Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It’s not paradise by the dashboard lights

Confessions of an overscheduled parent

“Hi, my name is Pamela. And I’m an over-scheduled parent.”

An imaginary sea of heads bob before me in solidarity. “Hi, Pamela,” they echo back in unison. Eyes glassy from too many hours behind the wheels of mini-vans and SUVs, fueled by runs through Starbucks’ drive-thrus stare back at me.

Our children cannot pick our weary faces out of a crowd but intimately know us from behind; they’ve spent much of their young lives staring at the backs of our heads from their vantage points in the backseats.

I have become one of them. One of those people I swore I’d never be: An overscheduled parent. Where we once had calendars free of commitments, now we find practices and lessons nearly every day of the week. Where does the madness end and do we even want it to?

When we first became parents, my husband and I agreed with a popular parenting expert who cautioned parents to involve children in school, church, and only one outside pursuit. The first extracurricular activity in which we enrolled our kindergartener, Jacob, was T-ball. For years to follow, we adhered to this wise advice—waiting until one activity ended before beginning another.

Then we slipped. And like other indulgences that begin with just one drink or just one pill, ours began with Tae Kwon Do.

An innocent addiction

The pursuit seemed logical when my husband first pitched it—the perfect discipline for a child who needed physical activity but didn’t care for team sports. But Master Song expected a minimum attendance of three days a week. Then the other son excelled at soccer, leading us into the highly demanding arena of select sports. Unlike other activities that ran seasonally, we found ourselves committed year round. Month after month, with no end-of-the-season celebration in sight. Our bodies remained hunched over from the behind-the-wheel posture we constantly assumed.

Instead of curtailing our commitments and commutes, I have chosen to make the most of our drive time, initiating animated conversations or inventing games such as name-that-funky-smell. (The last source was an old milk-filled sippy cup left under the front seat.)

Lately we’ve been downloading soundtracks onto CDs to play in the van. We can proudly boast to knowing nearly all the words to the High School Musical II songs, and even our four-year-old can sing most of The Sound of Music, although The Lonely Goatherd can throw her into a tirade of lyrics that sounds as though she’s swallowed Silly Putty.

The perfect enabler

I’ll admit to eagerly introducing myself to new a parent with, “Hi, I’m Pamela, Ben’s mom. Do you live anywhere close to me and wouldn’t you love to carpool?” I’m sure a more responsible parent might ask about the other parent’s driving record or offer to run a safety check on their vehicle. Instead I look at her child. If he can get out of her minivan without a look of horror on his face or tales of the time Mommy outran the cops, then I figure she’s a potential candidate for toting around my kid too.

I hit paydirt the day I met Tammie. She was young, perky, had a new, airbag-overloaded SUV and a boy on my son’s soccer team. Even better than those amazing attributes, she brought to the table the title of team manager. Therefore, even when it’s my turn to drive, she often has to be at practice to pass out essential invoices for dues or permission slips for tournaments. And she doesn’t even keep track of how many more times she drives than I do! This takes me back to the days when we played pee-wee soccer: She doesn’t keep score!

And to my son’s delight, she won’t make him listen to show tunes on the commute. Instead she listens to rap, but I see it as a lesson in music appreciation and delight in the fact that Ben is expanding his repertoire. Besides, I know a few rounds with Julie Andrews will negate any ill-effect Tammie’s music might impart on him.

Turning (over) the steering wheel

Just as it did when I found the perfect carpool partner, my over-stimulated day planner practically jumped from my hands the day I typed in: Driver’s Ed. Yes, our oldest is a proud learners’ permit-carrying teen who sees driving as a privilege, not a dreaded task to be pawned off on the closest legal driver. Now when I get in the van, he’s like an efficient chauffer: the engine’s running, the air conditioner’s blowing and the show tunes are blaring.

But am I ready to let him take over my responsibilities? Can I trust him to drive himself to guitar lessons, band rehearsals and auditions? I decided to seek the advice of a professional, an expert in the field of all things about raising teens: my mom. I figured she survived the harrowing experience of raising four children who became, for the most part, responsible drivers. (At least what we’ve admitted to!)
“Weren’t you scared to death when we started driving?” I asked her, waving Jacob’s learners’ permit under her nose as though it were a ticket to the nearest hospital emergency room.

She stared at me for a minute and then smiled. “Not at all. I just looked forward to having one more person to run errands for me. I hated driving.”

Although my mom has a valid point, I’m not sure I’m ready to toss him the keys and relinquish my control. My parenting expert would probably tell me it’s a sure sign of being an overprotective parent. But then again, parenting to the excess is something I’m familiar with. And isn't admitting it the first step to recovery?

“Hi, my name is Pamela…”


Leanna Rolla said...

Hi! My name is Leanna. I LOVED your blog. Boy, does it hit home for this mom as well. Although I have one driver already and now my last TWO with their permits I know that that day is coming very soon that I will no longer be the parent carting my children around and it saddens me a bit. I don't know where the time has gone but it has seeped through my hands like sand. Keep up the great writing Pamela. Gotta run I'm off to a school function, hockey game, softball game, fundraising dinner, birthday party, . . . :)

Kendra said...

Since my kids are still small I'm not to the point yet of spending my life running to and fro...however, at age 2 we have started gymnastics on, maybe it has started..? Anyway, my best friend, Kelly, who is the mother of 3 (13, 11, 9) and constantly running gave me the advice of raising couch potatoes! HA! I doubt I'll take that advice, but one day I might understand where she's coming from.....