Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mastering the Schedule: Part I (Choosing Activities)

Along with new teachers and new classes, the new school year ushers in new extracurricular activities for the kids. They may be old in the sense that the child has played that sport in previous years -- a familiar commodity, in other words -- or brand new to the boy or girl or family and, therefore, an experiment of sorts. In either case, coming up with just the right mix for the youngster, the sibling/s, and the parent/s, is no easy feat. As is so much of parenting, it's an issue of balance.

The school year for us is three weeks old, and I have just nailed down the schedule for both boys. First and foremost, my older son plays football. Christopher is in his second year on a team comprised of kids from our town and a neighboring community. The third- and fourth-graders make up the "C" team. Last year this team went undefeated and won the league Super Bowl.

Football seems to be the premier sport in our town. I was amazed last year at how many townsfolk come out for games. Sunday is a marathon day starting with the "D" team (Christopher's old team) at 11 a.m. and moving right on up to the "A" team in mid-afternoon. There are cheerleaders galore, and a canteen staffed by parents and kids serves an array of food to the hungry players, their brothers and sisters, parents, and out-of-town guests. To show team spirit and drum up interest in that weekend's games, players wear their shiny dark green jerseys to school on Fridays. The teams are coached by dads, former players themselves who dish up just the right amount of  machismo and nurturing to the eager boys learning the game.

I envisioned myself more as a Tennis Mom, but here I am a Football Mom of a large, defensive player in the third grade. I don't know where this is going, if anywhere. I just take it one day at a time and make sure I attend every practice and game so that I am available if needed because . . . FOOTBALL IS A DANGEROUS SPORT! (A couple of weeks ago I watched an "A" player being strapped to a stretcher. Neither parent attended that practice and couldn't be reached right away by phone to give permission for the transport to the hospital. I made a mental note to not let that happen to me!)

As surprising as it might seem, football is a FOUR-DAY-A-WEEK commitment for an eight year old. Yes, that's right. This isn't Texas or Nebraska I'm talking about. Noooo! It's MASSACHUSETTS. Practices are held for one-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half hours Tuesdays-Thursdays with one-hour games against teams from a neighboring city on Sundays. You have to really love football to be this dedicated and, despite my mixed feelings about the sport, my son really does.

When you play football, not much time is left in the week for any other extracurricular activities . . . unless you have a highly driven and masochistic mother, which many women seem to be. Since Christopher also loves to perform, I try to keep that interest alive by looking for classes or other opportunities for him. Thus far, he's sung in a regional children's chorus; taken classes in hip hop/jazz dance, musical theater, and on-camera commercial acting; performed in a Christmas musical; won an acting and modeling contract; and worked as a paid extra in two Hollywood films ("Moonrise Kingdom" and "Grown Ups 2") two summers in a row. He is currently enrolled in a stage acting class (with a magic and prop-construction component) in the city next door that meets twice a week for a total of four hours.

GADZOOKS! I think I might be one of those masochistic mothers.

My younger son is busy in his own right but not nearly so. At the moment, he has two activities per week: soccer (his choice) and Tae Kwan Do (my choice). Charlie is my challenging child, so every new activity I put him in must be weighed VERY, VERY CAREFULLY.

Soccer is a case in point. When he was four, I enrolled him in the town's clinic as I had with Christopher at the same age. Charlie took to the sport but had fits when things didn't go his way on the field. Pretty normal stuff for a preschooler but disruptive when most of the other kids aren't doing the same. By his choice, he wound up becoming the unofficial clinic ball boy, chasing down the ball when it sailed out of bounds and tossing it back into play. Very helpful, yes, but NOT WHAT I PAID $90 FOR! So we took a break from the sport until last spring. Charlie played the game well again -- he is a natural -- yet his conduct still left a lot to be desired.

Ahem. Cough, cough.

Fast forward to almost four weeks ago: Back on the field, my first-grader lost it when a second-grader cut him in line for a drill. Kids this age are expected to behave, so in no time the man in charge of the clinic pulled me aside to inform me that Charlie was skating on thin ice. He would be KICKED OUT of the clinic if he had so much as ONE MORE outburst! He needed to take a ten-minute break before returning to the field. (FYI, it took thirty minutes for him to pull himself together.) Pondering this zero-tolerance policy, I wondered if Charlie's reputation in past clinics preceded him.

Since that day, I have given him several no-nonsense talkings to that have apparently made a difference, i.e. Charlie is still in the clinic. Just as he had last winter in basketball, he made the first score of the season for his soccer team. As one of three team "managers," I stand just out of bounds assisting with guiding play -- handy for also keeping Charlie in line if need be!

