Play dates? Let the kids play!

blond boy playing with the garden hose.
My son playing in the backyard.


I saw a blogger on TV talk about “banishing the play-date.”  You can read his post here.

I reminisced about my childhood. I played in and out of neighbors’ backyards, rode bikes from dawn to dusk — with no adults bothering me.

When I had kids, I found they didn’t have freedom like we did. One of the reasons was there were zero kids in our neighborhood besides mine. Then the nine-year-old boy who was kidnapped from his front yard and murdered — 20 minutes from us. It left moms frightened to let their kids out of their sight.

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I went to Mommy and Me with my son at the Palm Springs Pavilion. We learned to sing songs together like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” with a dozen other moms and babies who apparently needed the coaching. Each week, we took turns bringing snacks of grapes and string cheese. I look back at this as a training ground for the proverbial play-date.

merry go round at the park.
This was what the original equipment was like at our park.

Play-dates developed from the Mommy and Me group. We had a park day, which was fun and healthy. Moms sat together on quilts on the grass and talked for hours while our kids played on the now-banned playground equipment — a super tall, steep slide, a merry-go-round, and a stagecoach that they could climb into, on top of and jump off of. Sometime during their early childhood years, our city tore out the dated, dangerous equipment and put in rubber ground and safe equipment. Our kids never liked to play on the brightly-colored equipment and our park play-dates vanished. We laughed about the slide where the kids would get stuck going down. It was a “sue proof” slide.

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One day, I got a phone call from a friend. She homeschooled her daughter and hand-picked her friends for a weekly Friday Play-Group. She hired a teacher to run play-group, and each week included a lesson, theme, craft and snack, followed by 10 minutes of supervised play on her backyard swing set.

I felt honored to have my children chosen for the select group. My kids had made the cut. Months later, she took me to lunch at CPK and told me she had some big news. She was uninviting one of the boys. I hardly saw this is earth shattering, but perhaps there was more to this luncheon. Maybe it was a warning!

Years later, when my kids were in high school, they reconnected with friends from play-group. NOTE: This wasn’t just a play-date, it was play-group. They remembered it as if they were fellow Mouseketeers, having survived a bizarre childhood experience.

FYI, I’m using The Playgroup” as the basis for a manuscript I’m currently writing. It follows the friendships and lives of four moms with their young children. They are all bound by the cryptic “Playgroup.”

When my daughter reached 6th grade, we tried homeschooling. Every Wednesday, I picked up her best friend from the local middle school, and brought her to our house to play until her mom got off work. This was another sort of play-date. We moms thought it was an ideal way to keep their friendship going. Since my daughter loved arts and crafts — homeschooling allowed her to try ceramics, mosaics, and quilting — I said that the two girls could do an art project each week.


But that didn’t happen. I was tired from supervising my daughter’s activities to the half hour, and my daughter just wanted to hang out with her friend. So, I retired to my room and left them alone. After a few weeks, the friend didn’t want to come over anymore. She said she was promised an art activity and she was disappointed that they weren’t doing one.

Child at Carpinteria State Beach.
My daughter on a camping trip at the beach.

That made me think about our kids and their overly structured lives. I love having quiet time. I hope my kids do, too. We need to unplug, unschedule, and let our kids regain their creativity and inner peace. They need us to leave them alone and let them be kids.

What are your thoughts about arranged play dates, play groups and activities for kids? Do you think kids are over-scheduled today? Did you have to arrange play time with friends for your kids or did you live in an area where they could go outside and play?

Things are going swimmingly

Main Street Park City.

Things are going swimmingly except for a heat wave. It’s cooler than back home in our Arizona desert, but it’s too hot to hike in the afternoon.

We visited the same week of July in the summer of 2020. In the afternoons, when my husband was done working, we would hike on trails that wind through the ski slopes.

This year, we’re doing a morning walk to Main Street along a tree-lined path with a bubbling creek. We did the same walk in the 2020 mornings, too. This year, the morning walk is the highlight of my day, because the afternoons are too hot for the mountain hikes.

Poison Creek along the walk to Main Street.

Instead of sitting inside reading or watching TV, we’re hitting the pool to cool off.

Yesterday afternoon, the pool was filled with several groups of families and kids. I found a spot along one wall where I could swim. I watched two sisters in the deep end throwing a ring and diving after it. The older sister, a teen, got out when she saw me attempting to swim laps.

