Today my daughter has softball practice, but I’m not going to take her. We don’t have anything else going on. The weather is beautiful, she would probably have fun, and her siblings could spend a lovely time playing on the playground nearby. I don’t like the idea of her missing a chance to learn from her coach or get to know her teammates better. These are things I grapple with.
Because here’s the other side of the coin. In the last ten days we have not had one quiet, uninterrupted afternoon at home. Though I somewhat pride myself on not having gotten so far caught up in the scheduling madness that is after school extracurriculars, this spring I can feel the creep of “things to do” encroaching on our family time, and I can see all of us paying for it.
I used to think that it was reasonable for my kids to each have a thing—a sport, activity, involvement, whatever. But it’s getting dicey. Last spring my son started soccer. One practice a week, one game. Three kids, one thing. Very manageable.
Then my daughter showed interest in some music lessons. We found a teacher that came to our house once a week for half an hour. Hardly a blip on the schedule. Three kids, two things. Very manageable.
Then this spring my musician decided she wanted to try softball. She agreed to take a break from music—only one thing each!—and we signed her up. And so started the startling demise of family time. We are still at three kids, two things, but my equilibrium has been shaken.
There is no rhyme, reason, or sanity to softball scheduling. My daughter is eight years old, in second grade. She has never played before. We are not gunning for a softball scholarship. We are not interested in a competitive travel league. We just wanted her dip her toes and see if she likes softball as much as she imagined she would. We found the least competitive, lowest commitment park district team available.
And so far she loves the game, which I’m torn over being happy or upset about because the scheduling has me pulling my hair out. She’s had practices scheduled on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. She’s had games on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and has a Friday game coming up. Some weeks she has only one softball commitment, some weeks she has four, but we never know when something will be rained out, rescheduled, or plain old cancelled. Several practices I have learned about only days in advance. And friends tell me this is not unusual in the softball world. What?!
Maybe I’m just too embedded in the transition season right now to think clearly about this. Maybe the benefits of being on this team will far outweigh the challenges. Maybe in a year or two I’ll have all three kids involved in something and we’ll have figured out how to make it work without losing our family identity. But from my vantage point right now I am seeing how extracurriculars can so easily wreak havoc on the family rhythm, and I have a new appreciation for how hard it is to give our kids opportunities without our carefully crafted family dynamics crumbling to the ground.
I used to read to my kids every night before bed. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day when we gather together and share a journey to some faraway place in our minds. Now I feel fortunate to read to them two or three times a week. Afternoons and evenings are full and there’s only so much time in the day. Family dinners are a priority in our home. With three kids still all elementary age it seemed reasonable that dinners together will still happen daily, around the table, as a family. But my kids cannot stay home alone and my husband travels a fair amount. Which means when one kids has a thing, we all have a thing. It’s a family event. And when a family event keeps us out of the house from 5 to 7 in the evening, a relaxing family dinner around the table followed by a leisurely bedtime of snuggles and stories isn’t going to happen. I’m only one person, and as family cook, homework helper, chore enforcer, and chauffeur, all of sudden the evenings have dissolved into something unrecognizable.
I know this is just the beginning. I know that allowing my kids to pursue interests is important, and so is family time. I am learning that the busiest time of my day in the years to come will likely be the afternoon and evening hours, though for years I have looked forward to that time of day as a chance to take a deep breath and wind down. My kids are getting older, the pace and focus of their days is changing, and we must adapt.
I also know that in these past ten especially busy days I have seen more arguments, tears, and meltdowns than usual. I’ve seen my kid who excels in math come to tears over a simple question that felt overwhelming. I’ve heard my kids share how stressed they are. I’ve seen their shoulders droop when I said it was time to get ready to go. Not every kid at the same time—no, it’s never that easy. I’m just noticing that as I grapple with how to prioritize in this new season of busyness, my kids are grappling too. They, too, miss quiet afternoons and lazy bedtimes as the norm. They too are learning in new ways that saying yes to one thing means saying no to many others. As a family, we are learning to adjust, making judgments, and recognizing that we will need to use what we learn today to inform our decisions going forward. Sometimes learning is hard, but we’re doing it together.
And just so I don’t leave the wrong impression, I love watching my girl play softball. She is strong and teachable and attentive, and watching her crouch behind the plate in a catcher’s mask or get under a fly ball brings joy to my heart.
I have learned, and am learning, that we cannot have it all. I knew that. I know it still. And I am trying to enjoy that which we have and let the rest go because it was not meant for us. So tonight, no softball practice for us. Perhaps a quiet dinner, a family walk, a story or two before bed. I can’t wait for my kids to get home. We’ve got a glorious afternoon full of nothing to look forward to. I think it’s just what this family needs.