It is exactly 7:27 this morning when someone hurls the week's first salvo: “The clarinet lesson starts in three minutes!” (I don't think it is the kid who actually plays the clarinet). The words have an explosive effect. Lunchboxes fly, backpacks and coats launch like so many hand grenades across the kitchen. The battle rages: us against our overbooked calendar.
I jump into fatigues sweats over my pajamas, instead of a robe and in seconds we mobilize our assault vehicle the minivan. At 7:35, we lurch to a stop in front of the school, where the music teacher waits patiently for the untimely arrival of his student. Is he surprised she is late for a Monday morning lesson? No. In truth, he is probably surprised she is there at all.
That we are overbooked is obvious. The calendar on the fridge posts cryptic reminders of our various activities. On Tuesday, we find “A/4/Gym,” the little one's gymnastics class. It's a ten-week session, except in week six and week eight, when spring break schedules prevail. Also on Tuesday, “J/7/Bball” to assure that our son attends basketball practice. My husband is the coach, so you'd think we would remember, but you never know.
The high school play dominates the grid this month, not only for the high school freshman, but also for me, who foolishly agreed to produce the program. This is not the first time I've over-extended myself with a job that is best done by an entire graphic design firm. Did I mention I don't actually do desktop publishing? Also, I am chair of the make-up crew, a job I took as an excuse to hover around my daughter.
Back when our kids were little, I wondered about families who operated like whole groups of Energizer bunnies, running here and there in an endless sprint to make lessons, practices and rehearsals. Smugly, I held my toddlers on my hips and smiled the knowing smile of a woman who would do it differently. I would say “no” to the fast pace that robs families of unity and cohesiveness and dinners.
Fat chance. I had about as much hope of avoiding a busy calendar as I had of avoiding trips to the grocery store with barefoot, filth-covered, sticky children in pajamas. (I said I'd never do that, either. Live and learn.)
Now, like most families I know, our calendar rules the day. Flute lessons and dance class. Cross-country becomes spring musical becomes track season. Basketball, basketball, and more basketball. Practices, games, tournaments. Team party? Sure! We'll host!
And what if your kids actually have talent in one area or another? This will kill you. We used to participate in a wonderful, world-class choir. Well, you don't get to be wonderful and world-class without a major commitment on the part of the choir members. You don't miss a practice. You don't come late. You don't come unprepared. After a while, we realized this activity fell under the category, “just because you could do something, doesn't mean you should.” It's nice to be asked to join the group, but that doesn't mean it fits into your family's life.
It would be interesting to contemplate the effect of busy schedules on the fabric of today's families. What about those dinners? What about the stress? Rushing around and yelling when you're running late? What are we really gaining from all this busy-ness? Memories of things we hurried up and did, but not together?
Yes, it would be interesting and I would go on, except I promised to bake cookies for the science fair and then it's back to work on that program.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from first grade to freshman year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)