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.

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