all that it’s cracked up to be

The summer is a time of relaxation by a pool, for sunkissed hair, freckled shoulders and white shell jewelry. I’m enjoying the simple luxuries of linen v-neck tees (I actually found myself doing an internet search hoping to find a comparison between Calypso &  J.Crew brands: none existed. I now have both and can tell you, without a doubt Calypso wins if you’re looking for a thicker, more substantial tee, which is why they’re pricier). It’s August now, and while I’ve at least enjoyed (3, sliced) peaches soaked Sauvignon Blanc (1 bottle), with just a hint of sugar (1/4 c), mostly I feel as if I’m drowning.

I am dreading the start of school come September because I am dreading schedules of enrichment. No, wait. I dread the pressure I feel to enroll my children in activities from extra “reading and math tutoring,” Hebrew school, piano lessons, chess, ice skating, swimming, art class, to tennis to soccer. The truth is, my kids tried soccer, and neither of them liked it. We sent them to camp again this summer, where they go zip-lining and do trapeze, and I ask the counselor, “Yes, but do you do any normal stuff, so I know what sports or activities they might like, what to enroll them in during the school year?” And they do, tennis, kickball, volleyball, hockey, but when I ask my kids, I get shrugs. They aren’t wild about any of it. They don’t really care. We’re fine with that, as long as they do something during the year that keeps their bodies healthy and active. They’re not crazy about dance or gymnastics either. They’ll participate in anything, sure, but do they love it, any of it? No, no, and no.

I’ve signed them both up for Karate, which we all feel good about, so that’s a start. I’d like to sign them both up for a swim team, too. We have a beautiful piano in our home, so we should probably get on the whole piano lessons thing. But aren’t they absolute TORTURE? I feel like it’s utter hell, FOR ME. Mustn’t I sit there with them and force them to practice? Oh, it sounds awful and I haven’t even signed them up yet. I’m too lazy for this shit. I CAN’T. I just can’t. I don’t want to do this to myself. No one, by the way, has taught these kids to RIDE A BIKE. I swear, Netflix offers kids educational movies on everything under the Tuscan Sun, but you can’t teach a kid this, can you now?

I have not taught them to do it. PHIL has not taught them. They have outgrown their bikes. They need new ones. I taught them to read. I teach them math. NOW is the time. Who is teaching them this skill? Hello? Why does Phil keep looking at me? Hello? Fine. I will go buy the bikes if you speak nothing of the bills that follow. Oh, and our gated community has no sidewalks. Nice. Hello parking lot hell. I’ve also heard that to teach a child to ride a bike, you much teach them to coast, remove the pedals, and let them learn to glide-ride. Joy.

July has definitely been filled with remarkable moments. I need to make more of an effort to make more of them. Because the moments I’ve relished have often been simple.

Card games
Board games
Road trips
Paddle boarding
Spaghetti night with a trip to the farm beforehand for tomatoes & basil, then Rosemary Clooney Radio
Night picnics with wine, cheese, meats
Botanical Garden – Arthur Avenue afterward
Eating at hole-in-the-wall favorite restaurants with favorite friends

This month, I want to plan more outings of enrichment with friends and family, more hands-on opportunities to experience new places and things. This month, already I’m scheduled to go camping with Abigail. I’d like to go camping as a family, too, because Lucas wants to go, too. We need to convince Phil.



  1. I chuckled when I read this post, Stephanie. First of all – give those poor kids (AND YOURSELF!) a break. I think one of the worst things this generation of parents is doing is OVER stimulating and over providing opportunity upon opportunity to their kids. No wonder so many kids are diagnosed with ADHD…who the hell has time to focus on one thing when they are whisked off to chess,to dance, to soccer…

    I agree that kids need to stay active, but seriously – it won’t kill them to have time to be still – to learn to entertain themselves – to get lost in a book and look up and it’s lunch time. Unstructured time deepens the folds in developing brains, and the ability to create their own activities will enhance their independence as adults.

    I raised the darlings alone – and I never taught them to ride bikes – their dad did on his weekends. I also never taught them to ski, camp (ewwww, dirt), shoot guns, fish or build fires. But they all know how to do all of them.

    Right now my girlies (20 and 22) are home from their international travels for one more week before heading back to college. I love to be home with them – they are quiet and easy. Little daughter is caught in a book – middle daughter is happily crafting – and I’m in my study, writing and thinking. There is no noise, chaos or bother.

    Teach them young, my friend, to be still and enjoy still. You are not the entertainment committee. You have provided them a rich, yummy life full of choices – now let them make them, and take some time to nurture yourself.

    1. Author

      Really? Because I feel like I’m ALL about unstructured time. I don’t overschedule or over-playdate. I hardly do either. They have each other. They have a playroom. They have imaginations. I didn’t sign them up for many things because I believe in rest, in early bedtimes, in long bedtime stories and family dinner rituals. But I worry that I’m doing them a disservice by not exposing them to some passion of a lifetime, or that they won’t be well-rounded because I don’t expose them to baseball. I worry that I’m TOO UNSTRUCTURED, TOO ANTI-schedules, that I need to find a kind gentle balance.

