Keeping Up With the Joneses...and Their Kids

I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert right now (I know, it's about time). Page 61, in conjunction with the events of last Saturday, inspired me to write this post today.

Page 61: "Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one."

The events of last Saturday: Some other moms I know were recently talking about "Lil' Kickers" - a soccer program for kids ages 18 months to nine years. Yeah, you read that right: 18-month-old kids playing soccer. I had my reservations from the very beginning, but these other moms were talking about how great it was, and how much their kids just loved it, and blah, blah, blah... So, of course, I had to check it out. I mean, if all of these other kids are playing soccer at 18 months, we better get Henry going because he's already two-and-a-half, and we can't have him falling behind in athletics, can we? Certainly not.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. It's 9 a.m. and our one-day free trial of Lil' Kickers has begun. The first 10 minutes of the 50-minute class is "free time" - the kids are able to run around the field and play with the balls. Warm up, if you will. It is so cute: a bunch of two-year-old kids in their soccer uniforms listening intently as their parents instruct them on how to kick the ball into the goal. Henry has no interest in kicking the ball into the goal. He wants to throw the ball, with both hands, as far as he can, and then chase it as fast as he can. Before we know it, he's three fields away, watching the trucks go by on a nearby street, having completely lost interest in this whole "soccer" thing.

Coach Brittany, who looks to be about 18 years old, blows the whistle and tells the kids to come sit in a circle. We're finally able to roundup our son and convince him to stop focusing on the cars and trucks. The kids then spend almost 40 minutes playing games that help with things like introducing the soccer ball, working with their feet instead of their hands, and taking direction from a coach. They blow big bubbles and stomp on them when they land on the ground, they play "Red Light, Green Light" and run down the field when Coach Brittany flashes her green light. They build towers of orange cones and kick them down. Henry loved it.

In the car on the way home, my husband and I discuss Henry's future with Lil' Kickers:

Him: "I don't know. He seemed to like it, but I think at this age swim lessons are probably more important."

Me: "Yeah, but we can do both. Soccer would be from 9 - 9:50 a.m. and swimming is from 10:45 - 11:15 a.m."

Him: "Do you think that's too much for him on Saturday mornings this summer?"

Me: "I don't know, he's so full of energy, I think he'd be fine."

Him: "Yeah, but $150 for 9 more weeks of this stuff? I could do the same stuff with him in the backyard for free."

Me: "Yeah, but would you do it consistently, every Saturday morning? I don't want him to fall behind athletically."

......and on, and on......

I was watching "The Wonder Years" the other day. You remember: That 20-year-old sitcom with Fred Savage looking cuter than ever, growing up during the late 60's. Besides Fred Savage's obvious pre-teen, cute-kid looks, I noticed that after school, the kids were always riding their bikes, or playing football together in a nearby field. Is that stuff even possible anymore? My kid isn't even three yet, and we've got his weekends booked with soccer, swimming, and...when does T-ball begin?

I know it's good to provide activities for our kids to partake in, but I can honestly say that if "everyone else" wasn't doing this stuff with their toddlers, I'd probably just let him enjoy a few years of leisure time - before school begins and he really has no spare time. It seems that Americans are trying to keep their kids busy and entertained through organized play and sports, rather than allowing them to simply enjoy the pleasures of childhood. Are we enlisting our kids in all of these activities because it is what's best for them? Or are we trying to give them some sort of early leg up on the competition?

As my husband said that day in the car: "I was an awesome soccer player, and I didn't begin playing until I was six."

Maybe two-and-a-half is the new six.


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