31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Don't Forget To Schedule Time On The Calendar To Catch Your Breath

Single With Children: Make some time to take life slower

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/25/04

Goodbye summer, hello paperwork.

You know what I'm talking about if you have a child in school between kindergarten and high school.

Here it is the first week of school, and I have lost count of how many times I have signed my name. Of course, there are the expected emergency-contact forms, health information and medical attention releases. Is my son allergic to anything?

I toyed with filling in homework and waking up before 10 a.m., but I'm fairly certain the school wouldn't appreciate my attempt at humor, given that it has to collect, sort and file all of this paperwork.

Then there are the extracurricular activities. So many options, so little time. Band, soccer, tennis, basketball, softball, baseball, track, swimming, French club, Spanish club, drama. The list goes on.

At the beginning of the school year, the calendar just begs to be filled with an assortment of options that will offer a change of pace from math, science, history and English that are not options.

There's no question that children involved in after-school activities have a better chance at staying out of trouble.

After-school classes can be beneficial for the single parent who doesn't have the luxury of being home when the school day ends. It provides peace of mind and the comfort of knowing that their children aren't walking into an empty house with too much time, energy and imagination that may not be positively directed.

As I looked over the array of choices with my son, taking into consideration that his last year in high school would probably require more homework demands and less free time in terms of complex school projects and term papers, I glanced back over the blank, waiting-to-be-filled in calendar with a sudden hesitation.

I wondered, between the daily grind of classes, the homework, the chores, and maybe an extra activity or two, where he might find the time just to be a kid? Was I on the brink of overbooking him out of the free time that all of us require to recharge?

If I suddenly got the bright idea to invite my son to go hiking or take off for a long weekend, would I need to give him three months advance notice so he could accommodate our change in plans and pencil me in? Would he have to tell me to "take a hike" if I suggested that we, actually, take a hike?

There's something about scheduling spontaneity that just takes the spontaneity out of it. Sometimes I wonder if the time to just be a kid requires an appointment and, if it does, is some of the magic of being a child lost?

We tell our kids "these are the best years of your life," but there are times when it feels as if we are merely introducing them to a miniature version of the maze that is the rat race they will have to contend with the day after they are handed a diploma.

Through some negotiation and compromise, my son and I finally agreed on a balance that I believe we can both manage. Between the inevitable homework, after-school interests and possible part-time work, we're leaving a little extra space on our calendar for a precious, unscheduled and unpredictable day when we just might practice our option of literally taking a hike or maybe just opt for dinner and a movie.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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