You know how it is. You want to give your kids the best start in life, offer them all the opportunities that you didn’t, or in my case, did have. Try to help them turn out as an accomplished and rounded young person.
So it was in my house eleven years ago when my eldest took her first faltering steps into the pink world of ballet. She looked so small in her little pink leotard and her tiny satin shoes, too small yet for ribbon, were so appealing. Little did I know back then what a roller-coaster I was inadvertently stepping on to.
It started small. I don’t consider myself to be the kind of parent that needs to fill every moment with some kind of structured entertainment for my little charges. We skipped Russian lessons at 4, table tennis at 5 etc. But there are certain what I like to think of basic skills that are beneficial for a child to learn.
The first was clearly how to dance and let’s face it, which mother can resist the urge to dress her daughter in pink and skip them off to class. Swimming is an essential. The kids cross a river on the way to school each day and so need to be able to swim to the edge should they ever fall in. ( Unlikely on the way to school I admit but still important.) Then Rainbows. I loved Guides and attended some form of guiding from 7 until I went to university. Character building stuff, camping on the side of a mountain in the freezing cold with only old socks to eat. So that was next.
The last must have on my list was an ability to read music and play an instrument. Isn’t that one of the things that people always wish they could do so what kind of a parent would I be if my children didn’t have a go?
And that was it. Extra curricular sessions in essential life skills and things that are fun. Sorted.
However, there were three things that I failed to take into consideration. Firstly, I have four children. Whatever opportunities which were afforded to the first born have to pass down the line. Secondly, one teensy weensy class a week is soon not enough. To ballet was added modern and jazz and then tap. After learning to read music, singing in a choir could neatly segue in.
And finally, I forgot that the children might have their own ideas as to how they would like to spend their leisure time. So whilst I said no to horse riding, girls rugby, more instruments and swimming club, we also got drama, athletics, hockey, netball and gymnastics to add to the list. So keen are my children on trying things out that they keep volunteering for things. I wince, consult the diary and say yeah or nay depending on whether it is physically possible to attend.
Somehow the whole children’s activity thing has completely mushroomed out of control. My head spins with trying to remember who has to be where when and what I can possibly feed them in between. As I type, we are up to 27different things a week which doesn’t include rehearsals for the four shows that some or all of them have parts in.
I have accidentally become what I never saw myself as – a mother who pushes her children. Except I didn’t. Nobody has ever said they didn’t want to do something and the only thing that they have quit is guides because they had to stop something to fit their homework in. I suppose that I am lucky to have children who are keen to achieve and take part. But as I cruise round Ilkley in the dark picking up and dropping off like a demon, it’s hard to remember the positives. Long gone are the days when they were all in bed by 7.00 and that longed for first glass of wine is getting later and later. People tell me that things tail off as they get older which is some comfort although my youngest is only just getting going.
I know I’m not alone. I see other harassed mothers on a similar trail to me all wondering how things accidentally got to this. Perhaps when my children are grown and have children of their own they will look back and appreciate my efforts. But in fact they will probably have forgotten- just like I have!