Thursday, September 23, 2010
The Boy has Fall baseball now, and will have basketball shortly. The Girl has gymnastics and soccer. TW is taking an evening class. I have evening events at work, and a manuscript deadline looming.
Family life is largely about transportation.
It would be lovely if we had public transportation worth a hoot, but we don’t. And here in suburbia, the distances are too far (and the roads too busy) for young children to walk or bike to these things. Once in a while we can trade kids with other parents, but everybody is on different schedules, so it only works occasionally.
The weekly event calendar is becoming much more important than it has been, or, frankly, should be. In some ways, it feels like running a small business or planning a wedding.
We were lulled into a false sense of security for a while. When TB had sports but TG didn’t, we still had some gaps in the calendar. And many of the time commitments go away over the summer, so we just came off several months of relatively open evenings. Now we’re paying for it with interest.
Now TG has her own stuff, and rightly so; TW has a class and a book club; and my calendar is much fuller than it was over the summer. (Not to mention the book deadline...)
I think this is why people get personal assistants, or develop drinking habits. It’s hard when nearly every conversation is in the imperative case. (“Don’t forget to...”)
Part of me wonders if part of the whole ‘childhood obesity’ epidemic stems from parents doing the chauffeur thing for a while, until finally just saying “screw it” and planting the kid in front of a screen. Honestly, on some days, I understand. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I understand.
In classic introvert fashion, I need recharging time. When work is work and home is work, where do you recharge?
Wise and worldly readers, I know we’re not the first to face this. Those of you who’ve been through this and come out on the other side, is there a better way? Is there a trick?
What's probably killing you is that almost all of your activities are scheduled and semi-mandatory. If TB doesn't show up for his scheduled baseball game, his team suffers. If TW doesn't attend her class at the scheduled time, her grade will suffer. There's just no way to put a task off for a couple of days, and so you become slaves to your schedules.
Personally, I just decided that something would have to be very important to me in order to become a firm time commitment. I take one exercise class per week, which is held at my office and can be attended on two separate days, and we have one evening reserved for an informal social activity. Otherwise, I have things I want to get done, but no mandated block of time in which I must do them.
Perhaps you could cut down on the scheduled stuff? Ask the kids which sport is most important for them to do in a structured way, and then find more time-flexible ways for them to do the other. Maybe TW's next class could be one in which she has the option to combine online and in-person learning. Maybe you could tag-team some of your evening commitments with another administrator. But otherwise, you are all going to be bundles of nerves in a few years.
Option 1: Suffer until the oldest gets a driver's license and does the driving.
Option 2: Hire a college student to do the driving.
Option 3: Carpool with other parents.
OK, done ranting about suburbs now.
When I was a kid, I lived in a quasi-suburb (one could go to school/work by good public transit, for instance). As soon as I could bike to things, I did. That was around early teens. Now I bike 2 miles to the university.
One trick that helps us preserve what little free time we do have is to plan for errands in the same outing. So if you're taking one kid to a sporting activity, is it near enough a grocery store or pharmacy to do the shopping while they're occupied? Another family that I know has a notepad on the dashboard where their to-do list lives.
Have reading in the car at all times if you have to drive a kid somewhere and can't go off to run errands. I've done a lot of marking that way, but it's more fun to have a semi-enjoyable book you can pick up and drop as time demands.
Our life is a lot less spontaneous due to crazy schedules and I expect our DVR will get quite a workout now that the fall TV season is starting. But we manage. I hope you can carve out a little zen in and amongst the craziness, too!
My kids are grown. So here goes: one non-school activity/sport per child until they can drive themselves. TW needs her time with other adults, so the children's activities should be chosen around her availability.
The kids might not be able to do all the activities they want or you want them to do because of time. Don't over schedule.
That rule shaved some time off from the chauffeur duties, til I got my drivers license and got to take over pick-up duties for my siblings.
Also, it's kind of facile to say "move out of the suburbs." Because moving is so, you know, easy.
Though it is true that your kids will detonate at 13-14. Almost all of them do...
He still spent obscene amounts of time chauffeuring me about (I wasn't a particularly fast competitive swimmer, but I had one of the best attendance records for the 2-3h/day 6day/week practice regime... )
suburbs mean nothing is within walking distance. your tied to your kid a lot more because of this.
second, America has moved to dual income families, but children's extracurriculars have stayed the same. stay-at-home mothers could knock out household duties during the day and still be refreshed enough to cart kids around at night. dads worked and their nights were open for R&R. now that both work, household duties are crammed in the schedule of 2 exhausted parents.
you'll have to limit your kids. that's part of life. there is only so many hours in the day, and you have a select few hours to accomplish your family and household duties. take a step back, look at your situation, and cut anything that isn't truely realistic.
I was so naive. I started my post-graduate education with a toddler (that was crazy in its own way). On many bleary, sleep-deprived occasions, I developed this idea that life would become enormously simpler, once the toddler had a little autonomy. Heck, I was imagining that by age 12, I'd be nearly "free." Not that I didn't/don't love the kid, but in terms of time allocation, you know?
Hah. Double hah!
Things I've learned (the hard way):
1. Screw the idea of "nuclear family."
If you have extended family, use them. Call in all the chips, and beg, borrow, and steal their time. Inconvenience the heck out of Great-Aunt Sally and Grandpa Joe. Not only will you be better able to snatch a few minutes of sanity, but in the long run, your kids will thank you for giving them more opportunities to build deep relationships with their larger family network.
2. Know your neighbors.
Suburban and exurban life doesn't always make this easy. But you will thank your lucky stars down the road, if you can find a few neighbors with whom you (and the kids) really feel comfortable. Impose on those neighbors!
This is especially crucial if, like a lot of academic-types, you moved far away from your entire family in order to take the job you now have. My whole family lives 500+ miles away. I had to "invent" quasi-family relationships to maintain some sanity.
3. In relative down times (summers?), make it known that the neighbors can impose on you, too.
We get summers "off" (hah!). They probably don't. They'll welcome you being able to help them out with small kid-tasks in June/July/August. Maybe they won't resent you imposing on them to do the same around final exam time in December and April, as a result.
4. Once the kids are a little older - make them somewhat responsible to figure out how they'd get to activity X that they want to do.
Not abandon parental input, but when TB or TG brings home fliers for martial arts, the local climbing gym, scouts, swim team, what-have-you, and begs to join them ALL, tell him (and her) (s)he can participate in one thing that you'll drive to, and others in so far as (s)he can identify a way to get there that meets your approval.
5) Fall ball is evil.
I love baseball. I loved playing it as a kid. I remember being giddy with excitement about the prospect of returning to play ball in March every year.
Still - kids as young as 7 are now playing spring ball, summer ball, fall ball, and travel-team ball overlaid on top of it all, sheesh! (Soccer can be nearly as overwhelming in some places, with fall/spring/summer/travel and indoor soccer all winter)
Look, your kid isn't likely to be the next A-Rod. Put your foot down on playing any single sport, nearly all year long. To everything there is a season!
6) Schedule an regular occasion where you and your wife actually get to talk with each other like adults (not "how are we going to get TG and TB from A to B?).
That regular time should be absolutely sacrosanct. Call it a "meeting" and put it on your calendar. Use the intramarital social capital you store up during that regular time to get you through the other scheduling and transportation hassles of daily life.
And for heaven's sake, don't leave your wife with all the transportation responsibilities!