Last September, when my five-year-old started kindergarten, she also went to swimming lessons twice a week, gymnastics class once a week, music class on Saturday mornings, and a weekly play group at the community growing center.
My toddler had a lighter schedule, comprised of only swim lessons and a weekly playdate at the library. I had my own array of classes, workshops and meetings I was committed to. Oh, and then there was church.
In the past few months, we’ve quit everything.
Inspired by the wise women over at Slow Family Living, we gave up almost everything on our schedule.
The kids loved their activities, and so did I. It turns out that I love our free time even more, though. The seed of this was planted one afternoon last fall when I dragged Rio away from a friend’s house where she was having a great time jumping in piles of leaves so I could get her to her gymnastics class on time. What the hell am I doing? I thought.
Also, I really, really hate being out with the kids around dinnertime. They turn into little Gremlins, and I turn into one of those moms from an 80s movie who’s tearing her hair out in the background while the kids run amok and accidentally save the day in the midst of, say, building a tower out of expensive glassware in the middle of a store.
Speaking of expensive, all these extra-curricular activities were not cheap. Each one seemed reasonable, but put together we were paying almost $200 a month for classes and activities and memberships. That’s money that can go toward getting us out of debt faster, not to mention paying for things we really care about like travel.
So. We quit.
I talked the quitting scheme over with the kids in small doses. How did they feel about going to swimming? What did they like about gymnastics?
The two-year-old of course didn’t care at all. Her big sister had some opinions, and I was careful to listen to them. She likes swimming, for example, but doesn’t like to do it in the winter when her hair gets very cold after leaving the pool.
Sounds like a silly complaint, but her swimming class was timed exactly at our dinner hour, so two days a week she was cold and hungry while packing up her stuff to leave a busy social space. It was tantrum city, every Monday and Wednesday. Similarly, gymnastics classes are great fun, but the only one we could get her to had us driving home at rush hour, always running late to pick her sister up. The stress of that transition was no fun for anyone.
We didn’t quit absolutely everything: Rio got to pick one activity she wanted to continue, and she chose her Saturday morning music classes. They’re great: conveniently timed, close to home, and the only thing we have scheduled on Saturdays. Not at all stressful for anyone.
What we do now: Not much
Suddenly we have all these free afternoons. Rio goes to play at a neighbor’s house about half the time. Serena and I take long snuggly naps. We watch cartoons together, and bake cookies.
Along with quitting all the external stuff, I’ve put down my agenda about educating and enlightening our family. We spend more hours relaxing and playing together, and fewer hours Being Productive. That’s just fine with me.
The best part is being able to do pretty much the same thing every evening. Their dad comes home, we’re all hanging out there reading or watching a movie. We throw dinner together, eat, and then he takes the kids upstairs for a bath and bedtime. Every day. So smooth.
The other best part is being able to do whatever we feel like with our afternoons. Library? Sure. Science Museum? Fine. Playdate? Great. Suddenly cancel all existing plans in favor of getting naked and eating popcorn on the kitchen floor? Sure, kids.
This is really hard, but really good.
I have a lifetime habit of overscheduling myself. Its hard to hold empty space in my days for play. I keep noticing with surprise that all my days are booked from morning to night with new activities or playdates or commitments. All that free time is gobbled up before I have a chance to spend it.
Except it’s not really free time. There’s a cost to giving it away. It costs me the ease and simplicty the kids and I enjoy when we come across a day with nothing on the calendar. That’s a pretty high price to pay for a swimming lesson.
When I can hold the space, it’s good. It’s so good I’m still looking for more things I can throw off the boat to lighten our load. More ways I can relax into just being with these little girls, for the remaining moments they’ll be little girls content to swim in an ocean of “free” time.