      But must the balance include a musical instrument?!

      1. Lucky you! School has already started here.

        I don’t think being balanced requires a musical instrument, but I don’t think it hurts either. My 6th grader was mad at me for signing him up for band, but now that he has found out that there will be a band trip to Kings Island, he’s ok with it.

        He also didn’t want to play soccer this fall, but he’s signed up anyway. I think kids should be given choices. However, if it were up to him, he would barely go to school, would have no chores or activities and would just play on his Ipod all day.

        I think you’re right. It’s all about balance.

      2. Why not just wait a few years and see what they start asking to participate in. Eventually, they’ll decide what they want to try. It may just be an activity their friends do and they want to do it with them. No need to stress over it when they are only going into second grade.

        That being said, I highly recommend getting them into swimming if you feel you must do something now. I joined swim team in 5th grade (at my own asking) and it was my passion through high school.

        1. I agree. So many kids live such over scheduled lives I wonder, as the introvert I am, how they cope! Let them decide if they want to participate in an activity. You can suggest..

  2. Maybe your kids will find their passion on their own, and won’t that be beautiful?
    How did you find your passions?

  3. My kids all wanted to try various instruments – I found the piano the least offensive. I absolutely put my foot down when one of them wanted to take up the violin – god, what is worse than a novice violin player? I also squelched their visions of piccolos, trumpets and electric guitar.

    Daughters now play piano that they picked up on their own…I made them practice when I wasn’t home.

    Okay – I just realized I blew mother of the year yet again. Sigh.

  4. I was a very, very driven kid. My closest friend’s kid is not that type. Sometimes she’ll casually say “I want to do soccer” or “I want to do gymnastics” but she’s also happy to do whatever we talk up to her, which is why she does ice skating (it’s close by and she can bring friends sometimes). She’s 11 now, and for years it drove me crazy that she’s so casual about things. She has a talent for drawing but has no interest in art classes. My friend was super driven – to the point of going to LaGuardia High School – and it was hard for us to accept her kid’s “eh sure whatever” attitude.

    Just put your kids in one thing for their bodies and one thing for their brains (so a sport and piano?) plus swimming because it’s a life skill, and consider it good enough. You and Phil each try twice a week to teach the kids to ride their bikes. I learned with pedals. My friend’s kid learned with pedals. They don’t need a balance bike, and quite frankly, I think that’s for the 2-5 yr olds anyway. Do the piano lessons because it’s good for their math skills.

    My friend’s kid does clarinet, and she has to practice 40 minutes a week total. If that means ten minutes 4 times a week or 20 minutes twice a week it’s fine. Often she’s having so much fun she goes over. When I had to practice piano as a kid my mother made me do a half hour a day and screamed to me from the kitchen every time I hit a wrong note, as if I didn’t know. She made me hate piano. She could have kept her mouth shut and let me work it out on my own. Don’t be like my mom. :)

  5. Wow, try to remain calm. I know society has us believing that if your child doesn’t sell their first company at 20 then they are doomed. We all want our children to be successful and well rounded but that doesn’t mean we have to keep offering up options. I feel as if I don’t give my kids enough to do too, but I have stopped worrying about it. My son is turning 13 in a few weeks and for years I asked him about playing a musical instrument. He repeatedly refused. Then, last June, he came home and asked for a violin and to take lessons. He started last September and quickly taught himself to read music and zipped through his lessons. He practices without us asking him to do so. In fact, you can get him to play the violin by reminding him to do his chores. I sometimes wonder whether if I had forced him to start lessons years ago if he would be as enthusiastic about it. Earlier this summer, he went over to our in-laws who have a piano. He spent an hour and a half playing it based on his notes knowledge, then asked to take lessons in piano too. My point is that I think some kids naturally find what they love. It turns out my son loves music. When I asked him what made him change his mind about playing a musical instrument, it was a friend. He was at a friend’s house who also plays violin and became interested. Maybe all your kids need is exposure to a certain activity to gauge whether it’s of any interest to them at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for those activities or buying expensive bikes, but allowing them to watch other kids participate. Maybe they’ll say, I want to do that too. Good luck!

  6. Passions can develop at any point in life. We never did piano lessons. I didn’t want to make room for a piano in the house. My son picked up an instrument for the first time with middle school band. He wanted to play the trumpet so we made a road trip to New Orleans to hear the best perform live jazz. He loves to play, doesn’t like to practice. Despite his “late” start, he’s always first or second chair. I’ll encourage him to take it only as far as he wants to.

  7. Our kids showed so so interest in their bikes now they outgrew them (before they used them three times , wheels on). I am perplexed they do not know how to ride (one going to 1st grade the other pre school) I get annoyed b.c most of my friends (including myself) learned to ride from their dads. My husband shows no signs of teaching. So looks like it will be me. I will just wait until the hottest month in Texas is over.. I don’t get what the statement means you will buy the bikes if you don’t have to hear about the bills after. You have a nice home and you guys are doing well enough financially. Does Phil get mad if you spend any money? If it’s for the kids especially it should be a non issue. I sometimes feel bad that the kids are not ‘doing more’ extra activities but if you do not want to do it I do not want to force it. I try and see what they are into and take it from there. Your kids are nurtured that is what is most important~!

