Fall has its strong points, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also a kind of special hell for parents of school-age children.
September is over now, so I can talk about it without hyperventilating. September is shock and awe month for parents who have children in activities. At the ages my kids are, you’d think I’d be ready for it, but there is no adequate preparation for September.
Suddenly, everything ramps up to warp speed and you are spending your life in the car, running kids here and there from before dawn to after dark. Here’s what we do.
The older girl is in band, which, by September, has tapered to one night a week from 6-9 p.m., with football game performances on Friday nights and band competitions or parades on Saturdays. That child is also in swimming, which used to be from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus weight training for swimming from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., but then became 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but then, because the pool at the high school broke, became 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus Fitness Center a few afternoons a week, plus a swim meet or two each week in places like Moline and Rock Island. Homework gets done between 9:30 and 11 p.m. on band and swim meet nights, followed by a very early wake-up for swim practice.
This girl is also taking piano lessons and she is in the choir, so she’s got evening activities and piano practice, plus homework from all her other classes, plus practice for her band instrument. I am not bragging about this child or our schedule. It sounds even more insane than it feels.
But wait. There’s more.
This girl is also in “early bird” PE, which means that school starts for her at 7:00 a.m. That means that while the MHS pool is broken, I drive to the WIU Rec center or the Y each morning to pick her up in the middle of swim practice to take her to PE.
So as I write this today, on a Tuesday, I’ve taken the child to the Y for a half an hour of swim practice, picked her up showered and ready for school at 6:45 a.m., and dropped her off for early bird PE shortly before 7:00 a.m. Then I took child number two to school at 7:30 a.m. There was also a bonus emergency trip shortly before 10:00 a.m. to deliver history notes on a laptop for a project for Child number one. By 11:30 a.m. I was ready for bed again. And I am only the driver!
Child number two takes piano lessons and also plays in the band. She needs a little extra support in math so she sees a tutor one day a week. She’s in choir and recently joined the Yearbook staff. She’s been searching for her sport to stay fit and healthy-minded and I support that. But I’ve got to admit that I suppressed a small, sad sigh of resignation as I signed her up for YMCA swim team, which will practice 3:30-5:15 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and 6:30-8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Thursdays, and Fridays, plus Saturday swim meets that can last up to 12 hours, including drive time to meets in other towns. This schedule will keep us busy through February, long after the madness of marching band and high school swim team are over.
September may be a terrible month for parents, but in October the horror spreads throughout the family. Parents are exhausted, and by now, children are, too. The novelty of the super busy schedule has worn off and the child is an automaton, plodding through the daily schedule with zero verve. Think Bataan Death March.
By October, parents can’t even tell themselves they’re “doing it for the kids,” as it is plain the kids aren’t enjoying themselves anymore. They need sleep, lots of sleep, way lots more sleep, which they get on Sunday when they sleep in. Then they have trouble falling asleep on time Sunday night, which makes that 5:30 a.m. Monday swim practice a toughie.
The state of being Busy is a widespread phenomenon amongst our families these days. Certainly I cannot figure out which activity I would demand we would stop doing; I think I’m too deep into this 21st Century mother stuff to make sense of it right now.
Somewhere out there is a smug person who thinks I am the Captain of the Crazy Ship. I will just say that if you have the solution to what ails the Vawters, please feel free to place it on a billboard that I will see as I drive by on my way to another swim meet or marching competition. There’s no time for leisure reading in October, silly!
Thank you, and see you in November.
Alison Vawter is an attorney and mediator in Macomb
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.