I’ll never forget the moment that Skatie, my then 8-year-old daughter, tripped as she raced up our stone front steps and landed hard, only to turn around and scream at me.
I’d whisked her out of jazz dance early to get home for her 6 p.m. session with the math tutor (supposedly the best in our school district), nagging her to hurry the entire ride. Worse yet, Skatie’s brothers shared her ire. I’d apparently grumbled at my 3 sons when I picked them up from hockey lessons, Mad Science after-school club and pitching practice for 1 of the 4 teams my husband was coaching because I was running late to get Skatie.
I was also annoyed that, once again, it would be impossible for our entire family to eat dinner together because of our assortment of extracurricular commitment.”What is their problem? Why the bitching? They don’t know how good they have it,” I thought, huffing. “God knows that I’m raising the best kids money can buy!”
And suddenly, I stopped, my foot suspended above the step that Skatie had just climbed to hobble to the tutor, bleeding all the way: I realized I had fallen into the North Shore parent trap, providing my children with so many opportunities that no one in our family could enjoy these activities.
I wondered what incredibly creative and fun thing Sally Schneiders was doing for dinner with her children that night. They were probably dining al fresco on Cheerios, by candlelight, while they wrote poems or painted under the full moon that warm spring evening. Until that moment, I believed that I earned maternal bragging rights over Schneiders.
She only had five children compared to my six. I scored more points when we played that conversational game, “Can You Top This (CYTT).” “I hate the time and work it takes to create bedrooms for each child that will perfectly reflect their personalities, nurture their dreams and creativity,” I would complain at playgroup. To which Schneiders would shrug in response: “Oh, in our house, the girls get one room, the boys another, and I just give them paints to decorate the walls any way they want about every other month.”
I complained about my daughter not even making callbacks after she spent months preparing for a Wilmette Children’s Theatre audition with private voice and acting lessons. Sally’s response: “My kids organize plays in our basement with all their friends, then invite the entire neighborhood. They donate the admission proceeds to charity.”
I bemoaned the stress that travel hockey placed on our family schedule. “That’s why we only let our children play house league or park district sports,” she said. And Schneiders’ oldest daughter made the varsity hockey team, whereas none of my children even played high school hockey. With that front-steps revelation, I moved most of the CYTT points out of my column and into Schneiders’ and started paring back my children’s activities.
Are my kids less resourceful or accomplished than Sally Schneiders’ as a result? Not really. They probably would have developed with the same talents, interests, characteristics, achievements and resourcefulness whether or not I prodded them to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities available in our community. Our children are who they are, and that’s all that they are. And they are all unique and wonderful. After that day, I slowed down to better enjoy the greatest gifts I have been given in life: 6 different childhoods being lived out under my roof. I didn’t cut out all the lessons, teams, tutors and opportunities entirely, but I learned to strike a healthier balance of activities and free time, which made it easier for me to give my family love, the most important resource of all.