When drawing up a child's extracurricular schedule, it is just as important to choose which activities to exclude as which to include. But making the decision to drop one or two can be difficult, indeed.
Each of my sons this fall is taking a break from an enrichment program he has participated in for at least two years. It is Cub Scouts for Christopher; gymnastics, Charlie. I wish I could say that the break from both is just temporary. However, in one case, it might be permanent. Like every other athletic, artistic, or other nonacademic pursuit, each needed to be weighed very, very carefully so as to best answer the definitive question: "Does this activity work for my family?"
As gymnastics was simpler and less painful to say no to this time around, I will detail the thinking behind this decision in this blog post and take up the stickier, more complicated matter of Scouts in the next.
Charlie has taken clinics in gymnastics off and on at two different locations (a gymnastics academy and the local Y) for several years -- since he was in preschool. He loves the sport and is adept at it. My first-grader can do a full split and one-handed cartwheel, and he is double-jointed enough to put his foot behind his head. He is springy on his feet and bursting with energy ALL THE TIME, both of which are characteristics well-suited to gymnastics.
In fact, I feel he could have serious potential if given the chance to train beyond the usual recreational classes offered to young elementary schoolers. So when I heard about a gym not too far away being run by a FORMER OLYMPIAN -- Paul Kormann, the first American male to win a medal in that sport -- I became very interested. I went over for a tour and got the lowdown on the facility and its classes.
The next day Charlie went over after school to take a free class and be observed by the FORMER MARINE recruited by the FORMER OLYMPIAN from a gymnastics academy in FLORIDA. Now that's a lot of star power! I picked the boys up at school, but we got on the road fifteen minutes late because I got sidetracked into planning a playdate. The drive took forty-five minutes. Charlie enjoyed the class and was successfully evaluated. However, we got in the car fifteen minutes late a SECOND TIME because it takes SO long to wait for one child to put back on his socks and sneakers and buy a snack after waiting in line and the other child to finish dressing for football practice.
Since it was now rush hour, I decided not to head all the way back to the highway in making our way east and north to the town next to ours for Christopher's 5:30 p.m. practice. Instead, I took trusty Route 1 north to bypass a potential traffic jam. It's fairly slow going with a lot of lights, yet I felt like the old standby was the right choice under the circumstances. Problem is: In thinking about which cutoff road to take east, I miscalculated. I should have taken the first one instead of the second, thereby saving myself several extra miles of driving. Then . . . didn't I encounter the aftermath of an accident on the home stretch to the field where Christopher practices! I've NEVER BEFORE been backed up on this road where the speed limit in places is an efficient fifty miles an hour, but I was on this day! So by the time we arrived at the field, by the time I'd helped my older son don his upper-body protective gear and practice jersey, and by the time Christopher snapped on his helmet, THIRTY MINUTES of football practice had passed.
Now the old me -- the Masochistic Mother me, or the more-masochistic Masochistic Mother me -- would have said to herself: "Oh, well! Next time you can buy the snacks before the gymnastics class ends. Next time you can hand Christopher his football clothes earlier at the gym. And next time the road won't be narrowed to one lane." Very pragmatic, indeed, but nevertheless trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I would have found ways to shave off the time in my well-intentioned attempt to justify my decision to enroll Charlie in a class that didn't really work with our schedule. And I would have been a nervous wreck for it.
Let's get real!
Thankfully, I have wisened up, folks. The fact that I got caught in the unexpected traffic on a perfectly clear day showed me that anything can happen during this forty-five-minute RACE from one Massachusetts town to another at rush hour. What if it was raining? That would delay the driving. What if Charlie changed his mind about which snack he wanted after I'd purchased it during his class? I'd have to either relent and get him a new one, which would make us late to football, or say "too bad" and have a cranky six year old on my hands. To be sure, it is most unpleasant when Charlie -- or any other six year old -- is cranky. I jump through all kinds of hoops on a regular (er, multiple times a day!) basis to avoid this situation.
So I came to the only logical conclusion available to me: I said NO to the gymnastics class. Christopher had long been committed to football, and I did not want to dishonor that commitment by having him show up late to practice one day a week. (For the record, I struggle with lateness already. I certainly did not want to have another reason to be late AND to be stressed out about BEING late.) Besides, Charlie expressed no disappointment regarding not taking the class. He enjoys going to football practice and games where he meets up with the younger siblings of the players. And, before a town official told a parent the water was TOXIC, the little boys had an adorable Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn thing going on catching frogs, a snake, and even watching the snake EAT a frog in a creek near the practice field.
Gymnastics/football was a combination that clearly was not going to work for us this go-round. However, soccer/acting does. Upon first consideration, I believed Christopher could not take the performing-arts class in the city next door because its Saturday meeting time conflicted with Charlie's soccer clinic. However, when I thought it through, I realized that the boys could do both. If we left home at 1:30 p.m., we could get to the theater ten minutes before the 2 p.m. class. Returning immediately to our town, Charlie could arrive on the soccer field right on schedule at 2:15. I stay at soccer with my younger son until he finishes at 3:30, at which time we get in the car to head back to the theater for Christopher's 4 p.m. pickup.
Talk about mastering the schedule! The arrangement is downright masterful. It runs like Swiss clockwork. I couldn't plan it better if I tried.