Slow down, you move too fast

Have your kids’ activities taken on a life of their own? Has your schedule started to plan things without you? Ours, too. For us it all started with one little word: “Yes.”

My partner Edna fell into the trap of saying “yes” to just about every activity having to do with our kid. I became a de facto Yes-Man since I rarely say “no,” or even “maybe.” But between Ed, Jr.’s busy-ness, Edna’s two jobs, and my job and side projects, our schedule had run amok.

We didn’t say, “yes” to everything because Edna was some controlling Tiger mother, or because I believed it’s so dog-eat-dog out there that our son had to keep up with his peers. It’s because we wanted the very best of this big, bold, beautiful world for him—and that he get enough exposure to be big, bold, and beautiful in it. For us, all the activities were about enrichment.

But enrichment can be complicated. Take last fall, for example. After daily carpooling to Ed, Jr.’s German immersion school (Ja, you read that right), we had Monday evening soccer, Tuesday afternoon with my mother, Thursday afternoon with Edna’s father, and on Saturday, YMCA swim class followed immediately by MacPhail ‘Music around the world’ class.

Of course, it’s swell that he gets to dig into all this great stuff, but it was becoming clear that we needed less around-the-world and more stay-at-home so that we could catch up on mundane tasks—and Ed, Jr. could recover from his seriously intense week.

I mean, when I was a kid, after I got home from kindergarten, my then stay-at-home mom let me do whatever I wanted. Watch TV, hunt garter snakes in the woods, build “boy’s only” forts…or simply be bored. And I had the summer O…F…F…OFF, baby! Ditto for my wife’s childhood.

But since Edna and I both work, our son has to stay in aftercare (and sometimes pre-care), which can make for 10-hour days. Compared to his kindergarten schedule, mine was a walk in the park—or at least in those woods.

Striking out

The schedule for all this enrichment came to a head recently with a series of knuckleball pitches that stressed out the boy, as well as my relationship with my wife.

Strike One was the above-mentioned Saturday morning madness: a timed triathlon consisting of swimming, music, and a mad dash between them. My constant nagging for Ed, Jr. to make faster transitions was frustrating for him and for me. It was also teaching him that being hectic was normal—and that being late was OK.

Then came, Strike Two, a particularly frenetic weekend where we had lots to do at home but instead went to Edna’s third cousin’s birthday party (“It only happens once a year!”), staying out way past Ed, Jr.’s bedtime only to haul over to the May Day parade the very next day (“It only happens once a year!”). The result was that we didn’t get our tasks done—especially one that really mattered: planning daycare for the summer.

Strike Two led to Strike Three, because by the time we finally got online to book camps, we’d missed out on both a Children’s Theatre week we wanted as well as the entire Minneapolis Kids summer program. In the end we had to cobble together a greater number of smaller camps and daycare options, which took even more time—and caused even more complicated scheduling. It was enough to make a Yes-Man finally put his foot down.

Saying “yes” to our family—by saying “no” 

These events slowly strengthened our resolve to say, “No.” Because of the lesson learned over the winter, for example, I refused to have more than one thing scheduled for our son on the weekend.

That’s all it took for Saturdays to start feeling groovy again. After an easy breakfast, he and I would amble three blocks over to the YMCA for swim class, let him dork around in the shower afterward as long as he wanted, and then make the morning last as we wandered home while playing various, six-year-old-friendly games (avoid stepping on cracks, say hello to lamp-posts, count farts, etc.).

We made a similar call for Mother’s Day (did nothing) and Father’s Day (even less), and we were getting so cocky in our ability to say “No” that we decided to tweak Ed, Jr.’s summer schedule even further.

We cancelled a swim class and then, just to show off, decided on “absolutely nothing” for all of August, pledging to get out to the family cabin as much as possible. You know, to catch Garter snakes, build forts, and let Ed get hideously, impossibly, recharge-your-batteries…bored.

The game hasn’t been won yet; there’s still too much adult stuff going on—but we’re working on it. And I have a new goal: to get bored, too. Stinking bored. Bored to death. And if I can’t get bored to death, then at least so bored that I’ll feel like saying “Yes” again. Or even “Maybe.” Maybe would be nice.

Sean Toren loves living the full catastrophe in Minneapolis with his wife and son. He can be contacted at with thoughts or suggestions.