As if the brilliant display of fall foliage isn’t enough to remind me why fall is my favorite season, I’ve received plenty of other reminders lately. There was the newspaper article touting fall hikes, which I tore out and stuck in a file folder labeled Family Excursions. Then came the email from my childless brother asking me, for the fourth year in a row, to renew our former tradition of biking down the C&O Canal tow path. Finally, my daughter’s been bugging me about when we’re going to a farm to find our pumpkin.
Truth is, the newspaper clipping probably won’t make it out of the folder. The bike ride will be postponed, again. And I picked up a pumpkin at Roland Park’s Schneider’s Hardware because a soccer field is closest thing to a pumpkin patch our family will be traipsing through this fall.
These revelations are hardly news-breaking for the multitudes of modern-day moms whose primary purpose in life, at least on evenings and weekends, is to serve as chief manager of the extreme number of extracurricular activities in which their children participate. And while much has been written, discussed and disputed about the effects of today’s typically over-scheduled child, I haven’t heard a peep about what it does to their mothers. So I decided to dig in, surveying—in a purely unscientific way—local moms with super-scheduled kids.
That I was rebuffed by some women I felt sure would want to weigh in on the topic came as a surprise.
I thought I’d chosen carefully: one woman with three sons, all of whom play on different travel soccer teams this fall, which means a minimum of 12 practice- or game-related obligations weekly. Seems like a lot to me. And those are just the extracurriculars I’m aware of. But when I asked her about the effects she felt from back-to-back and overlapping soccer games throughout the weekend, she hesitated, then told me she is pretty protective of her kids’ time. End of story.
I assumed the second mom I went after would be a shoe-in. She also has three active sons whose activities I can’t even begin to count, and she often looks stressed. When I asked her if she’d talk about the topic, she replied: Does that mean I have to admit that my kids are over-scheduled? I sighed, and moved on.
The third mom would be the charm, I reasoned. She has four kids, all super-athletes with intense sports schedules. Surely, I thought, she’d admit to having lost a bit of herself along the high-fueled sports trail. Foiled again. But at least she was willing to talk.
Wendy Barger, a sprightly and phenomenally fit mom of four who wears a permanent smile on her face in public and oversees Gilman’s kindergarten program during the day, quickly converts to chief family sports organizer the minute she steps away from her day job. “Friday’s my get-ready evening for the weekend. I do laundry, shop, make sure we have what we need if we’ll be on the road,” Barger quipped.
Last weekend, Barger’s youngest daughter, in fourth grade, had a soccer tournament in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Barger and her husband cheered on their youngest daughter most of the day Saturday. Then, late afternoon, they drove to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to watch their oldest, a sophomore, play lacrosse. The following morning, it was back to Harrisburg for the second leg of her daughter’s soccer tournament. Fortunately, her other son and daughter, a high school junior and college freshman respectively, had light soccer schedules that weekend.
Barger seems to thrive on the super-sonic schedule. “Maybe I’m insane and I just don’t know it,” she said with a laugh. But she’s certain of one thing. She doesn’t regret a moment. “It’s time I got to spend with my kids, and they’re some of the best memories.”
For other moms, the super-charged pace of their kids’ extracurricular schedule does make them feel insane.
A Bolton Hill mom I’ll call Ann Smith has two daughters. One plays on two soccer teams and swims competitively; the other swims and plays field hockey. Three sports in one season takes a toll on this mom. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants. It makes me nervous and paranoid…the cancellations, game changes, where suddenly something’s moved to the other side of Carroll County,” she bemoaned.
Clearly, this is not what Smith envisioned for her family. A Boston native who grew up in the city and never played sports growing up, she admits to not enjoying them much. Things she does enjoy—a trip to the farmer’s market, poking around at flea markets, or taking a spontaneous trip to D.C. or even just downtown Baltimore with the kids—take a back seat to the their tightly orchestrated schedules.
Speaking of back seats, Smith hates what hers has become. “With all this schlepping around, my car is my kitchen, and my closet,” she said, sounding like she needs a break from her kids’ nonstop sports activities.
Others, not so much.
Melissa Greenhouse, a Homeland mother of three who owns a meeting planning company with her husband, counts up her kids’ sports team. “As of tomorrow, they will be on a combined eight teams,” she said without blinking.
But it’s okay with her. “This is what I do for a living; it’s my personality,” Greenhouse said. So when she leaves her office for the day, she continues to plan and plot out logistics for her kids’ sports schedules.
Greenhouse says her husband claims she’s the culprit of their kids’ non-stop planned activities, but she’s not accepting full responsibility. “He’s just as lost as I am when we have nothing to do,” she said.
As go-go-go a family as they are, the Greenhouses do find balance.
In the summer, they spend six weeks in a home on the water. “We fish, nobody puts on shoes, we watch sunsets. It’s like this sacred time,” she said. “That’s where I feel we can have some definition.”
A Lutherville mom of four I’ll call Sally Jones is hoping to capture that same Zen-like experience. Two of Joneses’ four children play soccer both days of the weekend, her soccer-playing daughter take horse-back riding lessons most weekends, and her eldest daughter is in the throes of completing several college essays and applications. In response, the family is building a house in rural West Virginia as a getaway. “We have found that we actually have to get out of town to relax,” Jones said.
But chances are, fall will not present many opportunities to make that escape.
I know it won’t for me. Accepting the situation, I make every effort to enjoy the shimmering reds and yellows of the trees from behind the wheel of my car as I’m toting my kids around town, or when I’m sitting on the sidelines of a soccer game. And, I have to admit, the moments when my son, a goalie on his team, makes a diving save or leaps into the air and tips the ball out of the goal are as breathtaking to me as fall foliage viewed from a tall mountain peak.
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