“Who am I going to play with?” little sister complained.

“That woman is swimming,” the teen explained.

I thought, “I’m swimming on one edge of the pool. They have most of the deep end to continue tossing the ring and diving.”

My husband decided to sit on the steps. I plowed on determined to get my exercise.

“Little sister” would do a backward somersault right in front of me every time I reached the deep end to turn. I had to swim around her. Next, a nine-year-old boy named Oscar would cut in front of me across the pool swimming as fast as he could. It seemed to be a game for him to push off across the pool and barely miss me.

“Why won’t you join me and swim?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t have the patience you have,” he explained. “I’d end up saying something and look like an asshole to the kids.”

I finally gave up after about 20 laps of dodging little sister and Oscar. We headed to the jacuzzi. Strangely, as soon as we got out of the pool, the kids did too. I guess I was their entertainment. They weren’t having much fun without harassing the middle-aged woman who was trying to swim laps.

I think if I was “little sister’s” mom, I would have asked her to swim and play away from the lap swimmer. The mom and dad were on chaise lounges relaxing. They didn’t say a word.

What would you have done if you were the parent? If you were trying to swim laps, would you have continued like me or not try like my husband and let the kids play?

Letting go — or losing control?

my son with swim teammates hanging on the lane line
My son in front hanging on the lane line with his teammates.

Six years ago, I debated the question if there was a difference between letting go and losing control. If you’re a parent of kids who have flown the nest — or are getting ready to — you’ll recognize these feelings.

Take a look at what I wrote about this. At that point in my parenting life, I wanted what was best for my children and felt like I had all the answers. However, looking back, my kids needed to make their own decisions and find their own paths. It was time for me to let go.

As an empty nester, there are times I wish I had more control over my kids’ lives. I don’t have much anymore. I remember the days when they’d actually do what I asked. They believed the same way I did about everything including religion, politics and entertainment.

They watched the movies I’d check out from the library, and because I picked them out, they loved them. One day my son asked, “Mom, do they make movies without singing and dancing?” Yikes. I guess I was a little too into musicals. I am happy, though, that my kids got to experience that slice of Americana. Many millennials never learned the words to “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls.” My aunt was surprised when my son invited her to watch a movie. She was expecting Disney or Barney. She was thrilled to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” with him.

brother and sister at the beach
Back when I got to pick out the movies.

Somewhere along the line of those perfect days, I lost control. Today, my kids have their own opinions about religion, politics, and life in general that are decidedly different than mine.

For example, I wanted to tell my son to pursue a career in business or law. My husband and I sent him job openings in the Bay area where he lives. (FYI, We don’t want him to live that far away. We don’t like how expensive it is. It’s all wrong to us.)

Did he listen? He’s polite. Every time I texted a job opening, he thanked me and said, “that’s a good idea.” Then he did what he wanted. He applied to teach at one of the worst school districts where the standardized test scores were 2 in Math and 7 in English. (Those numbers are not out of 10, but out of 100.) He decided to teach — instead of what I want him to do — and in one of the most difficult situations possible. He thought it would be a challenge.

My son giving the valedictorian speech.
High school graduation speech.

I couldn’t stop him. He had to live his own life and learn his own life lessons. There’s absolutely nothing I could say about it. I needed to learn to let go since I had lost control anyway. I am proud that he’s an adult with his own dreams and goals.

kids andmoms at the beach.
The gang in Laguna Beach. Me and my good friend Elaine with our kids and a few more we took along with us for a beach day.

UPDATE: The teaching job proved to be more difficult than my son could handle. Issues included students who had no support in learning from their families. A counselor entered my son’s classroom and told the students they didn’t have to listen to my son. The final straw was when he reported a student for truancy and he learned the student was deported. He felt beyond guilty.

He’s been working for a tech startup for several years. He’s able to use his Math and English skills. The company has a good work/life balance and he likes the people he works with.

So much for mom and dad telling him what to do and what path to take. On the bright side, I’ve learned to step back and let my kids be who they are.

When have you questioned if you’re losing control or letting go? What difference do you see between the two? What situations in your own life made you realize it was time to let go?

Why boredom is good for kids

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My son came up with bug headbands for a birthday party made from pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls and lots of glue and glitter. The kids looked adorable. He also got to wear a birthday crown.

Thanks to a post yesterday by LA called Boredom, I remembered I had written about the subject years before. I dusted it off and updated my thoughts on being bored and how boredom boosts creativity.

