We skipped Procession of the Species earlier this year. We were camping. When my youngest found out she had missed the parade (which she was supposed to march in with her preschool,) she was pretty bummed. But I reminded her of the parade we had instead — our small troupe of family and friends hiking the Staircase loop in Olympic National Park, finding elk tracks, making moss beards, listening to varied thrushes, skipping rocks. We had our own procession, and appreciation, of the species, and our family made some beautiful, spontaneous memories.
There is a lot being written about the importance of “unstructured” playtime for kids. A reaction, I think, to our modern day, frenetic lives and over-programming and over-scheduling of our kids. A reminder that wondering at a pill bug crawling along the sidewalk, shooting hoops in the driveway on a warm afternoon, or having a foam sword-fight with siblings are equally, if not more, beneficial to our children’s psyches than all those classes, teams, and lessons we load them up with.
On the verge of the summer season, a time when unstructured play should be rampant, working parents are faced with scheduling even more stuff for their kids to do — summer camps each week, summer sports leagues, music lessons, birthday parties — endless birthday parties. Sports in particular can be a killer. I am increasingly convinced that organized kid sports aren’t good for families. For kids, sure, sports are fun and bring with them all those character-building benefits and fitness we often hear about. But really, they can be kind of a nightmare if you have more than one kid in one or more sports. My husband and I feel like single parents of separate children much of the week, doing fly-bys of each other as we shuttle to soccer practice, ultimate Frisbee games, swim lessons, and piano. I really like my husband, and we are the foundation of our family. It would be nice if we could hang out once in a while.
But our kids do need somewhere to go while we work, and they need opportunities to grow skills and improve fitness, explore new interests and nurture friendships. So realistically, we need quite a bit of structure. But I am just going to adopt a new attitude about it — skipping stuff is good for us!
My happiest childhood memories are not from basketball games I played in or piano recitals I performed. I can barely remember that stuff. But my ears still ring with the raucous laughter of boisterous family reunions, and my nose can still recall the scent of my grandfather’s fresh-caught salmon baking over a campfire on the California coast.
So I am putting summer coaches, instructors, camp counselors, and birthday party hosts on notice: We may not be there. Even if I paid $200 for my child to be on your team or in your camp, we will be missing some practices, some activities, some games. We might be camping, taking a trip to the beach, visiting Grandma, or just fooling around at home. We need each other. Our kids may or may not turn out to be stage actors, park rangers, swim stars, or pianists, but they will always need the love, support and bond with family to get them through life.
This time when our kids are young and relatively unfettered is fleeting. Once my middle-schooler is in high school, missing days of calculus for a family trip or skipping a critical sports game or prom will be difficult. But until then, we parents have the car keys and the kids have few real obligations. We are going to make the most of it.
Don’t worry, we’ll let you know if we can’t make it (there is nothing worse than a no-show). But please don’t be offended. It’s not you. It’s us. We are putting a priority on family fun this summer. By the way if you can’t make it to our party, we totally understand!
Oh, and to the Olympia School District: We will be taking our kids out of school for an entire week next year to go to Disneyland. Our family has more fun when the lines are short. I am sure they can make up whatever they will miss.
Jennifer Davis is an environmental planner and writer striving for that elusive balance of work, motherhood, married life, and productive citizenship (meaning, she does a lot of laundry.) She is a member of The Olympian’s 2015 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at email@example.com.