Soccer. Baseball. Swimming. Piano. Karate. Ice-skating. Religious school. Mad Science. Rock climbing.
No wonder my then-6-year-old son complained to us last spring that he was exhausted. What were we thinking, allowing him to do so many after-school activities? The truth is, we weren’t really thinking. We allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do—within reason, we thought—so that he might explore and learn.
Neither my husband nor I are athletic, but our son picks up any and every sports game or physical challenge with ease. He’s quiet and shy, though, so we hoped that team sports—or just sports in general—might help him socialize and bring him out of his shell. These are natural hopes, ones with which I’m sure most parents can resonate.
Last year started with just a few of these activities. Our priorities were one sport and one instrument (plus religious school, which was to supplement his Jewish day school experience, so he could meet more of his contemporaries at our synagogue). Karate and piano seemed easy enough, then his school’s after-school offering of Mad Science meant more time with his friends and more learning. Score!
An ice-skating birthday party was his first time on the ice, and he was a natural. He begged for lessons, so we signed him up. And then as summer approached, we wanted both of our children to know how to swim, so we added swimming lessons, too. Karate is a yearlong commitment, where the kids learn to focus, follow directions, and behave nicely, so only a crazy parent would not keep their child in that. And on it went—the reasoning, the excuses, the plans, and ultimately, the exhaustion.
It was so sad to hear him express his fatigue. And I felt stuck: We had paid for these programs and were beyond the refund date. Plus, in addition to sportsmanship and socializing, we wanted him to learn about commitment: You need to think before making plans, spending money, and registering for programs. While we, his parents, had clearly not learned this lesson, we felt we should at least try to teach it to our son!
But this year will be different because we are sticking to the two priorities. He has picked one physical activity (this year it’s parkour training at a Ninja Warrior gym!) and he is back to playing piano. I know we will all be tempted to fill his free time after school, especially since his Jewish day school has a philosophy of not giving homework (which we love!).
And so we will fill it: with bicycle rides, playground time with friends, art projects, reading, and more. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll stare at the wall for a few minutes a day, and he’ll tell me that he’s bored, and that will be just fine.