Do you remember being bored as a kid? I do. But it didn’t last. I could go outside when we lived in town and ask a neighbor to play. Or, I’d jump on my bike and ride around the block. I run to the lot where a brown quarter horse lived. I’d climb on the fence to pet the white strip that ran down his nose. Most of the time I’d read, or play library and create library cards for all my books and arrange them by author on my bookshelves. Boredom just wasn’t a thing. Our mom was strict about TV. She allowed two half-hour shows daily that she circled in the TV Guide — and they were usually on PBS.

When we moved out to the country and we didn’t have close neighbors to play with, I would lay on the grass and watch the clouds.

These days, many kids never experience boredom because they lose themselves in their screens. They don’t know what it’s like to have to use their imaginations and find something creative to do. I don’t think it’s helping them to be entertained externally all the time. I wrote about promoting a creative spirit in kids last week, here and here.

Without creativity and an imagination, our kids won’t be problem solvers or discover new ways of doing things. If your kids are bored, so what? It’s okay. Ignore the whining and let them figure it out.

 In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, parenting experts Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote Allow your kids to embrace boredom

 Have you noticed that our generation of parents is terrified of letting our kids become bored? Their anxiety is what drives them to pack a boatload of amusement options when they leave the house.

A few years ago, a waiter at a restaurant in North Dakota told us about a trend in his community. One local mom had created a custom quilted bag for holding multiple tablets so that every member of the family could be distracted and amused while they waited for their meal. It was wildly popular, he said.

Not only is our society’s pervasive reliance on amusement killing conversation and opportunities to connect and build relationships, it’s also preempting opportunities for boredom. Boredom is important for building imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Of course we can’t force these things into our children but we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

When we allow our kids to grapple with boredom on their own, rather than providing for them structured activities or distractions and amusements, imagination and creativity may come to their rescue!

“It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves,” said author Nancy Blakey. “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

If we provide our kids with a constant stream of amusement options, which includes a plethora of extracurricular activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore the open space in their own minds where the imagination hides.

They make a good point about having a structured schedule. With piano, swimming and homework, there wasn’t a lot of time for my kids to get bored during the school year. The summers gave them more hours for imaginative play. Swim meets also gave them time for creativity. They would sit under a pop-up tent for hours with their teammates. We’d be at a meet for five or six hours and they’d race for only a few minutes here and there. I remember observing some very creative verbal word games.

According to the article, the authors suggest having bins and jars filled with all sorts of things in easy reach for your kids like popsicle sticks, fabric, string, paints, googly eyes, papers of different colors and textures, glues, etc. Their suggestion:

Then let your kids get good and bored. Don’t offer many suggestions. Simply say, “Oh, there are lots of things you could do. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” It may take time but eventually their imaginations will awaken and lead them to new horizons.

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The bug headbands made an appearance at several birthdays.

What are your thoughts about boredom? 

Thoughts on cancelling student debt

UC Santa Barbara lagoon
One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UC Santa Barbara where my son went to school.

I want to know what your thoughts are about cancelling student debt. The current administration is considering cancelling $10,000 per debt holder. Some are pushing for $50,000.

Personally, I believe a contract is a contract. If you cancel a loan for college, why stop there? Why not cancel mortgages, car loans and credit card debt? Of course, for those loans there is the option to file for bankruptcy. But not with student loans. Maybe that law should be overturned?

What does this say to those who chose to enlist in the military to help pay for their education? Or those who chose community college not to mention those who paid their loans? What about people who entered into trades like electricians, contractors, plumbers and hair dressers? Should they be paying for a doctor or teacher who has a ton of debt?

The point is the debt doesn’t magically go away. It gets passed on to the rest of us. Many universities have huge foundations. I’m not against the institutions forgiving debt. They could do it.

What do you think? If you disagree with me, please let me know what I’m missing. I truly want to know other points of view. What solutions do you suggest for overwhelming student loan debt?

What to do about obnoxious sports parents

diving off the blocks
My daughter diving during at a swim meet where the swimmers were selected from So Cal teams.

As a swim parent, I saw my share of obnoxious swim parents. And I had my own moments of not being able to contain myself — although not to the point of punching a ref out — or yelling at a coach.

