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The Motherlode: Let the games begin

September 19, 2018

Let us now address the terrors of the after-school and weekend lineup.

“I have not seen you all weekend,” my husband Ian said to me last Sunday.

“I know — wait, what time are you leaving for soccer?” I shouted as I dashed past him to find the $70 cleats that our son George complains are “uglier than the ones everyone else is wearing, Mom.”

Weekdays are no better. The big difference is I do all the driving solo while Ian has nice long lunches with rich people.

“I want them on a team sport, any team sport,” Ian had told me. “They need to know what it’s like to be on a team.”

Yes, I thought, well how about Team Haft, pal? I can get a little harsh.

Our approach to extracurricular activities could be better organized, I admit.

I start from scratch every September because none of my three energy-packed children can decide what sport they actually like. They literally trial-and-error nearly every sport under the sun every autumn until they eventually land on one they enjoy.

So far this autumn we have tried (in no particular order): soccer, flag football (whatever that is), lacrosse, fencing, jiujitsu, soccer again, swimming, acting and (of course) Russian School of Mathematics — where, no joke, I ran into three families “trying it out” after reading my summer column about how much my kids hated it. Go figure.

Problem is, all the other kids have been doing most of this stuff since they were in the womb — so my kids are light years behind those Olympics-bound soccer players who all happen to be four.

“Well, what do you and Ian like to do?,” my friend asked me, trying to be helpful. “Kids tend to like to do what their parents do.”

Um, binge watch Netflix?

And then two weeks ago I got an email from the Greenwich Soccer Association announcing that my 9-year-old Selma made it off the waitlist onto a “travel team.”

“Travel where?” was Ian’s response, with a notable lack of team spirit.

Ian and I did not grow up this way. He spent his Saturdays in an orthodox Jewish synagogue in New Jersey, while I was singing “Free to Be You and Me” on my parents’ stoop in Brooklyn.

No one did all this stuff back in the dark ages, at least not where we lived. No one we knew played more than one sport, or at least not more than one per season. Now some kids play five. When do they sleep?

My mother, of course, offered sage advice. “Just don’t do it,” she said.

“Yes, but everyone does it,” I explained wearily.

“Claire, if everyone were to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?,” she said, pulling that tried-and-true mom trick out of her bag.

“Honestly mom, I’m so tired I wouldn’t even notice the ledge,” I pointed out.

Nevertheless, off I sailed to Parkway pickup, girding myself to tell Selma the good news that she had made it onto the travel soccer team.

“I hate soccer,” Selma responded.

Turns out the Greenwich Soccer Association sent an email of acceptance to its entire membership by accident due to a computer glitch. Kids all over Greenwich were crestfallen.

Selma was delighted.

Unlike other families, we don’t easily slide into the over-structured, over-organized after-school and weekend schedules of, say, hockey moms.

Color-coded online calendars and spreadsheets? Are you kidding me? I can’t even find color-coded sheets for our beds.

“Here’s a secret,” my friend confided. “The only reason our calendar is color coded is that iCal does it for you when you designate different people for various activities. Stella is always green, Charlie is red, etc.”

Suddenly it didn’t seem so absurd. So without missing a beat, I stopped teasing her about her color-coordinated calendars and begged her to show me how to do it.

One more problem — those “trial classes” for after-school activities are only valid for one class. Here at the indecisive Haft household, we require at least a month of tryouts because as soon as we pay for both the activity and the endless gear required, our children finally announce their long-delayed decision. “I hate it.”

I weep when I look at George’s lacrosse shield of armor thing with the little shoulder pads, elbow pads and protective gloves. They just sit in our garage, mocking me. As do the endless emails I get from someplace called “Lacrosse Unlimited.”

“It is because you put them in those intensive summer camp programs,” my husband chimes in, helpfully.

Note to self (and anyone with kids like mine): When your child is just starting a sport, do not enroll him/her in those weeklong summer sports camps. Don’t do it. They play one sport all day for five consecutive days in horrific heat until the kids are sick and tired of it. And you have now blown soccer. And lacrosse.

Remember, we are only on Week Two here. Have we learned anything?

Oh yes. It is the lesson I learn every autumn: overscheduling your children is bad news.

And how about letting your child gravitate to interests on their own? Remember that one?

Do I listen?

Nope. But that’s a whole different article …

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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