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MAY MADNESS; Family: as school ends and outdoor activities pick up, it's time to shift into high gear


Ever wonder why "Mayday" is a call of distress?

Not if you have children with busy schedules. May might be all flowers and songbirds for the poets, but it requires something else of families with children:

Perpetual motion.

May empties the ink from the magic marker on the family calendar. It robs parents of free time. It puts miles on the family car, extra wear on your bleacher seats, and turns dinner into a fast-food drive-through affair.

Here is a list of May's demands: baseball, softball, lacrosse, end-of-school-year activities, graduations, awards banquets, final exams, spring musicals, prom parties, and it doesn't stop there.

Families with year-round busy schedules are thrust into hyperdrive in May. Did T.S. Eliot say April was the cruelest month? April is Pollyanna compared with her demanding younger sister. "It takes incredible planning to get through the month," says Caryn Lasser, a mother of three from Clarksville. "In June, you collapse."

Warren and Dolores Hall of Lansdowne know something about May Madness. Dolores handles risk management for a construction company. Her husband is a machinist. They are a pleasant, friendly, even low-key sort of couple.

But their schedule for May gives them little time for such niceties as meals or the evening news. Their daughters -- 15-year-old Casie, a high school freshman, and 11-year-old Kylie, a sixth grader -- are athletes and high-achieving students. Between them, they must be shuttled to a game or practice every night of the week.

But that's just the beginning. Dolores is also active in Lansdowne High School's booster club, running concessions -- not just for her daughter's games, but the boy's games, too. Kylie's in the school band so the family's been helping raise money for a competition at Kings Dominion this weekend.

And then keep in mind that these are students with straight-A grades. So if they need supplies for end-of-school projects, they know they'll have to call their parents at work -- there's little free time for evening shopping trips. "If it's a weekday night and you don't find me at one of their schools, something's wrong," says Dolores. "It gets tough."

The girls do their share, too, particularly this month when their parents are so rushed. To keep the household working, Casie and Kylie are expected to vacuum, keep their rooms cleaned, their beds made, and clothing put away. "My husband and I get to meet up when one is finished with one activity and can show up at the evening's other event to support the other [daughter]," Dolores says.

One day of rest

Caryn Lasser and her husband, Dr. Michael Lasser, a Clarksville pediatrician, have grown accustomed to shuttling their three sons in opposite directions on any given weeknight or Saturday. If they had one more child -- or one less car -- they wonder if they could maintain such a pace.

Their 9-year-old son Phillip has baseball games two nights a week -- the same nights the Lassers' eldest son, Jeff, 12, is playing soccer. Their youngest, Ricky, 6, plays T-ball and Michael coaches the team.

Add to that their end-of-school activities, such as sports parties, enrichment fairs and Cub Scouts (Phil is a member). Then stir in PTA (Caryn is her elementary school treasurer, a member of the middle school executive board), and their own athletic pursuits -- volleyball for Caryn, racquetball for Michael.

The result: Sundays are about the only days in May when the family is together -- and still awake, that is. "Keep in mind their baseball games may last three hours. Baseball isn't a sport, it's a lifestyle," says Caryn.

To make it work, the Lassers have also set ground rules for their children. Only one sport per child in the spring, for instance. More than once, they've had have to hire a baby sitter simply to drive one or more of the boys to a game.

On one recent weekend, Ricky came down with strep throat. But it actually worked to the schedule's advantage -- they didn't have to drive him to two birthday parties he was supposed to attend that Saturday. "We keep talking to the kids about whether it's too much, but they want to do it," says Caryn. "We try to let it be their decision. But once they make a commitment to a team, we encourage them to follow through."

Linda Olszewski, president of Baltimore County's PTA council, says she hears about it from fellow parents this time each year. Between formal dances and spring fairs, teacher appreciation days and athletic tournaments, most families run out of whatever little free time they usually have. "Everyone is stretched to the limit and it doesn't get any better when the children get older," she says.

Olszewski's daughter Lauren is returning from her freshmen year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, this month. It means the 19-year-old will be taking home a room full of possessions.

Meanwhile, her 17-year-old son Todd has just informed her he'd like to have a spaghetti dinner for his lacrosse team at their home in Middle River. (She hopes to squeeze it in sometime between Mother's Day and her sister's birthday). "This is a time of year when we know we have three things one night and have to decide which one to go to," says Olszewski. "But I tell myself it's worse for families with three children."

Some parents privately admit they long for the days when families could leave children to their own devices in the spring -- to run to the playground, play ball in the streets, or walk to the corner store. "It's a never-ending job," admits Cheryl Snyder Taragin, a mother of three from Pikesville. "It feels like there's never any vacation time."

Taragin says being a stay-at-home mother has made her no less pressed for time. Even in summer, when schedules tend to relax, there are play dates to be arranged and camp schedules to work out. "Somewhere along the line, parents became afraid to let kids have unstructured time and this is the price we pay for that sense of security," she says. "Maybe they rely too much on us to plan their days. Does it affect them? I don't know. I don't know what the fall-out is going to be."

Advice for parents

Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist and co-author of "Hyper-Parenting" (St. Martin's Press 2000), says stressful May schedules can sometimes put too much pressure on children. But he admits it can be a hard habit for parents to break. "The whole culture tells you to overbook your child," says Rosenfeld, who practices in Greenwich, Conn., and New York City.

The solution? Leave time in your plans for spontaneous fun with your child -- such as shooting baskets or playing monopoly. And, just as importantly, parents need to make time for themselves, too.

Still, even parents who complain about their hectic calendars often do so with a smile. They enjoy going to the baseball games and volunteering to chaperon the field trips, and even selling candy bars for spring fund-raisers.

They'd just like to spread the responsibilities out a bit. Maybe plan a few more in April or June.

Les Schott signed up this spring to coach his 13-year-old daughter's softball team and serve as assistant coach for his 5-year-old son's baseball team. The Kingsville resident knew he'd probably have to slip out of the office early some days in May, but he also knew it would make his children happy to have him there. "Even if I weren't coach, I knew no matter what, I'd want to be there every day," says Schott, who is an associate insurance commissioner for the state of Maryland. "At times, I feel like it hits overload, but I enjoy it. I really do."

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