“Why are people constantly telling me to chill?” my 15-year-old dramatically demands of me. “Who says I’m not chill? I am very chill. I am the epitome of chill-ness!”
Then he heads off to the most selective public school in NYC, where he is a sophomore taking eight classes, including AP History, and participates in Model UN, sews costumes for the play, draws cartoons for the newspaper, and fills out paperwork for college grants. When he’s not volunteering at the Jewish Museum. Or constructing balloon art.
Meanwhile, his 11-year-old brother, in addition to school, takes pre-professional ballet, Spanish and modern dance classes three times a week, fences competitively, and studies various computer programming languages, as well as teaches them to other kids.
“Oh,” I can see the judgment on my fellow parents’ faces. “You’re THAT mom.”
Tiger Mom. Pushy (Jewish) Mom. Living Through Her Kids Mom. Pressure Cooker Mom.
I don’t bother to correct their assumptions. I know the truth is all of my kids’ activities are self-directed. They picked them themselves. They trek to them themselves. They practice themselves, and they go to their meets themselves. (The reason my almost-8-year-old doesn’t have as busy of a schedule as her older brothers is because she can’t travel on her own. The only thing I do is fill out the financial aid forms.)
I don’t bother to correct other parents’ assumptions because, honestly, I don’t care what they think of me. I’m a writer. I’m used to fielding criticism, both in print and in person.
But I do care when those same people tell my kids to chill. Or, even better, when they ask, “So, when do you have time for a real life?”
What, exactly, is this alleged “real life” that my children are deprived of? And what, precisely, would they suggest makes up a better, real-er life than one spent pursuing your passions?
My kids didn’t choose their interests because they are padding some mythical elite college resume (it’ll take another post for me to describe how much my husband and I believe private college has long priced itself out of being useful), or because they are trying to satisfy me (at my son’s last fencing competition, it was all so confusing with the beeping lights and the flashing swords that I had to ask at the end, “Did he win or lose?”). They chose them because they enjoy doing them. What’s a better life than that?
“So how do you chill? Teach me how to chill,” my son will request during a pensive mood. (Usually right after he’s been asked that oh-so-sensitive “real life” question.)
Short answer: I have no idea.
I’m just as busy as they are. With a husband, three kids, a home, volunteering at their schools, a freelance writing career for almost a dozen different publications, and my romance and mystery novels to promote, I have no idea how one goes about chilling. (And I have the case of shingles to prove it!)
But I’m not running around like crazy in order to pad my resume, please my own parents, or meet some ill-defined SuperMom standard. Everything I do, I do because I want to do it. (Oh, then there’s stuff like laundry. I do that because it needs to be done.)
Being engaged in multiple activities that you enjoy is, no question, an example I’ve set for my kids. And I don’t regret it.
Frankly, I am thrilled they have so many passions; that one son is stressing over an application for a foreign exchange program that he really wants to do this summer, while another is locked in his room for hours mumbling in computer coding gibberish.
What would those people who tell them to chill and get a real life have them doing otherwise?
I realize that many of those reading this post will see it as no more than my justification for over-scheduling and over-working my children. That’s fine.
But, please, as a personal favor to me, leave my kids out of it. Don’t tell them to chill, don’t tell them to get a “normal” life, and, most importantly, don’t make them feel like they are doing something wrong.
Life is going to be hard enough for a world-traveling balloon artist, and dancing computer programmer. At least let them enjoy their childhood fantasies of believing all of it is still a possibility.