70’s School Life: The Way We Were

The other day as my family ate lunch at a sandwich shop, three pennies sat in a triangle on our table.

The junior high boy inside my grownup husband couldn’t resist. He struck one of the pennies causing the other two pennies to propel out in opposite directions on the table top.

Maybe you can guess what happened next. He flicked one penny through the space between the other two. Then flicked the other one through the gap, and to quote the old shampoo commercial, “and so on and so on and so on.”

My daughters watched intently and asked what he was doing. He told them all about tabletop penny hockey, a standard classroom game of our youth. That led to a discussion about paper football. Remember that one? Where you make an origami-like football and try to “kick” it through the goalpost your friend formed with his arms?

I hadn’t thought about these games in years. They were just part of going to school for me back in the 1970s, along with Partridge Family lunchboxes, and peace signs on our lockers.

It made me realize I’ve spent plenty of time talking to my kids about my school work, but I’ve told them little about my school life. The way we really were back then. So rather than sing about my “misty water-colored memories” (that would embarrass them), I’ll just make a list of the top 10 things my children will never get to (or have to) experience in school the way we did.

  1. The excitement of seeing a teacher roll a TV set or film projector into the classroom.There was really no such thing as multi-media education. We weren’t plugged in. Most days we listened to the teacher talk then did our lessons. But every once in a while, on those rare and beautiful days, we’d get visuals. And if it wasn’t a TV set or film projector, a film strip machine wasn’t so bad either.
  2. Founded in the “free to be you and me” early 1970s, Garanimals purpose was to boost a child’s self-esteem by giving her the tools to properly dress herself through the use of color-coded animal tags.For example, if you had a shirt with a purple panda on it, you just needed to find a pair of pants with a purple panda, and you could be confident that they would match (I know some men today who could benefit from Garanimals for grownups). As a point of reference, all Garanimals tops matched with Toughskin jeans.
  3. Dodgeball. Yeah, glad that’s gone. But on the bright side, when I see a cartoon of someone seeing stars after getting knocked out, I know it’s accurate.
  4. Walking home to eat lunch then walking back to school. No school lunch for in-town kids. I remember eating bologna sandwiches while “Search for Tomorrow” played in the living room.
  5. Being amazed by space exploration. I remember in elementary school how we’d all gather around two small TV sets in the gym to watch various Apollo touchdowns. To my daughters, the space shuttle isn’t much different than a 727 to Minneapolis.
  6. Oh the horror of gymsuits. Back in the 1970s, Agassiz Junior high required girls to wear hideous mustard colored onesies. I’m not sure what we ever did to school administrators to deserve that. Fortunately the gymsuits were eventually phased out. But our pride was gone forever.
  7. Wondering if it was really okay to have a Coke after eating Pop Rocks. Would my stomach really explode? Isn’t that how Mikey from the Life cereal commercial died?
  8. Racing to be the first one into typing class so you could get the electric typewriter instead of a manual one.
  9. Walking uphill in the snow for five miles. OK, maybe not. But I do remember walking to school in treacherous conditions. Of course, they wouldn’t have been so treacherous if I had dressed properly.I remember one day after an ice storm, my friend Sheryl laughed uncontrollably as I tried to navigate the trip home in my Candies high heels. After a while, I became so desperate I decided to put my mittens on my feet and shuffle the rest of the way. Proud moment.
  10. And finally, “star” style and then some. My daughters will probably never know the joy I felt upon putting on my favorite pair of Hash jeans. The pockets were big enough to carry my strawberry Lip Smackers and the comb I needed to adjust my Farrah-wannabe hair. I think I hit my fashion peak with that look. But it still doesn’t make up for the gymsuit.

Are we overscheduled?

First off, apologies for ignoring this blog for so long. It’s crazy. I write or administer a handful of other blogs (Areavoices Community, OnTV, Beautiful Women Of) I tend to put more attention to those endeavors and have ignored maintaining this parenting blog.

I think most of the time, I’ll be sharing the columns I write for The Forum. I’m one of 6 regular contributors to “Parenting Perspectives.” On occasion, I might share some thoughts about life as a wimpy soccer (and dancing, figure skating, gymnastics, church choir) mom too.

Share your comments. I try to keep up responses, but sometimes I get a little overwhelmed! Go figure.
Anyway, here’s this month’s column.

I don’t want to bum you out. Really, I don’t. But our summer days are numbered. We’re about a month away from the start of school. While we’re still enjoying hot summer days at the pool or lake, a few of us are forced to look ahead and get the kids signed up for fall activities.

