Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Because You Have To

Yesterday morning my daughter woke up with a stomachache, and I worried.

I worried about her health, of course – did she finally succumb to the stomach bug that’s been making its way around our community?  Will she make it to the bathroom before she pukes?  Who else is going to get it?  As I practiced my lightning-quick trashcan-wielding reflexes, I lingered on the one worry about our immediate situation that whispered a little louder than the others: is she going to miss something mandatory?

Mandatory.  The word lurks ominously anytime I sign my kids up for a new sport, club, or group.  Always, something is mandatory.  If you don’t come to the mandatory practice, you won’t be able to play.  Never mind that you signed up months ago, that you spent the last ten weeks preparing for this moment – if you miss this one mandatory thing, you are out.  A “good” excuse is the death of a family member, provided a death certificate can be produced; an “excellent” one is that you were in the hospital.  If none of these things apply, just pack your things and go home.  Maybe next year you will learn to take your commitments more seriously.

Now that the end of the school year is upon us, blissful summer and no schedules playfully hide beyond the hurdles we must jump to attain carefree days and nights.  It seems that every day and night brings something important, something Mandatory.  The last month of the school year brings concerts, recitals, assemblies, art shows, field trips, and spring sports practices, matches, and games.  Add that to the avalanche of end-of-year special projects and tests, birthday party invites, and weekend holidays that seem to occur all at the same time, and the likelihood that something Mandatory may be threatened multiplies.

Which brings me to the worry not only that my daughter probably has a 24-hour vomit-and-diarrhea bug, which is bad enough, but that this bug does not fit into the already bursting calendar that consumes a corner of my desk and a larger part of my mind.  Will this illness cause her to miss one of her last dance classes, which are increasingly important as the dance recital looms, or will she miss the mandatory dress rehearsal for her orchestra concert?  Should I send her to school anyway so she won’t miss anything?  There might be something mandatory that I have overlooked.

The whole business gives me a slight panic attack.  I know why kids’ activities are weighted with such urgency – parents aren’t always able to commit because of work or over-scheduling or just plain laziness, so programs are designed like they are priority one.  Because sometimes, when Mom is swamped with work and Dad is away on business, Junior misses baseball practice.  Because when Mommy’s sick and Daddy works nights, Missy has to stay home from dance practice because there’s no one to take her.  We are disconnected.  We don’t trust anyone else with our kids, and we don’t always have family members who we trust to shuttle our kids around when we can’t.  Plus, we sign our kids up for everything, and there aren’t enough hours for them to do it all.  Programs suffer because parents aren’t reliable, so certain aspects of each program become mandatory so parents are held accountable.  It’s like survival of the fittest, kids’ activities style.  The weak, or in other words, those who aren’t able to make every mandatory event, are eliminated.

I don’t know if it will end.  Maybe, when my kids are more independent and can find their own way in the world, the mandatory practices and rehearsals will stop.  Maybe not.  Until then, I will be crossing my fingers that these kids stay healthy and can get through the school year unscathed, that they are able to meet all their commitments despite silly things like uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea.

Which incidentally, she didn’t have anyway.  It was just a bad case of the Mondays.



  1. This may be why Katie's only in swim lessons right now. But, I see her, she's looking around, talking to her friends at pre-school... she knows there's more stuff for her to be signed up to do, and it just makes me want to run for the mountains screaming my head off! I mean, I've seen her face when the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea make me keep her home from school, having to tell her she can't participate in some big event she'd been working on for a long time has got to be even worse!

    1. I vowed that I would never give in to the over-scheduling demons, and I did anyway. It's so hard, because each activity takes up so. much. time. You're right -- keeping them from something they desperately want to take part in is a heartbreaker, but it is even more so when only arbitrary rules keep them from participating.