Perspectives in Parenting: Slowing Down and Saying No


BESTTwenty years and many pounds ago, I was a fairly successful competitive swimmer; from age nine to eighteen, my life revolved around a pool. And if I wasn’t in the pool, I was in the weight room, on the pool deck doing a dry land workout, or camped out somewhere in a YMCA trying to do my homework before my next event. I loved it. My hair never fully dried out and turned a sort of glossy yellow color, my skin turned to leather in the winter, and I won’t even talk about the shaving situation. I thrived as part of a team, as a competitor…I began to form my identity and my strength between those lane lines. I hope someday my own kids will find a sport, or a hobby, or a niche that holds their hands well as they transition to adulthood.


My oldest is starting kindergarten this year, and with that milestone comes the opportunity to join the cross-country program in our school district. My sweet E is a prime candidate for cross-country: he runs circles around me at the track…and he can’t play soccer to save his life. (He comes by that honestly…I simply don’t understand why anyone would run toward a person kicking a ball. Duh.) I was psyched for cross-country season, and so was he, until I got an email from the coach with the schedule. Practice for over an hour, three times a week.

That probably doesn’t sound like much, especially if you’re into the big kid stage where you balance three different practices a night. But here’s the thing: I don’t want that for our family, and I certainly don’t want it this soon. The longer I’m a mom, the more I want us to take a step back from the rat race of the world. I don’t want our lives to be ruled by a calendar so jam-packed that there’s no room to breathe. I don’t want to toss I love you’s in passing on the way out the door in the morning and on the way back in at night. I don’t want takeout for dinner while we hurtle down the highway to our next event. I don’t want kids who can run four-minute miles but have no idea who their siblings’ favorite teachers are.

I do want big open spaces of time to be filled by creativity. I want unstructured play. I want to hear my boys creating their own story lines where Batman and Thomas the Train work together to save the day, as told in a series of original and off-key songs. I want blank pieces of paper and crayons, so they can imagine their own pictures. I want couch time with books, and leisurely swings in the backyard. I want hours on the trampoline, jumping and staring at the sky. I want walks around the neighborhood, family game nights, dinners at the table, and time to say a blessing over their heads before they drift to sleep.

Downtime is when our brains get to grow; it lets us take a deep breath and just be. It lets siblings really understand each other, and parents really learn their kids. It sometimes masquerades as boredom, but boredom births new adventure. If we let it, the real world will suck all our downtime away and leave us with empty shells. We have to fight for our right to be still.

I’m no fool. Real life carries timetables, agendas, and assignments. I can’t yet afford to stay home with my kids, so time in daycare is a necessary evil. I know there are learning goals to be met, and I know there will be homework…even for my kindergartner. I value physical fitness and I love team sports; I want my kids to experience that. I just don’t think they need a sport for every season of the year. They don’t need to do everything, and I they don’t need to start in kindergarten.

I know how hard this goal of mine is. It means I say no to some things. It means my kids say no to some things. It means we carve out dinnertime and family night for as long as we reasonably can. In the end, I’m not gearing for an Olympic champion; I’m hoping for kids who love their family, serve their community, and step out each morning with the confidence that comes from having a firm foundation. Good foundations take time. And a firm “no” to kindergarten cross-country.


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