Tae Kwan Do is new for Charlie and the whole family. I don't know much about it, but this class at the elementary school comes with rave reviews. The sport's physical component, I figured, would appeal to my active son while its emphasis on self-discipline appeals to me. (Charlie needs help with self-discipline, duh.) At this point, we are only two classes in. However, he's happy so I'm happy. And I've heard nothing negative from the teacher.


The fifty minutes my son is in class is fifty minutes I can be with Christopher who, like his brother, needs quality one-on-one time with me. (Charlie gets a two-hour slot of it on Friday afternoons when Christopher takes his acting class.)

Football practices and games are yet another animal when it comes to alone time. Charlie and I could spend them one-on-one, but he prefers to run off to a playground with his friends -- the younger siblings of other players -- so I stand on the sidelines or in the bleachers contentedly chatting with the mothers and fathers. These long hours on the turf could be a real drag, let me tell you. Instead, both of us find them quite enjoyable.

It's taken me several years to come up with a seasonal extracurricular schedule for my sons that works as well as this one does. The activities do not conflict with one another; are located close by, in our town or a neighboring community; and have not become too burdensome, with the exception of only a few days since mid-August when Christopher specifically asked to take a day off football.

Indeed, I am pleased with the choices I/we have made this fall. My boys are having fun; getting good exercise; and learning teamwork, self-discipline, more advanced football plays, a new martial art, and the creative workings of the theater. They are not getting burned out and still find enough time to complete their homework.

I think I finally got it right.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nostrils, "Johnny," and the President

Just days before the Middle East erupted into violence over an anti-Muslim video, the Obama administration was riding especially high following a rousing Democratic National Convention. I had the privilege of attending the very first campaign rally post-convention.

Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Venue: Strawbery Banke Museum grounds

In attendance: The Obamas and Bidens (along with New Hampshire Governor John Lynch and United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen)

Mood: Jubilant

Weather: Unseasonably hot (in the 80s)

Felt like: In the 90s

Even more handsome in person: President Obama

Toughest to photograph behind a TelePrompTer: Vice President Biden

Organizers were best at: Providing water to the crowd

Organizers were worst at: Getting attendees back to their cars, which were parked at the Pease International Tradeport parking lot

Reason: The school buses that transported attendees into Portsmouth failed to pick them up post-rally.

Alternate mode of transportation used to get back to car: Group taxi

Rumors flying: The buses were dropping off children after school, but school was canceled that day, I was told. The buses were caught in a presidential-motorcade traffic jam at a rotary. However, two hours had passed since the rally ended, and the President had left the area on Air Force One.

Most unwanted photo I took: My nostrils

Best photo I took: My nostrils. (Don't believe me? See for yourself. Anna Wintour, are you reading this? It's gratifying to know that after a half-century I have finally found my best angle!)

Explain: Fifteen feet from the President and First Lady, I endured the world's worst-timed camera "malfunction." Standing side by side, the President was waving to the person standing next to me (yes, practically looking at ME!); the First Lady had a huge smile on her face.

Problem: The lens was facing me, not the President.

The power of Facebook: I inadvertently spotted a friend of a Facebook friend -- the former I didn't know about and the latter I hadn't met!

English, please: While waiting to enter the museum grounds, I posted as my status: "In line behind Johnny Depp doppelgänger. Lol." In no time whatsoever, my Facebook friend named "Johnny" as a very good friend of his. I was flabbergasted but by then couldn't confirm it because "Johnny" had disappeared into the crowd of thousands.

Small world: Later in the day, I saw "Johnny" again! I told him the funny story, and he confirmed his identity. He seemed unfazed to be mistaken for the Hollywood heartthrob. I figured it must happen often. Indeed, my Facebook friend later said it does.

Biggest annoyance of the day: Waiting thirty minutes to get out of the Pease parking lot because traffic was being directed by a campaign volunteer who looked TEN! (I was told he was fifteen.)

Biggest bummer of the day: Losing a friend's paperback copy of Dry, a memoir by Augusten Burroughs I was thoroughly enjoying, and my campaign-rally ticket stub stuck inside.

Hunter-Downer Mom action taken: Phoned Starbucks -- not there. Phoned taxi company -- not left inside vehicle. Phoned Pease International Tradeport -- not found in parking lot.

My best guess: I put it on the hood of my car while loading my car post-rally. In a big hurry to pick up my boys, I forgot the book. It fell to the ground while I backed up, and someone parked near me picked it up.

No worries: I have replaced the book. And the ticket? Well, at least I'd taken a picture of it. Most importantly, I'd had it when I needed it -- to get into the rally!

