Busily loading up after-school hours with more classes


Are you all signed up?

School has just begun, but if you are not signed up, you are behind and you are getting behinder every day.

Soccer teams were already practicing in August. But there is still time for gymnastics, ballet and Sunday school. Or fall lacrosse, or a kids' computer class.

All these activities seemed like such a good idea when the catalogs arrived fresh in the mail. But already I am overwhelmed by a calendar that is dense with color-coded practice schedules.

It began this summer when their coach said my kids should swim during the winter -- the better to get a jump on a season that is still nine months away.

The swim clinic runs four times a week. Sorry, but we can only make it twice a week until soccer is over.

And if my daughter is serious about her career in musical theater, she should be taking jazz along with tap, and maybe some ballet. But voice lessons are really what she needs. (Tap class may interfere with her soccer practice. I am in real trouble; ,, her father is the coach.)

I'll have to get to the music store this week to rent Joe's viola for strings lessons in school. If I don't act quickly, they will be out of his size. He's already signed up for art classes on Friday afternoon. Thank goodness -- no conflict with his soccer practice.

The "Explore" catalog will be out soon, and I have to remember to ask the school to send one home right away. The kids' classes it offers at the community college are wonderful and fill up quickly.

With the gaps in public education these days, enrichment courses such as these are a must. Joe and his buddies took a class about the Chesapeake Bay last spring, and spent it tromping through wetlands and tidal pools in wading boots with a hip, young environmentalist. How can you pass that up?

Jessie passed on joining the St. Mary's Cherub Choir this year. Thank heaven.

Most days, my children will just get home from school in time to eat a hefty snack (it looks like another season without what is traditionally called dinner) and hop in the car.

Didn't I just do this? And didn't I just not like doing this? I remember one cold, rainy afternoon last spring thinking: "I wish we were home, in our own house, baking cookies." And I don't even bake.

I am not alone, you know. My network of mothers has been trading sign-up information, car-pooling plans and coaches' biographies for weeks now.

I stopped one of them long enough to ask why we do it.

"We are on a fast-spinning globe," she said. "Expectations are different. Our children have to know a lot more to manage in this world."

There was a pause, a sigh. And she said what she really thinks: "I am afraid of the real world. I feel like I have to protect them from being stupid."

I feel like I have to protect them. Period.

I don't want them to walk to the schoolyard to play, because not long ago, someone was cruising playgrounds in Anne Arundel County and trying to grab unattended little girls. I'm afraid to let them roam the neighborhood on their bikes, because three little boys in West Memphis, Ark., did that and they were found murdered in a ditch. And so my children's play is planned.

But I am protecting them from less immediate evils as well. Somewhere in this cluttered schedule of hyper-activity, I hope my children find something to which they can devote themselves.

I want them to have something to belong to when they don't feel like they belong anywhere else. Something they can do well or happily when some other failure threatens to derail them. Some place they can be -- a court, a field, pool, a rehearsal hall or a studio -- that isn't a mall, trafficked by aimless adolescents with too much time on their hands. I want them to be too busy, too tired for trouble.

"We have too tight a grasp," my friend admitted. "We have to remember these kids need can-kicking time."

My children's lives are not as hectic as I make it sound. But mine is, if only because I do everything each one does. And if I crowd their calendar, I have Joe to rein in my ambitions for them.

"You know, Mom," he said one lazy summer afternoon as we looked through yet another catalog of fall classes, "you just have to sign the papers and pay the money. Jessie and me have to do the stuff."

Susan Reimer's column will now appear Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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