Over-programmed Kids

There is a lot of chit chat going on out there about the number of extracurricular activities a child should be enrolled in. With all the talk of free-range children and the importance of unstructured play, parents are re-thinking whether Johnny should be in soccer AND piano, and if ballet AND violin are too much for little Janey.

Getting the kids settled into school over the last few weeks has been one thing, but now I’m trying to settle myself into their new activity schedules and it is proving to be quite an undertaking. You see, I am a self-confessed over-programmer. But I do need to qualify that – my defence is that I don’t have a real choice in the matter. Many parents have to deal with kids who are chronic activity drop-outs. They struggle and fight just to get their kids to finish out the session or term of the chosen activity. I have the opposite problem. When I try telling my kids that it’s figure skating OR hockey, they beg to do both. The rule in our house is each child is allowed one organized sport per season. You should have seen the carry on around here last spring when each child was not allowed to do soccer AND baseball. It was like I was engaging in some type of cruel torture directed at the small people in the house.

The number of activities we’re in is enough to leave our pocket books (and gas tanks) empty. But we made the conscious decision that we wouldn’t necessarily pay for the kids to have things, but to do things. When I reflect on my own youth, it was jam packed with activities. My mom would attest to the fact that I functioned best when my plate was full. That still rings true. During high school, my mom permitted me to take a fair and reasonable number of dance classes. When I didn’t feel that was enough, I cleaned the dance studio and helped in the junior classes to cover my additional class costs. In my final year of high school, I was occupied from the moment school let out until 9:30pm every day. I honestly can’t remember when I did my homework and I’m baffled that I got into university, especially considering I managed to have a fairly fulfilling social life as well. I can hypothesize though, that if I did have more time on my hands, my grades would have suffered and I would not have been as happy a teenager.
I’m guessing my kids are the same so I don’t think we can apply one standard of the acceptable number activities across the board. We mamas know our kids and how much they can handle. We make decisions based on what we are the experts of: our kiddos. No amount of research can convince me that my kids would be happier if I pulled them off the soccer field or ice rink.
But when you have five kids and each are in a few activities, there is the practical issue of getting them to where they need to be. Sure, car pooling is a saviour and I’m all over that, but even still there is a lot of shuttling around that goes on. I’m really quite deserving of an uber-cheezy “Mom’s Taxi” bumper sticker, but sporting that would mean the final good-bye to my very last scraps of cool.
I think before I accept defeat on that one, I’d look into hiring a driver!

Birthday Parties

I recently had someone ask if I had any birthday party activity suggestions. Just thinking about that question exhausted me. In the last eight years I have had countless birthday parties. Actually, it’s not countless – just adding up my children’s ages tells me that by the end of next month I will have hosted 26 of the stinkin’ things.

I have self-diagnosed my condition: birthday party fatigue.

We’ve done them all – bowling, indoor playgrounds, parks, magicians, reptile guys, musical chairs, and the list goes on. Any way you slice it, at this point in my birthday party throwing career, the novelty has long worn off. In fact, I’m not sure it was ever there to begin with.

The problem remains that while I’m a good mama and very comfortable in that role, I don’t quite make the grade in the domestic arena. I don’t think there is a connection between being a good parent and being a domestic diva. Sure, you need to have the basics down and I generally do – my kids have clean clothes, regular baths and full bellies. Anything beyond that is gravy and has no place in any job description of mine.

This can help you appreciate that five birthday parties a year is a big ask for someone who is not hospitable (in the traditional sense) and does not bake cakes. When people walk through my front door, they are greeted with a request to dash into the kitchen and pop the kettle on. Guests who arrive early are given actual chores. Don’t get me wrong, I love having visitors and we have an open door policy around here. People always feel comfortable dropping in because they know that I won’t feel stress about what they walk into. I’m just not in a position to care what people think about the state of my house. I’ve got bigger problems and at this point, I would consider such worries to be a luxury.

