Empty Parks and Busy Carpool Lanes


This morning I was able to be in a part of an intimate audience and view a delightful play about a misguided girl and the woodland friends who lead her back home to the one true truth.

All while still wearing my comfy clothes and clutching a cup of coffee.

The girl asked if she could take a break after four subjects this morning (her norm these days) and head upstairs to play. This play break ended with a darling performance in her bedroom, using every doll and stuffed animal she owns.

Here is a little secret: Any time my kids ask to play during the school day, I let them (This does not mean play technology). Some things can wait until later. Play always takes precedence.

As they have aged, those requests for play time have diminished somewhat. Their school load is heavier (I feel as if we should light a candle in order to gain favor from the Chemistry gods most days) and their interests varied. However, play time still ranks as incredibly important for me. Since I am boss when it comes to school, play gets the top spot in my book.

This morning the girl orchestrated a fun play that she wrote, designed props for, and executed all on her own. Her brother established a school schedule for the day that will allow him to race outside right at 3:15pm in hopes of catching a neighborhood friend walking home from the bus stop.

I fight to create a schedule in which play is King for my children. I do this because my children also have another thing lurking on the permiters of their days: Extracurriculars.

When the children were little, we slowly entered the world of extracurricular activities. They played in a six week long soccer league. We tried a few classes at our local rec center. There were no long term commitments or extended practice hours. However, by the time my youngest was six years old our slow entry into this world had become a full-on sprint. Both children were signed up for multiple activities and gone for stretches of time at night.

This summer I tapped the breaks on our extracurricular schedules, making everyone be at home in the evenings. The change of pace was nice and my mini van’s mileage appreciated the break.

Recently I came across a thread on a local mom’s support group on Facebook in which a mother was inquiring about how many activities her six year old needed to be involved with after school. The mom was feeling conflicted because her child was tired at night (It is his first year of kindergarten…that will wear anyone out!) and she was run down after working all day.

Several mothers commented that he did not need to do much other than just play and enjoy being six.

However most people commented that kids love activities, kids need something to do after being cooped up at school all day, and (the real kicker here) colleges really look at extracurricular activity involvement when making their enrollment decisions.

Um…excuse me?

I get it. I currently live in a highly competitive suburb. Everyone looks the same, makes the same, sounds the same, has the same advantages….so they feel like they need an edge. Yet when we start discussing the need for kindergarteners to step up their game in regards to activity level in order to get into college (13 years down the road) we have a situation.

When did we decide to bow down to extracurriculars like they hold the key to our children’s future?

Last week as I was driving the minivan all around town, carting the children to and fro activities, I felt a tightness in my chest. I realized I was weary of the driving, the scheduling, the dropping off and the picking up. Despite making more changes this school year when it comes to busy nights, I still feel like the worry that my children are missing out and getting behind. This worry is pushing me towards signing up for all the things and driving to all the practices and events 24/7 because nothing sounds worse than one’s kid “falling behind.”

One thing I notice on these drives: the parks are empty.  I pass many neighborhood and community parks on my afternoon/early evening drives and the parks in our suburb are vacant. Sure it is still summer and temps can rival the surface of the sun in our region, but the parks are void of children. Rather than running and playing and climbing for free, we are forking over hundreds and hundreds of dollars for organized activities that simply leave everyone in the family exhausted.

Why are we all jumping on this crazy bus, shuttling our family members around in the name of being “well-rounded” or “standing out from others.”? When did having one sport turn into being involved with a sport, a hobby, a special interest club, and an afterschool team become the norm?

I have not figured out this dilemma when it comes to our family. In fact, I am about to holler up the stairs (in my sweetest June Cleaver voice, mind you) to tell one kid to get ready for the dance and the other to get ready for karate and student groups at church later. We have to leave early tonight because the minivan’s gas gage is teetering on empty.

If all these activities are supposedly good for college admission, surely all the driving around I do will  boost my resume.


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