I saw so many parents taking over their kids’ sports, coaching from the stands, and yelling at their children when they had a less than awesome swim, that I wrote weekly articles with sports parenting tips. You can read them on SwimSwam Parent Tips on my blog or on SwimSwam HERE.

We hear about “those” parents in the news. Their videos of violence on the field or gym go viral.

I saw an article today that had the perfect solution. Duct tape.

Here’s an excerpt from the NY Post’s “The solution to obnoxious sports parents? Duct tape” by  Kyle Smith:

Last July, a woman on a flight from Dallas to Charlotte bit a flight attendant, then tried to open a door to the plane while screaming. Crisis was averted when she was duct-taped to her seat

An excellent start! Now let’s get out the duct tape for sports parents, who need to sit down, shut up and remember that Pee Wee football is not the Super Bowl. In Mississippi this month, an umpire presiding over a ballgame played by 12-year-olds was punched in the face and given a black eye by a woman wearing a Mother of the Year shirt who had been thrown out of the stands for cursing. “It gets harder and harder to staff these tournaments because no one wants to listen to the verbal abuse and run the risk of what happened to me happening to them,” the umpire, Kristie More, told WLBT

Like other forms of bad behavior (deaths in car crashes are way up), hyper-reactive-sports-parenting seems to have spiked during the pandemic, when tempers have been running as hot as Bidenflation. Even before that, anyone who was thinking about helping out the kids by signing up to be an umpire or a referee would have been smart to buy a Kevlar jacket and make sure his insurance was paid up. “There has been a huge drop off in the number of available referees and officials in youth sports due to the obnoxious behavior of parents,” Rick Wolff host of WFAN radio’s “The Sports Edge” told The Washington Post in 2020

https://nypost.com/2022/04/23/the-solution-to-obnoxious-sports-parents-duct-tape/

I highly suggest you read the article. It’s funny, but highlights what’s wrong with public discourse in today’s world.

What’s the most obnoxious thing you’ve seen parents do? What solutions do you have? Do you think things have gotten worse since the COVID shutdowns?

Use it or lose it!

Tuesday gray rainy day.
A gray rainy, stormy Tuesday.

I tried my first exercise class in years at the YMCA Monday. It was an hour-long class called “Barre Above.”

From the “Barre Above” website it says:

What is “barre”?

While many interpret barre workouts differently, most barre workouts are a fusion of yoga, Pilates, strength training, and ballet. Barre classes incorporate specific sequencing patterns and isometric movements that target specific muscle groups. This pattern of exercise helps to improve strength, balance, flexibility and posture.

https://www.barreabove.com/

I loved it. I caught myself smiling in the mirror even though getting through the class was a struggle. I took ballet as an adult from my 20s into my 50s. I stopped because the dance studio closed and the instructor moved. I didn’t find another studio that fit my schedule.

I love ballet. I began as a child and would never have stopped but my mom quit taking me. My ballet studio was close to an hour away from our small town. As I grew older, class went from once a week to two, then three and four. My mom stopped when I got my first pointe shoes and needed to be at rehearsal daily for a recital. One of my ballet slippers fell out of my ballet bag — and my mom grew impatient as I searched for it.

“You’re obviously not interested anymore,” Mom said. And that was that.

I don’t think parents in the 1970s were as obsessed with getting their kids to activities like many of us were in the 2000s and 2010s.

When I was a freshman at the University of Washington, I signed up for ballet my first quarter and fell in love with ballet again.

Back to Monday. I loved the class. I didn’t think I’d survive, but I made the entire hour. Then Tuesday morning hit. Yikes!

My husband gave me a hug as I struggled to get my legs underneath me. My shoulders were stuck around my ears. He heated up the lavendar-weighted shoulder wrap and I eventually got out of bed.

Tuesday, I had reserved a lane at the Y. Rain and thunder and lightening raged all night and morning. Then right before my lane time, the sun broke out. I checked my iphone and I had one hour until rain and thunder was supposed to return.

The sun hovered over the pool, while dark clouds circled like sharks. I had a “shake out” relaxing swim where my sore muscle pain eased. I got out early before the storm hit feeling quite proud of myself.

Since joining the YMCA, I learned that I am terribly out of shape. It’s time for me to use it or lose it!

The rain arrived after my sunny swim at the YMCA.

What sports or activities did you enjoy as a child that you continued into adulthood? Which ones did you stop? Did you take your kids to athletics or other activities while they were growing up? What was their favorite activity?