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'SAM_0783a_0801' photo (c) 2010, Peter Vanderheyden - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started intense figure skating lessons. She’s never taken lessons before, but she’s entered at quite a high level because she’s been practising on her own for quite a while and is actually quite good. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week.

It was then that I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. When we show up for lessons, there are about 25 other children there, with various coaches. The first thing said to me was, “why only one night a week”, in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else is there for at least two nights a week, if not more.

Now these lessons are two hours long. They interrupt the dinner hour. But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we’re together most other nights. It was important to Katie.

But she’s starting to question it. She said to me this week that nobody there actually smiles. They take it SO seriously. They’re not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they’re practising to be the best. Watching them this week I felt like standing up and yelling, “Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!”. But I didn’t. I didn’t want the other mothers attacking me.

And the other mothers are strange, too. They seem nice enough, but get this: everyone I’ve talked to has multiple children in stuff like this. I talked to one this week whose daughter is in this particular sport two nights a week, but her other daughter is, too, but she’s more advanced. So for four nights a week they do this. I gasped and said, “when do you eat dinner”? She laughed and said, “we don’t! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts.

What kind of a life is that? Everyone there is judging me and my daughter because she hasn’t been in lessons before (we never really had the time, and Katie didn’t particularly want to do it). Everybody else has been doing it since they were 2. They’re much better, and they snicker at Katie, even though Katie is only doing it because she sincerely loves it and wants to learn to be better. But she’s starting not to love it so much anymore. The lessons thing is just too weird for her, so I don’t know how long we’ll keep it up.

It got me thinking, though, about how hard it is to learn to do something when you’re a little bit older. You have to put kids in stuff when they’re 3 or 4 and keep at it. But at 3, what kid knows what they want to do? I did have the girls in lessons at 3 and 4, just for fun, but it was all in things they decided not to pursue. The thing Katie actually likes we never had her in.

I was in ballet from a very young age, and by 14 I was quite good. I was on pointe, and pirouetting, and all that sort of fun stuff. But I remember a 15-year-old who wanted to start lessons. She was a lovely girl, and just wanted to learn for fun. She didn’t fit in anywhere. She ended up going with an adult class, which was really slow and probably too easy for her.

Who knows what they want to do when they’re 3? I don’t think any kid does. I think it’s the parents that push them, and tell them this is what they’re going to do. Some kids, of course, do love it. I have a cousin who was in competitive gymnastics for years and did love it. But she never went to the provincials, let alone the nationals or the Olympics, even though she was good. It’s hard to get to that level, even if you practice all the time.

And besides that, it’s horrendously expensive. We’re shelling out I don’t know how much money for this one lesson a week. I could calculate if I wanted to, but suffice it to say it’s a lot. We’re always coming home with fundraising flyers. How do people put their kids in for four days a week when it’s that expensive? And a lot of these parents live half an hour to 45 minutes away, too.

On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really feel when I’m entering that place that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much. Families need to be together. And stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what’s really important. I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they’re older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn’t spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.

How can you raise a godly child like that? How can you influence a child for good like that? You need time to just sit around and do nothing. And you need to eat together.

This is a crazy world we live in, and I really don’t want to be a part of this mess. I don’t know how long Katie’s going to keep going, but one thing I’m proud of is that she sees how dysfunctional the whole situation was. I didn’t even need to tell her. That’s my girl. And I’ll take her, even though she may not be as skilled, over someone who has been practising their entire life any day of the week.

UPDATE:

ValleyGirl published this comment in the comments thread, but I just have to put it here, too. So don’t just comment on what I wrote; comment on what she wrote as well. And let’s get a discussion going on how we can change the trend! Here she is:

So why is it, if there are so many of us mothers who feel this way, that whenever we get into these situations, we still feel alone ~ like we’re the only ones who don’t want to constantly be shuttling our kids from one lesson or practise to another? Why are so many parents, Christians included, buying into this idea that our kids need to be so busy? We all look back on the simpler times of bygone eras and wish for the feeling it gives us and yet here we are, figuring that we must keep our kids busy rather than encouraging them to use their imaginations and invite their friends over.

I am trying to rebel against this trend, but it’s hard. It’s hard to hear my girls feeling left out because they’re the only ones in their class who aren’t in skating lessons or dance classes. It’s hard to tell them we’re not renting the school gym and inviting the whole grade to a birthday party that’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars just because some other people do it that way.

One thing I think is a problem is our society’s “one man really is an island” philosophy. We don’t live relational lives anymore. We don’t know our neighbours and all the people on our street and we certainly don’t show hospitality to them. I know I’m guilty of this.

But maybe, if I was a little more willing to open my home to my girls’ friends and their parents, and if hospitality would become fashionable again with families desiring to spend time together and actually get to know each other, our children could still become well-rounded, well-behaved adult citizens without the necessity of hours and hours of childhood lost to lessons. (emphasis mine)

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