Sometimes it takes mad skills just to figure out the daily logistics of carting the kids off to soccer, baseball, ballet or junior jujitsu. But it’s not just logistics that worry me. I question whether I’m overscheduling my kids. How am I supposed to know? After all, I’m from the generation that spent much of our afterschool hours watching “Gilligan’s Island.”

I wish there was an easy answer to “how much is too much?” I nearly burned up Google searching for it. I wanted a formula of some kind to help me figure it out. Something like “7-year-olds should only be in one extracurricular activity, but 10-year-olds can handle three.” Nope. No such luck. You have to know parenting couldn’t be that easy.

Instead, I found some common themes in the research I read. The experts suggest we ask ourselves a few questions regarding our children and ourselves before we sign them up for afterschool activities:

1. Does the child show genuine interest in the activity and is willing to commit to practices or rehearsals and not just the games or performances? Is this something you’re pushing them to do? We all know how hard it can be to get a kid out the door in the dead of winter to do something they really don’t want to do.

2. Does the child have a handle on schoolwork? Are they struggling to keep up? If so, there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the child to mature before undertaking a sport or activity.

Parents often feel pressure to get their kids active in a sport before the child is emotionally and intellectually ready. That sport will still be there in a few years, but educational opportunities don’t always wait.

3. How much downtime does my child need? Does he or she get cranky without time to just relax after school? Will it stress them out to be committed to something two, three or four days a week?

4. Will these activities put a strain on family finances, parents’ work schedule or family time? It’s a hard reality. Many parents want to give their kids everything, but if it breaks the bank to sign Caden or Emma up for an all-star soccer team, takes parents away from work too often, or takes away from quality time spent together, it’s simply not worth it, financially and otherwise.

Armed with what the experts said, I wanted to hear from real parents. So I asked my Facebook friends, “How do you decide how many activities your child should take?”

I heard from parents who insisted “kids should be kids” and said to keep extracurriculars at a bare minimum.

Others touted the benefits of getting children more heavily involved in activities. “It keeps them out of trouble,” and “my child learns responsibility, discipline and skills that help him in his school work and everyday life.”

Others gave me real strategies for activity planning. Here are some of the more frequently suggested ones:

  1. Only sign your child up for an activity after another one has ended. For example, when soccer ends in October, it’s fine to sign your child up for figure skating.
  2. Each child is allowed to have one arts/music activity and one physical activity/sport per semester. These parents feel that makes for the most well-rounded kid.
  3. Do your very best to get siblings in activities at the same place at the same time. Yeah, that’s a tough one and can be difficult if your children have varying interests, but it’s a beautiful thing when it works. For example, one Facebook friend of mine touts church choir. Her children are in one place at one time, it’s free and enriching.
  4. Expose them to lots when they’re little, but let them be the ones to decide what stays and what goes when they’re older. Really listen to them. Only they know what drives them.

At the same time, it’s OK to be a little pushy. Most of us don’t aspire to be over-the-top stage moms or obnoxious hockey dads, but it’s OK to nudge the kids a little or to insist they take up an activity that you know is good for them.

I love the story one Facebook friend told me about her children wanting to quit piano lessons. She said they could if, and only if, they could find three adults to sign notes saying they were glad their mother let them quit piano/flute/violin. As you can imagine, that wasn’t easy to find.

In the end, there is no magic formula to know if your child is over-scheduled, but the answer might actually be pretty simple. As is the case for many parenting dilemmas, it seems to boil down to trusting your gut.

You know your child and family situation. Do what you think is best. If it’s not working, reassess and move on. Most likely no matter what you decide about activities, you won’t scar your children for life. After all, we recovered from Gilligan, right?

I’m too little!

I had a good friend in college named Janet. She was (and still is) a beautiful, smart and talented woman. Ironic, then that she created a confidence  busting motto that I still use today. . Anytime she was faced with stress or adversity she would take my hand and say “I’m too little.”  Whether it was having to give a speech in class, go on a job interview or ask out a fraternity boy she just figured she was just too young to have to face it. With that quote in mind, I decided to start this blog. Because, while I am a 45 year old wife, mom, working woman and part-time teacher, I still feel a little overwhelmed by life. Like I should say “How did I get here?” and “When will these people realize I have no idea what I’m doing?”

I started a new job this week. It’s exciting and challenging and I work with fantastic people. While I’m facing the complexties of changing offices, emails and extensions, my kids also started their first day of school. I also started teaching my class at Concordia College and this weekend I’ll start teaching Sunday School. I like to be busy I guess. But there are times I want to scream “I’M TOO LITTLE!”

So I hope this blog will be an outlet for those day to day challenges of trying to be a grown up when you sometimes feel like you just want to go home and play Barbies. See those balls in the design above? To me those represent balls in the air. Juggling the craziness of life and having a blast (most of the time).  Stay tuned and weigh in.