1/14/2008

When I am King: Hyper Activity

When I am King...

Our children will do more and play less.

A great debate rages in parenting circles about how much time our kids should be spending in extracurricular activities. Soccer, piano, baseball, art, swimming, martial arts, chess, parole hearings: there's clearly a lot to choose from, and more than enough to soak up a youngster's every waking moment.

On the pro side is the experience gained by the kids: teamwork, community, competitive skills, athletic prowess, mental agility, and stress management.

The detractors argue that we're not allowing enough time for the kids to just be kids. There are also things to be gained from simply having play time at home, such as: imagination, creativity, appreciation of family, and advanced capabilities with the latest game consoles.

I tend to favor the latter approach. Not only do I appreciate the positive things that it does for the kids, it allows me the petty rationalization of not having to cart the kids around in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, and all weekend to the various practices, meetings, meets, tournaments, and court appointments that a full activity schedule would require.

But I realized recently that I'm ignoring an important part of the equation. There's one other critical skill that all of this activity activity is teaching our kids: commuting.

When I was a kid and there were no activities available outside of my favorite “Let Chet out of the closet for 5 minutes” game that my parents used to play with me on some afternoons, I wasn't driven anywhere. Childhood transportation consisted of going to a nearby school and back, plus the occasional fleeing of Interpol until all charges were finally dropped after undisclosed sums exchanged hands.

So when I grew up and got a job, it was a nasty shock to have to actually commute to work. For weeks, I waited in vain outside my home for the yellow school bus to take me to work. I also attempted to walk to work, typically reaching the office sometime the following day. It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I had to spend a long time in the car driving to work. Every day. Wouldn't my professional life have been easier if I could have learned this earlier?

This, I would argue, is the true reason that we should all push our kids into over-achieving in all activities; because in so doing, they'll learn what it's really like to become a contributing member of society. As they sit in the car being driven a half hour to a practice, 45 minutes to a match, or for several hours to weekend meets, they'll start to appreciate their time in the car and learn to live with the close-knit community of traffic that surrounds them like a glass and steel mitten. Then, when they grow up, they'll aim for a house in the distant suburbs so that they can get back to the wonderful world of driving that they grew up with.

When I am King, I'll require that all kids are enrolled in every activity available, especially those which require long and tedious drives away from home. Let them experience the joys of driving now, while they're still young and can learn from it and appreciate how full and rich their lives are because of it.

I'll work more on this, just as soon as I get home later tonight. After my commute.
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