I’m the anti activity mom.
Not because I don’t think my kids are capable of athletic greatness (though some are looking more likely than others to sit the pep band bench) or because we can’t afford to do a single thing extra aside from feed and clothe them (though, ahem, the produce bill alone this summer… Man.) but because I question the value – to me, to them, and to their sibling relationships – of doing all the things. And definitely of doing all the things at once.
As I sat in the sun, squinting at my burgeoning Olympians and trading small talk with my neighborhood mom friends (to whom I am a strange and confusing puzzle. 4 kids! And you’re not that big! And you don’t seem crazy!), they started to launch into their litany of summer happenings: swim lessons – not just one session, but back to back sessions, all.summer.long. From 9 am till 11. Different siblings in different class times – museum learnings camps, science camp, t-ball, soccer, vacation Bible school….I dumbly wondered aloud how quickly the swim lessons would “catch” for my boys, meaning, how soon could we expect to go to the pool and have them be swimming on their own? Blank stares and then giggles. One mom pointed to her 6-year-old and said she’d been in year round lessons since age 2.
As they compared notes, the frenzy of their competing schedules increasing as June melted into July and then August, I realized that I’d benched myself from this mom game entirely, almost without knowing it.
And I’m fine with it.
I do not envy the schedule juggling, the phone calls, the booking out months-in-advance. We have enough of that going on already with doctor’s appointments, dentist visits, and school registration deadlines. To add leisure activities to that when my kids can tumble around it the backyard with a bucket of Legos and the hose seems, to my already heavily loaded brain, sheer insanity.
This is not a critical evaluation of parents who choose activities for their children, or some kind of judgment on when and whether your little ballerina gets her tutu. For me, personally, I’ve seen rich fruit in allowing our little brood space to explore, to be together, and quite frankly, to be bored together. And it helps the baby get a nap in, too.
Right now our backyard looks a bit like one of those hipster “adventure playgrounds” that were sweeping Europe a few years back. You know, burning tires, real wood and tools to assemble into forts, rotting rope swings into mud puddles.
Something along those lines.
We lost a section of our fence to a tragic Xcel Energy repair last spring, and the orange mesh that sprang up in the place of wooden slats allows ample espionage oportiunites for the kids to creep on Mr. Lino next door while he mows his lawn and answers endless questions about his compost pile and snow blower. The blown-out boxspring frame that somehow made it’s way from the trash pile into the corner of the yard, now riddled with spy holes and water stains, makes an excellent fort and hiding place. The tiny vegetable garden may or may not produce actual carrots and cucumbers at the end of the summer, but it’s tiny green shoots are fodder for speculation and excitement, creeping incrementally higher each morning.
And that’s all before a single bug has been caught, a rabbit spotted, or a popsicle consumed.
I do have to engage in a fair share of “get back outside/go find something to do/use your imagination” directives, but I refuse to cave into the mental guilt that I should somehow be entertaining them for 12 hours a day, or that the tv should.
We don’t have to go anywhere for our kids to be happy. In fact, I want to make the argument that there is happiness to be had particularly in the staying-at-home, the little years spent mostly hidden, popping out here and there for a trip to the library, to the grocery store, to the museum or zoo, or even to another country.
But those forays into the larger world are the exceptions to our little rule of home life. They’re not the stuff everyday is made of.
I know I’m a young and inexperienced mom still, and that the adolescent years may well be filled with swim meets and baseball games and football practices. But I hope I remember that I have the power to make the schedule, and it needn’t be vise versa.
I’m not judging my super active mom friends. But I do wish you could catch your breath and sit with me for a coffee while we watch our kids destroy my lawn with snow shovels and screwdrivers. Motherhood is hard enough on it’s own, and even if you don’t sign up for the recital this year, I’m pretty sure you’re still killing it. Let yourself off the hook.
Because these kids? They’re pretty content with a box of chalk and a soccer ball in the driveway, no uniforms required.