Actively insane

If you're one of those working parents who thrives on pressure, if you just don't have enough stress in your life, then I'd suggest you run right out and enroll your children in some extracurricular activities.

Scouts and sports, science fairs and spelling bees, music lessons and dance lessons and children's theater all can broaden your children's horizons, give them life skills and refine their special talents. And these events can turn you, the parent, into a gibbering idiot.

Careful analysis finds that the strain of extracurricular activities can be divided into three major categories: transportation, practice and stage fright.


Once your children become involved in after-school activities, you'll soon recognize the origins of the phrase "drive me crazy." The parents' main role in these activities is to chauffeur the little hellions, er, geniuses, from one rehearsal/soccer game/club meeting to another until we see city streets in our sleep.

No matter where you live, these events will take place halfway across town. This is so you can't actually go home and get anything done while the kids are attending their activities. You might have enough time to run a quick errand or grab a cup of coffee nearby, but you'd better be back to retrieve your kids at the precise time the activity ends. Otherwise, you'll hear about it, believe you me.

If you have more than one child, you can count on their activities starting at the same time, miles away from each other. This is why you see so many hysterical "soccer moms" roaring wild-eyed through traffic in their minivans. The kids are in the back seat, repeating in a singsong manner, "We're gonna be laa-a-ate."

Most activities require special gear -- toe shoes, scripts, sneakers, Scout uniforms. The Murphy's Law of extracurricular activities is that these items will be "lost" every time your children need them, a condition that won't be discovered until you're halfway there. Your best bet is to keep everything in your vehicle at all times. Sure, your car may look and smell like a gym locker, but at least the search will be localized.


Everyone knows that old joke: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? By refusing to practice until your parents go insane."

Yes, practice goes against the grain of most children, who saunter around with the innate assurance that they can ace that spelling bee/recital/playoff game without any preparation.

Trying to get kids to practice regularly is a major source of ulcers and baldness in parents. You can nag. You can stand over them. You can recite their lines along with them until you know their parts better than they do. You can pull out all your hair and scream and double over and grasp your abdomen. None of it will do any good.

And if you do succeed in getting them to practice, say, the saxophone, then you'll be trapped in the house with them while they squawk and honk like scalded geese.

The solution? Make them practice in the car. All their stuff's out there anyway.


No matter how well you drill your children, when it comes time to actually perform, expect opening-night jitters. Nervous pacing, rumbling guts, nail-biting, uncontrollable twitching. All on the part of the parents. The kids will be fine, either too confident or too obtuse to recognize the opportunity for humiliation that lies ahead.

Both of my sons have participated in spelling bees lately. One is active in Cub Scouts. The other was in a play (Shakespeare, no less). At these events, the parents were much more anxious than their children. They mouthed lines along with their kids and muttered curses and recrossed their legs repeatedly, as if they needed to go to the bathroom.

The kids' main reaction? Yawning. Right up there on stage. My wife says this is a nervous reaction, caused by the child's need for extra oxygen. I think it's because they were up too late the night before, cramming with their parents.

Parents can be forgiven all their symptoms of stress. They want their children to perform well, to not be embarrassed. They want home-video moments of successful recitals and sports championships.

But mostly they want to make all that driving pay off.

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