Active children run parents ragged--and out of gas

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Last Tuesday, Patti Grieb spent enough time in her car to drive almost to Ocean City. But she barely left Pasadena.

She took her daughter, Lindsey, 6, to play at a friend's house, a five-minute drive from their home off Mountain Road in Anne Arundel County, then took her oldest son, Brian, 14, to Chesapeake Bay Middle School to meet his baseball team bus for an away game, about a half-hour's round trip on a good day.

The rest of the evening went something like this:

Take Andy, 12, to a Little League game at George Fox Middle School, about five minutes away on the other side of Mountain Road, pick up Lindsey, and go to a nearby store for hot dogs for the three youngsters at home.

Go back for Andy, feed the children, then -- off to pick out family portraits at a volunteer fire hall about three miles away. Put the younger two in bed and leave Andy in charge. Return to Chesapeake to meet Brian's bus, bring him home, then run out for pizza.

Her husband, Tony, a scoutmaster who normally helps with some of this, was at a class in Washington and didn't get home until 10:30 p.m.

"Sometimes I think I haven't been anywhere all week, but I have to get gas in my car," Mrs. Grieb says.

Throughout the metropolitan area, families are juggling schedules and jobs, seemingly living in their cars to get their children from dance class to ballgames to music lessons, often in the same evening.

And often, they communicate with each other through notes left on the refrigerator.

"God forbid anything should happen to our refrigerator," said Eileen Barber, whose daughter, Sherri, 9, plays on a girls' softball team coached by her husband, Steve. "We'd have to peel the doors off and keep them."

Softball schedules dangle from magnets on their refrigerator, along with recreation council and library volunteer rosters. Notes are scrawled on the schedules, on old envelopes and on pieces of paper with sticky backs.

"Ha, Ha. No game today. We get a decent dinner," is penciled across an open date in Sherri's schedule. "Are they really going to play today?" Mr. Barber asked the day after a thunderstorm. "Yes, games are on. Call Chris, it's important," was the reply.

Two evenings a week, Mrs. Barber spends much of her time behind the wheel of her car even though she never leaves Randallstown.

She takes Sherri from classes at Summit Park Elementary School off Greenspring Avenue to their home on Leafydale Terrace, where she picks up other children for a ride to Hebrew school at Beth Israel Synagogue off Liberty Road. Then it's home for Sherri to change and back to Summit Park for a game.

Sometimes she'll find a note from her husband on the fridge. He's tied up with a client, meet him at the field. Mr. Barber keeps the team's equipment and a spare T-shirt in the trunk of his car, just in case.

Even though it sounds hectic, most of those wrapped in this whirl say they wouldn't have it any other way.

"There are some nights when we sit at home and don't have anything to do; I'll take my wife and the younger one, and we'll go out and watch a game somewhere," said Mike Coleman, who works full time at Westinghouse and part time as a sports coordinator at the William J. Myers pavilion in Brooklyn. His three boys, ages 12, 9 and 5, play soccer and basketball on school and recreation league teams.

On a typical Tuesday night, Mr. Coleman and his wife, Kathleen, a Baltimore County teacher, combine enough time in their cars to take in a good movie, what with trips between their home in Linthicum and soccer practice in Severna Park and the Myers pavilion.

"It's not really as hard as it seems," said Mr. Coleman, who also coaches a traveling soccer team and runs the Linthicum Soccer League. "We've been doing this since our oldest was 8, and as another gets old enough and gets in a league, we just add that to the list."

The need for parental pickup and delivery service is a result of the "way we've been designing suburbs," explained Gordon Bonham, director of suburban studies at Towson State University.

The cul-de-sacs and curved roads limit access and reduce traffic, but they also isolate residents. All the streets lead to major arteries and the schools are on major intersections. The only way to get anywhere, even short distances, is to drive, he said.

Nancy Brockmeyer recalled walking to recreation league softball games in Parkville 20-some years ago, but says it's impossible for her children to walk from their home on a cul-de-sac south of Mountain Road to games on the other side of the busy thoroughfare.

"The traffic is so bad, they drive like maniacs and there are no sidewalks," she complained. "And you don't know who, or what, is in those woods."

That results in what Dr. Bonham called a "fragmentation of efforts."

Parents must split themselves among their children to get one to softball, one to soccer and another to dance class. Those demands, he said, can strain families because they take time and energy away from developing emotional relationships.

"A family has to make conscious adjustments to maintain itself," he warned. "You have to turn the time you're driving to the soccer game into quality time with your children."

Yet Dr. Frances Rothstein, an anthropologist at Towson State, says the strains may be no worse than they were 30 years ago.

"My mother wasn't stress-free," she recalled. "We lived in the suburbs, she went to PTA and Girl Scouts and did all those things."

She and Dr. Bonham agree that families may be no busier now than they were 100 years ago, just moving faster.

"My guess is that if you go back to the 18th [or] 19th century and look at the amount of time they spent doing farm tasks and cooking and washing without labor-saving devices, it may not be much different," Dr. Bonham said. "But the pace has changed."

Often, the load falls on one parent -- the one without a 9-to-5 job.

Denise Hendrix, whose husband works long days as a manager for a car dealership, does it all, spending as much time in her car as it would take to drive from her home near Laurel to a good restaurant in Baltimore.

She runs back and forth twice a day from her 5-year-old's nursery school and takes care of two other kindergarten-age youngsters until their parents pick them up about 5 p.m.

Then she hauls her oldest, Brian Bendin, 14, to one of his practices -- he plays three sports -- or his sister, Michele, 10, to cheerleader practice in Savage, about 15 minutes each way. Jimmie has a karate lesson once a week and 2-year-old Dustin has a weekly gymnastics class.

Surprisingly, she says she doesn't use a calendar or a schedule to keep track of all this.

"If Brian tells me he has a game Thursday, I just work it out," she explained. "You can't really do a schedule. With four kids, you never know who's going to need you."

Others, however, say they can't live without their schedules.

"We work ourselves around our kids' schedules," explained Janice Pogach, whose daughters, Jamie, 17, and Lisa, 13, play softball for Randallstown High School and a Pikesville girls' league. "We've got our schedule for ball, we know which nights are which, we know what's going to happen every night."

Her husband, Allen, commissioner of Lisa's softball league, says he and Mrs. Pogach are "very organized."

When they come home at night, they make sure everything is ready for the next day, he explained. "It becomes such a part of you that when you stop, you say, 'My God, did I do all this?' "

And, yes, their refrigerator door is full of schedules and notes.

That kind of organization is helpful to a point, says Ray Kinzer, who runs a consulting firm that develops effectiveness training programs for private companies. But it can result in missed communications.

One note on the refrigerator can get lost under the avalanche of new notes, he said, recommending that people abandon the two calendars and three legal pads approach for one well-organized 8 1/2 -by-11 loose-leaf notebook where they store everything.

"If you put it all in one place, it gives you a tremendous feeling of control over the details," he explained.

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