  8. I don’t have kids, but I was a kid once. And I know that unstructured time can be a wonderful thing for them. I also think that exercise for kids is really important – but it doesn’t have to come from structured time in an organized sport. As a family, a walk after dinner, playing on the Wii fit, or playing a game outside can be a great way to get exercise even if your kids are not in organized sports. It is actually good preparation for adulthood, where most of us do not have the time and energy to be in an adult sports league but do like to move at some point during the day.

  9. Oh my gosh- I get anxious just reading this. I know no one does this anymore, but my mom would just tell me to go outside and play. We climbed trees, rode bikes, played dolls and learned how to get along without adults.

    I agree with the others that remarked that they’ll find what they like. Track and field was an obvious sport for me as I was the fastest runner around. Also, I was begging my parents for piano lessons which they agreed to at age ten– I just knew I wanted to play. Practice was a drag, but what I learned from annual evaluations at the community collge and performing in recitals was priceless. I am never afraid to give a public speech or get up in front of a crowd of people…

  10. I liked the “one for bodies, one for brains” comment. I had two “onlies”, 10 years apart so I did not have to struggle with what each wants. We did soccer and baseball and it didn’t stick, then Football and Lacrosse. I live in a depressed area of NY where summer camp is a luxury and I consider my kids lucky for it. We taught bike riding by taking them to the school playground and starting them on the blacktop and pointing them toward the grass. I am a huge fan of legos and knex at any age.

  11. Sweet Jesus, girl. Read this back to yourself and feel the stress and tension you describe. And then remember that your kids feel that stress and tension – don’t kid yourself for a minute that they don’t pick up on it. They’re what, 7 years old? I wouldn’t worry about “exposing them to their passions” – let them read books, let them watch movies, let them go to museums, have family experiences there. If they see something that really strikes their fancy, they’ll tell you. Let them do karate and just enjoy it. In the public schools, music typically starts around 4th grade – if they’re not itching to play the piano, don’t push it. As far as the bikes go, start them on a balance bike – it’s a lot easier. I’ve seen a ton of 3.5-4 year olds in my town (including my relatively timid daughter) go straight from a balance bike to a regular bike in no time at all.

  12. regarding bikes—when you go to the bike store (don’t buy your bikes anywhere else—big box store bikes aren’t worth the savings)–ask about trading in the too small ones on the new purchases. They’ll also let you trade these in when they get too small. And then ask the nice guys selling and fitting your new ones about the best way to learn to ride. They’ll offer tips and some have clinics for kids that’ll get them off the training wheels quickly. But it’s important to get a bike that fits correctly–if it doesn’t, it’s no fun to ride and can hurt knees and backs. And turn you off biking forever.

  13. Take the words “enrich” and “enrichment” out of your vocabulary. I really think you’re putting WAY too much pressure on yourself and your kiddies. You appear to be a great mom, just keep doing what you’re doing!! For the record, I have a 7 year old son who has tested as “profoundly gifted”, basically off the charts. He is sweet, kind, popular and absolutely brilliant. We keep meeting that dreaded word, enrichment, at every turn with him academically and we’ve started to see a pattern, people are throwing around the word enrichment when it doesn’t really mean much. Be there for your kids. It sounds like that is what you are good at. Laugh, and enjoy this precious time together, and that should be enrichment enough for everyone. We’re in a situation where my son has just finished grade 5 math at home this summer but will be doing grade 2 math at school (his age-grade level) because they don’t skip kids here anymore. So, he will be doing “enriched” grade two math. What does that mean? Simply more work, but at the same level. Your kiddos will find their passions, but I do believe it is something you can’t really find for them.

  14. Find a gentle, grass hill.
    Take the kids and the bikes to the top of it.
    Get them on the bikes and push them down the hill.
    You can hold on a little a first but the momentum will keep them up and going
    Without you, learning to balance and steer. No need to remove pedals.
    Then get them pedaling down the hill.
    In one night – they will master riding.
    My hubby wouldn’t take on the teaching either.
    I put my kid in bike camp and hubby was angry I would spend the money doing that.
    This was the method they used all week at camp. The kid loves to ride now.
    Best money spent on camp this summer. Hubby can eat his words. ;)

    1. Author

      I am in love with you. Now, after this weekend camping, I am off to buy some bikes and scout this land for some gentle hills. You are my hero.

  15. Unrelated, but made me think of the time my husband had to take a business trip out to California and stayed at a hotel right next to Legoland. There were kids all around him, including one in the room next to his where his mother made him practice the violin during the day.

    So, here is my husband trying to write and edit complex government documents in his room when the 8 year old in the next room is butchering “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the violin. My husband heard the kid’s mother say, “You need to practice for 30 more minutes,” and my husband responded out loud, “No he doesn’t!”

    Makes me chuckle every time.

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