How hard is too hard to push your kids? Where is the line between letting them just be kids and insisting they be involved in activities? When our oldest son, Mike, was young, we thought it was very important for him to participate in sports. It seemed only natural to sign him up for baseball and soccer every summer, spring, and fall. As he grew older, he added basketball to his list. At the same time, my husband and I wanted him to learn piano and drums and play in the school band, so that was just more to add to the calendar. Of course, he also took swimming lessons every summer and attended tennis camps, as well as scouting. He was going to be a well-rounded kid if it killed us.
And this was all before he entered high school when we insisted he play football – not because we were fanatical football parents, but we figured it would be a good way to meet kids before the start of the school year and be part of a team. This kid had a lot going on and the really crazy thing about it was that his activities were considerably less compared to other kids we knew.
We never wanted to force him to be involved in these things, but we knew if we left it up to him, he would have chosen to participate in nothing at all. Still, we wrestled with the question of “How much is too much?” and, in the big picture, does any of it really matter? Unfortunately, we learned, as many parents and first-borns discover, that Mike was our learning curve. As a result, I joke now that his real name is “Poor Mike” because that seems to be how every sentence starts when we talk about his youth. Poor Mike had to do everything to the nth degree because we tried to instill in him the idea that, once involved in something, you don’t quit, because you don’t want to be a quitter. Of course, the one thing Mike wanted more than anything was to be a quitter.
Poor Mike’s siblings were not safe from our well-intentioned parenting, either. His brothers, Brian and Peter, also played on numerous athletic teams, including wrestling, which Mike was, thankfully, not subjected to, and piano, drum, guitar, baritone and voice lessons. And…oh yeah…school band. Oh and scouting, too. Actually, by the time Peter was old enough to join Cub Scouts, my husband and I were absolutely against it. We assured him that if it was the uniform he longed for, we had plenty of hand-me-downs. If it was camping he desired, we would take him camping and not in the middle of a blizzard, either, like the older boys had done with the Scouts. It was during one of those frigid, miserable camp-outings that my husband’s contact lens solution had frozen solid in the case. That was the last straw. All of his fantasies of “camping under the stars with your boys” went out the window when he returned from that trip. After a long, hot shower, he slipped into bed under the weight of warm blankets and said to me “I don’t ever want to be cold again.” We finally had the courage to admit that we really hated scouting. To all those who are now or have been avid Scouts or Scout leaders (which my husband was for many years), I apologize. I know it is a good, wholesome activity, and the reason we insisted that Poor Mike remain in it for years was because we had read that a significant number of C.E.Os of Fortune 500 companies were Eagle Scouts. So while we do recognize its benefits, after serious personal reflection, we concluded that we were just not Scouting material.
But, then along came our youngest daughter, Mary Kate. She and her best friend, Abby, were all abuzz one day as girls from their class at school were talking about joining the Daisy Scouts. This sent chills up my spine, as we had been enjoying a few years of Scout-free living by then. Abby’s mother, Tami, echoed my concerns. She, too, experienced past scouting failures with her son, Alex, and had no intention of now getting sucked into the whole Girl Scout culture. But, it seemed all the girls were signing up, so being the good mothers we were, we said, “Well, if everyone else is doing it, then we should, too.” Nothing like peer pressure for bad decision-making.
We learned that Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts had nothing on the Daisies. These girls were expected to be creative with arts and crafts. Tami and I don’t do crafts, and neither do Mary Kate or Abby. As a result, our girls were the saddest examples of young Scouts that Daisy troop had ever seen. Upon successful completion of each art project, the girls were rewarded with a petal to sew onto their Daisy smock. Tami and I don’t sew either. So, as a result, our scant petals (which we were not amassing at the same speed as the other girls), were stored in baggies, drawers, the glove compartment, our pockets, a box of Christmas lights, wherever.
I think one of the things I hated about Scouting were all the rules. Scout people take their rules very seriously. So it came as no surprise that rules were enforced regarding proper daisy placement. There was a certain sequence of colors that the petals were to be displayed on the smock and, occasionally, as we would come across a lone petal under a sofa cushion, we’d try to hot-glue it onto the smock (which doesn’t work very well, by the way). Our girls came to dread the meetings because their haphazardly glued daisy-petaled smocks were just plain pathetic compared to the other Daisies, who seemed to have gardens perfectly sewn onto theirs, for all the world to admire. Many times, Tami or I would frantically call one another, saying, “Help, I need a magenta petal.” We used to joke that the two of us together equaled half of a Daisy mom.
Somehow, we survived that year of kindergarten hell in Daisy Scouts, only to be informed in first grade that the girls wanted to join the Brownies. You have got to be kidding. We relented only because Tami had a friend whose older daughter had been a Brownie and she offered to let us borrow her Brownie vest. Yes, Mary Kate and Abby shared a vest. We decided that we were not investing anything in this venture. Since they were assigned to different troops at school, they traded off wearing the vest for meetings. The vest was given to us with all previous patches removed and remained completely barren for the remainder of their combined year in Brownies. We still laugh at the picture in their yearbook which had Abby wearing the unadorned brown vest with her group and Mary Kate without a vest in hers because they couldn’t make the switch in time.
Years later, we now have the benefit of hindsight to see that our kids have managed to succeed in school and in life, in spite of our good intentions. Mike has secured himself a very respectable job as a financial rates analyst for the largest distributor of natural gas in the state. He’s the guy who sets the rates for more than two million customers. So, yeah that’s pretty cool. And, to think, he’s enjoying this success even though he decided to quit baseball when he was fourteen years old. Brian is well on his way to becoming a successful filmmaker, currently enjoying some recognition for his amazing short film as it makes the rounds in various film festivals around the world – even though we didn’t force him to play the baritone in his high school band. Amazing. We are quite confident that Alex’s professional life in the world of politics will not suffer because his parents did make him play in his high school band, as he now finds himself hobnobbing with some serious muckety-mucks in Washington D.C. And, there is no doubt that Peter will experience happiness and fulfillment as a musician even though we told him to just pretend to be a Cub Scout, as he too, has tasted success with a Best Original Score award for Brian’s film, while currently pursuing his Doctorate of Music degree. There will be many more accolades to come, of that we are sure. And bringing up the rear, Abby and Mary Kate have not shown any signs of PTSS (post-traumatic scouting syndrome) due to their humiliating tours of duty, as they finish their last year in college and are looking ahead to graduate school next year. Yeah, we’re pretty sure the partial daisies won’t hold them back.