As a weathered birthday party throwing mama, I have learned that it is best to simplify the festivities. Guests are instructed not to bring presents and in return I do not give them loot bags. My theory is: no landfill and fewer sugar bugs on teeth. I often chuck a little something at the kiddos by the door as a way to notify them that their time is up and as a means of avoiding departing tears. As I deliver the little something, a sensitive microphone might be able to pick up what I am muttering under my breath: “don’t hit yourself with the door on the way out”. And you can guarantee that any birthday party I throw takes place during the 2:00pm – 4:00pm time slot which gets me off the hook for having to provide a proper meal. Get some cake into their gobs, and my work is done!

With risk of sounding like I’m about to do some celebrity name dropping, I’m giving the disclaimer that what I’m about to say is relevant to this topic. So, I’m on the phone a couple of weeks ago with Reese Witherspoon’s Personal Assistant. She wanted some Mabels products to go in the loot bags for Ava’s 26 little birthday party guests.

It occurred to me that I’ve been doing this all wrong. All I have to do is get myself a PA and give out loot bags that resemble Celebrity Swag Bags. That might just be the cure to my birthday party fatigue.

Mom Entrepreneurs

Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming National Parenting Columnist for the CBC, Karen Horsman into my home where she interviewed me on the topic of striking the work/life balance. When we were arranging the date, I thought it was cute when she asked if there would be suitable background noise, appropriate for the segment. I let her know that noise is our speciality and we can serve it up anyway she likes it. Along with background noise, we can do headache creating noise, noise that makes the walls shake, playing in the pool noise, noise in the form of shrills, thrills, cries and laughter. Heck, we can make the kind of noise that gets neighbours calling City Council and Children’s Services. Some families fancy themselves as musicians or athletes. Nope, not us – we’re just the loud family.

It was a timely interview because the Savvymom Mom Entrepreneur of the Year award is about to wrap up. We’ve been pretty involved with it – we’re the original recipients, I sit on the Advisory Board and one of the prizes is a year of mentorship with us Mabel mamas.

The notion of dropping out of the traditional workforce to start a business is based almost entirely on wanting to somehow manage all those balls we mamas have in the air. There are, however, quite a few misconceptions about the mompreneur lifestyle. It sometimes appears to the outsider that we mompreneurs work during nap-time, send e-mails between diaper changes and make phone calls when the kids are playing quietly. I remember thinking my life would be in perfect balance – going from teleconference to play date without skipping a beat. The reality is that while we do have some flexibility, it does not give you the time you need to get your work done. So, go ahead and enjoy that afternoon at the park or that morning helping out at the nursery school co-op, but be prepared to be hunched over your computer long after midnight.

I remember the early Mabel years fondly, but with a puzzled look on my face. Only four years ago I was pregnant with my fourth kid and working at the Mabel office from 9:00pm – 3:00am. Dawn came early when you heard that first squawk from a little one at 6:00am. I remember one particular Mabel mama drove to Montreal (6 hours away) with newborn in tow. She spent one hour looking at some equipment only to turn around and drive back home. It was sort of the opposite to any cool road trip you’ve ever done. Highlights included breastfeeding at truck stops and driving with one hand as the other reached to the back car seat to pat and stroke the annoyed infant.

When we first noticed that we Mabel mamas were the emerging “Poster Child” of the mompreneur scene, we were caught a bit off guard. We thought of ourselves as entrepreneurs and initially bucked our new label. Then we realized – everything we do and the reason our business exists is because we are mothers. Indeed, we now wear that title as a badge of honour. Sure we often have to trade in luxuries like sleep, proper meals and watching reality TV. The trade-off is having some flexibility and it was a choice we made very deliberately.
We were quoted after we won the Savvymom Award and we think it sums up our position well:
“A Mom Entrepreneur starts a business to be able to make choices. We choose to live as dynamic business owners, enthusiastic mothers and inspired women.
We just thought it sounded better than our original quote of:

“In our hormonally imbalanced and irrational states, we choose to live as over-extended and under-paid business owners, exhausted mothers and neurotic and somewhat manic women.”

To check out the 2008 nominees and to vote, head here:

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