Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Activities


When my children were babies and toddlers, I would dream of the day that I was no longer covered in bodily fluids and could shower without hearing the phantom screams of the baby I left on his play mat who had somehow managed to roll across the room and impale himself on the TV remote.   In another x many years, I thought to myself, I'll have it made! This will be easy!

Don't get me wrong, having a 7 year old and a 4 year old is MUCH better, it's like comparing my marathon time to some real Kenyan's or even to some 25 year old who thinks to themselves, I think I'll run a marathon today.  Apples and oranges.  But neither is it like returning to some blissful childless state where people just leave the house whenever they like and sleep til noon and eat meals while being seated the entire time.  Our clothing may no longer be covered in feces, but our schedules are covered in The Activities.

And The Activities begin early around here--your tiny baby needs help developing his appreciation of music, as well as his thigh muscles, and that's gonna cost you--so it's not like it's completely new with this stage of parenting.  But the urgency of The Activities really goes up several notches once your child can actually form coherent thoughts and sentences and can tell you that they want to study archery so they can shoot dragons from the sky or that they believe their destiny is to tap dance to Jingle Bell Rock.

First of all, let's just establish a basic fact.  ALL children, at least the yuppie offspring around here, MUST have Activities, preferably more than one.  There are a few reasons for this:
1)       The more you are out of your house, the less likely your children will fall into that most dangerous of habits known as Screen Time.  Screen Time is a straight path to degradation, stupidity, obesity, and probably hell.  One minute they are playing minecraft on their iPads and the next they are shooting up heroin.  Therefore it is imperative that you spend a minimum amount of time in your home.  Just make sure going to a lot of activities doesn’t mean you eat fast food for any meals.  I suggest installing a small kitchen in the back of your minivan to whip up healthy meals on the go.
2)      Harvard will ask how many activities your child does.  A 5.0 GPA just won’t cut it.  They also need to be an accomplished ballerina who play their own accompanying music.  While dancing to the music they are also playing.  And solving quadratic equations.  You do NOT want to insult the Harvard admissions people with your child’s lack of accomplishments.
3)      You acquire more ways to flatter your child into thinking they are the most amazing human who has ever lived.  Wow, Johnny, you did such a great job at racketball today!  I liked the way you swung that racket in the general vicinity of the ball as it whizzed by.  Wow, Suzy, you are an amazing potter! I can vaguely make out the outline of something that exists in real life from that lump of glazed clay.  Wow, just, WOW!  If you don’t do activities, your child will get bored of hearing how good they are at legos.  That’s if they can even hear you from the fog of Screen Time in which they will be immersed.
4)     But let’s face it: This isn’t mere flattery.  Your child IS a serious, burgeoning talent in SOMETHING.  They could be the next Michael Jordan or Kelly Clarkson or Kim Kardashian but if YOU don’t locate that enormous reserve of talent, they will amount to nothing.  Unless they are the next Kim Kardashian, then you don’t have to locate any talent at all, you just have to hope they have an ample derriere and annoyingly good self-marketing skills.  Perhaps a Baby PR class would be the thing to do (Twitter for Toddlers).  In any case, you do NOT want them to miss their calling in life, which they most certainly will if you don’t spend your weekends at T-Ball practice. 
5)  Why would you not pay someone to teach your kids something you could teach them for free? People need jobs.  
6)      Absolute, pure desperation to keep your child entertained and out of trouble in a way that won’t make you feel guilty.  Let’s just be honest.

But how in the world do you choose what Activities to do?  And then if you have more than one child, The Activities quickly become a logistical nightmare that may require you to hire some kind of consultant who used to work for Amazon or FedEx to figure it all out (and around here, those may exist, I don't know).  So many Activities, so few parents without jobs and interests other than their kids.

Since my kids' parents barely have enough hand-eye coordination between the two of them to change a light bulb, I have no illusions that I'm sitting on an Olympic athlete here, so that has backed off some of the pressure on the sports front.  However, they still do need physical activity lest they become mini Jabba the Hutts.  Charlotte expressed an early interest in tennis, so after she begged me for awhile, we tried that.  It did not go well, seeing as the point is to actually make contact with a ball.  We tried soccer for Lawson.  Unfortunately, he was more engrossed in his own thoughts than in the game.  You could almost see the thought bubble over his head going, "And everyone is running after that dumb ball because...? This reminds me of how the dinosaurs went extinct..."  We eventually settled on taekwondo for both of them, the main selling point there being that they could both be in the same class and could thereby avoid hiring the Amazon consultant.  And when they are 13 and some evil middle schooler (is there really any other kind?) bullies them because they have zero athletic ability, they can rudely awaken them with some kind of martial arts routine choreographed to the theme from Exodus.  The taekwondo has been of mixed success.  The incentive structure has the power to induce Charlotte into even greater heights of responsibility and obedience, but then the baseline there was already a well-trained German Shepherd who raises orphans in a North Korean prison camp.  On the other hand, the incentive structure has the power to induce Lawson to do...nothing he doesn't already want to do.  He's like, why do I need my next belt? What, are my pants going to fall down without it or something? And if so, why is that a bad thing? I don't even need pants.  Leave me alone while I have digital dinosaurs fight each other to the death on my Wii while I wear no pants.  

Charlotte has also taken to horse riding, which has the triple benefit of being expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous.   So how in the world did she get into that? It's not like we see our neighbors on their way to work atop their noble steeds.  In this case, I can blame no one but myself, and also Groupon, because they had an offer for a riding lesson for two, and I thought it would be so amazing to have a mommy-daughter date and go ride horses.   Of course, she adored it and wanted more lessons, something any Mom-fool, who herself had loved riding horses and wearing those adorable velvet hats as a girl, could see from several thousand miles away.  So every week we spend 2 hours round trip and I shell out enough dough to feed a Rwandan orphanage for a year so that my little girl can live my childhood dream.   

Other than that, we've only dabbled in this and that.  Lawson had a brief stint as a gymnast, which basically consisted of throwing himself into a pit of foam.  Charlotte has taken various after school classes, including cooking, hip hop dance, and chess.  She's actually pretty good at chess, although I'm afraid she believes herself very good at hip hop.  At a wedding recently, she tore up the dance floor, incorporating various breakdancing moves, as well as some more "original" ones that channeled Elaine Benes on Seinfeld in that episode where no one could tell if she was dancing or having an epileptic seizure.  I've tried in vain to get her to take piano, but I showed my over-eager hand on that front, ensuring that she is more likely to become Beyonce's next back-up dancer than any kind of pianist.  With Lawson, I plan to remain very blase, while suggesting that the keys are made from dinosaur bones that, if played well, may reconfigure themselves into a fully formed skeleton.  I'm not sure why I care so much about the piano, except for the fact that we do have one in our house, and it taunts me with my own failed career as a pianist, which ended at age 13 when I just could not take the pressure of performing in front of 20 whole people anymore.  That's after winning 1st prize at the Kenya Music Festival by playing the very best version of The Gollywog Leads the Band by a 9 year old in a country where few 9 year olds have even seen a piano.  What a tragic waste of talent it was when I quit.  

I hope my children avoid the same fate that no talent is left undiscovered by the time they are adults.  In the meantime, I'll be over here in the back of our minivan cooking omelets on a hotplate in between rhythmic gymnastics practice and fencing lessons.  

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