The Old Bear Way: Under-Scheduled and Doing Just Fine

In parenthood, sometimes we don’t get what we want. Like babies who sleep through the night, toddlers who hold hands in parking lots, or kids who wear pants.

Sometimes we do get what we want only to figure out we were better off without it. Like when your kid learns to tie his shoes and you’re never on time for anything ever again. Or when your kid is finally potty-trained and wants needs to poop in every bathroom within a 50-mile radius of your home. Or when your kid at long last shows enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities and you go from being under-scheduled and wondering if “YouTube connoisseur” will impress college admissions officers to being over-scheduled and googling, “Do Dutch parents deal with this crap?”

For years, we dabbled. Karate. T-ball. Ice hockey. Art. Basketball. Ninja warrior. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Nothing stuck. If you’ve ever heard a kid say, “I can’t go to soccer practice because my finger is sunburned,” or, “I don’t like karate because flexibility is terrifying,” you’ve met my kids.

I’m decidedly not a Tiger Mom.

Then, all at once my boys wanted to do all the things. Cross country, soccer, guitar, drums, swimming. Add to the schedule the activities everyone loves to hate, like vison therapy, tutoring, and nutritionist appointments, and we were suddenly as busy as everyone annoyingly says, but for realz.

This fall, we had to be someplace—and in some cases multiple places—every day of the week, including Tuesday mornings before school and Friday evenings. For the love! And there was no rest on the weekends. Swimming lessons and soccer games swallowed Saturdays and early morning cross country track meets stole Sundays and all my hopes for and dreams of a hot cup of coffee.

I recently read an article about Dolphin Parenting. Coined by Shimi Kang, M.D. in a book called “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger,” this viewpoint encourages parents to abandon a perpetually striving, exhausted, and over-scheduled lifestyle for a more balanced, natural approach. Kang suggests our current parenting method has replaced free and spontaneous play and time spent with family with too much structure where the “minivan becomes the kitchen table.”

This speaks to me. Loudly.

Why do we spend as much time in the car after school as our kids spend at school? Why are we so worried about our kids turning into quitters if Irish stepping dancing, platform diving, or Mandarin Immersion isn’t their jam? Also, band practice before school and track practice on Friday nights is preposterous, amirite?

No wonder we’re all tired, anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking “mommy juice” from a straw!

We bit off way more than we could chew this fall, and the endless loop of obligations broke us. We’re out of gas, literally and figuratively. The activities everyone originally wanted to do became a burden about which everyone, including me, asked, “Do I have to go today?” and “When is this going to be over?”

Did I make a mistake saying yes to too much in the first place? Probably, but it was hard to say no when my kids finally wanted to do something besides watch “try not to laugh videos” in the basement.

The silver-lining of our demanding autumn has been that we sifted through the muck and discovered the activities the kids truly enjoy. We also figured out what we value as a family— extra-curricular activities in moderation, lots of free time to play and relax, and pajamas. We are pajama people to infinity and beyond.

My kids want to linger with friends on the playground after school. They want to play Minecraft online with their friends, and they want to make microwave popcorn and watch “The Simpsons.”

I want my kids to do their homework without rushing or melting down. I want them to have time to build Legos and practice the instruments they love, and I want to listen to the details of their stories while I cook dinners they don’t want to eat.

I’m digging the Dolphin Way, but now that the trees are nearly bare, the air is frosty, and it’s dark by five o’clock, I’m taking my parenting strategy to the next level.

In Kevin Henkes’ children’s book, “Old Bear,” Old Bear falls asleep for the winter and dreams of the beauty of every season. He dreams of flowers as big as trees in the spring and blueberry rain falling from the sky in summer. He dreams of yellow, orange, and brown birds and fish in autumn and the sky blazing with stars of all colors in winter. He sleeps and dreams and sleeps, and when he finally wakes up he thinks no time has passed. He pokes his head out of his den and it’s a gorgeous, warm, and colorful spring day and it takes him a minute to realize he’s not dreaming.

That’s right, Tiger moms and the rest of you wild (or Dutch) parenting beasts. I’m putting on my comfy pants and settling in for a long winter’s nap. I’m hibernating with my kids and dreaming and sleeping and dreaming… and slowing down the passage time… and paying attention… and enjoying my kids while they’re still kids… and hoping no one wants to play little league baseball in the spring because that seems like a lot of work.

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Filed under anxiety, parenthood, parenting

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