Perfect way to end the day: With a dip in the cool ocean after returning to my town and discovering I had one extra child-free hour -- I love it when that happens! -- having miscalculated the pickup time for the after-school program.

Verdict: A memorable day all around!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back-to-School Jitters

Like New Year's Day, the first day of school offers an opportunity to start over. Kids get new classes and new teachers. They make new friends and wear new clothes. They play on new teams and try out new enrichment activities.

Their parents get into the act as well. They post new photos on Facebook of their sons and daughters heading off to school. They might get a new haircut or reward themselves with getting through a long summer with scarce child care with a new pair of earrings. Perhaps they have a new schedule that enables them to pick their children up after classes or attend their kids' extracurricular activities. They adopt new routines at home and shepherd their kids through new homework.

The first day of school brings mixed emotions. Children experience excitement as well as anxiety. The jitters, in other words. Will they like their teachers? Why aren't some of their friends in their class? And for parents, well, the first day of school is loaded.

Our school district must have had the longest summer vacation in recent memory. We had not one snow day to make up, and we started the year yesterday six days later than last year when we did have numerous snow days. The end result: our summer vacation was two weeks -- yes, a full fourteen days! -- longer than last year.

It was a glorious summer. The weather was fantastic. We went away camping four times on multi-day/night trips -- to the Berkshires, Vermont, and Maine twice (to the same location back-to-back weeks, that's how much we enjoyed it). We spent a lot of time in a community-center outdoor pool: the boys playing, me swimming laps. We spent less time at the beach, though that's what late afternoons and weekends in September are for. And my oldest son had TWO Hollywood movie experiences. He saw himself onscreen in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" as a boy scout ever so briefly. SO briefly, in fact, that I missed him (DEVASTATED!) and had to go back to the theater a second time to spot him as the camera panned across his face in one scene. But that was nothing compared to "Grown Ups 2." Christopher put in a few hours of work five days in a row filming a dance recital scene for the Adam Sandler sequel due out next July. (That hip hop/jazz class at the Y sure paid itself off!) It was pretty heady stuff, indeed, for an eight year old! Not to mention I got to be photographed with Adam and Alexander Ludwig (the hot young actor who played Cato in "The Hunger Games"), shake Shaquille O'Neal's hand, and see up close a host of other big stars. Honestly, it's going to be mighty tough to top the summer's highlights next year.

So as we transition to the school year, you can probably appreciate my slight apprehension. It's back to work, basically. The class I teach starts in ten days, and I need to get others lined up as well as perhaps accept a part-time job. Both of these ventures will take a fair amount of hustling. A single mother friend of mine and I have applied to lead a preparation workshop for would-be parents, yet it wouldn't be held till late fall. I will continue blogging, of course, but need to step up efforts to increase my fan base via social media. Also prominent on my plate: making a second stab at landing an agent for my memoir. After that, I need to nab a publisher. Or, conversely, pursue self-publishing, which I REALLY would rather not do. In other words, a lot must be accomplished this fall -- chief among my tasks being earning more money to support my family and pay for my house in my very expensive town.

Though I did as much work toward these ends as I could have given my sons' limited day-camp hours this summer, the past few months have largely been about having fun . . . and to THAT end, I succeeded magnificently. Sure, it would have been nice to have gone on a couple of dates, better still get into a romantic relationship. But you can't do everything, and nobody knows that better than a full-time single mother like me with no family help! Pulling the latter off with two young boys -- eight and a half and six -- would be akin to winning the Olympic gold medal in women's judo. For what it's worth, I ALMOST got invited on a date to a museum (Ha!), and I DID get invited to an adult/child party too many states away. So, for awhile there, I had my admirers: my blog fanboys.

I feel some anxiety about the start of the school year. However, I also feel a HUGE amount of relief from round-the-clock caregiving of rowdy boys. Was I ready to send them off to school for six and a half hours five days a week? HELL, yeah!!! I haven't had a break from them in nearly an entire month. Seriously. Their day camp ended at noon on August 10; their school opened at 8:25 a.m. on September 6. I was so desperate I made plans to watch FIVE children (mine and a friend's three) in order to get two or two and a half hours to myself in return. Alas (or maybe thank God), the arrangement fell through when my oldest son fell sick.

Next week will be absolutely surreal when Christopher and Charlie are in school for a full week for the first time in three months. What am I going to do with myself besides the aforementioned work? Besides the grocery-shopping, laundry, straightening up the house (bwaahahaha, I say with evil laughter), bill-paying, etc.? Maybe get a massage or facial. Go swimming in the community center's indoor pool. Take out my flatwater kayak for the first time this year.

Therein lies the excitement of transitioning to the new season. Bring it on!