As I spend my days driving my two children from Fayetteville-Manlius High School to the Montessori School of Syracuse, CNY Gym Centre to Sports Center 481, voice lessons to saxophone lessons—the same 20-odd miles of road over and over—I ask myself: “Is this our life?”
What will my kids remember of their childhood? Will it be the meaningful discussions we had while driving to and fro? Or will it be my constant refrain: “Will you get moving into the car or we are going to be late!”
I was sucked into the vortex of scheduled activities and competitive craziness when my first child, Amanda, was born with Down syndrome. Before long, we’d leaped into a pool of therapies, early intervention programs and support groups.
I joined play programs and Mommy and Me music classes—and I started comparing my child to others. Deficits were glaring. Is little Johnny actually shaking his rattle to the beat of the music while my child is still just banging on the drum willy-nilly? Did little Marshal actually use a proper pincer grasp on those Cheerios?
I started asking if I was helping my daughter reach her potential. I saw others looking for additional professional support and wondered if I should do the same.
It took me years to realize Amanda’s progress did not hinge on joining every possible program, that she reached her milestones when she was ready, and not because of one more class or therapy session. When we started eliminating unnecessary programs, the pressure slowly released.
Amanda now chooses her own activities. She is still learning new skills: doing the backstroke the length of the pool; walking independently across a balance beam; learning to sing. These are pursuits that make her happy.
When Amanda was 4 ½, her brother, Jason, was born. His early years were, dare I say, easy. I was amazed at how naturally he held a crayon with three fingers. He mastered the monkey bars by age 2. He spoke in complete sentences before he was 3. How astonishing was typical development!
And then the whirlwind began whispering my name. Before long there was Mommy and Me preschool, followed by recreational soccer and instrument lessons. All good, it seemed. All opportunities to observe other children.
I fell off the wagon.
Next thing I knew I was hearing about Henry, invited to the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Or I’d open Facebook and seemingly every parent was posting their child’s perfect instrument or voice score at the New York State School Music Association. At soccer, I’d overhear discussions of conditioning training and skill sleep-away camp.
I thought I could resist. I would not go nuts with private music lessons. You would not see cones for soccer drills in my basement.
I remind myself that I can say “no.” No, my son is not going to join the YMCA conditioning class. If he really wants to get in shape, he can run around the block. I must be realistic about my son’s abilities and needs, and I have to set limits.
I learned this lesson with Amanda, right? We, as a family, need to relax. Spend time together. Maybe we should take a yoga class to help us find harmony and inner peace. I could sign us all up! Wait, what am I saying?