Do your children do after school activities? Do you feel you are a taxi driver as you race to class and collections? Why do you bother?
I am over twenty years parenting, and in that time my children have attended many after school activities. Ballet, art, music, football, camogie, swimming, gymnastics, Taekwan-Do, and Scouts to name but a few. All took time and money, effort and energy. While I was ferrying my children to and from these classes I filled the car with the other children. These classes took time out of their playtime, and home time out of my day.
Looking back I ask myself ‘Was it worth it?’. Did any of them become Irish or Olympic champions? Did they discover a love of music, martial arts or sport? Would I do it all again?
Thinking it through I believe that yes, if I had my time over again, I would once again sign my children up to those activities, even the ones that were disasters. Take the art class I enrolled my then seven year old daughter in. She had shown a flair for art in school, or so I thought. Looking back maybe she was just better able to control a pencil than others. Anyway one day the after school art teacher called me in to show me one of my daughters creations. It was a bowl of fruit. I was briefly surprised, that my daughter could in fact draw something I’d recognise, as I, who was many years older, had still not managed to ever draw anything that looked remotely like the picture in my imagination. As I listened to the teacher speak, she told me that this painting showed wonderful perspective for a child so young. I smiled, looking at a bowl of childlishly drawn fruit, and nodded in agreement, while inwardly laughing at all I obviously didn’t know. I went home delighted to know I had a talented young daughter. Two weeks later my daughter looked at me and said, ‘I hate art’. Ten years later she has not changed her mind. Even now when I tell her she had a talent for it, she just laughs.
Then there was Scouts. My son was not interested in sports of any sort, and especially disliked ball sports. So we thought Scouts would be perfect for him. He enrolled in beavers and proudly wore his uniform. He went to the group every week, and even went camping. We were delighted. Until the day we discovered that the drills and inspection and rules were terrifying him. That he was taking everything too much to heart and was unable to relax and enjoy it. Another year of activities put to bed.
Then there were the sporting activities. These meant not only did we have to attend lessons, we also had to spend weekends involved in competitions. Whole days of our lives we will never get back, watching children compete in gymnastics. We even travelled 200km to Belfast for our daughters to compete in a National Trampolining competition. This involved twelve bounces. Can you imagine driving that distance and staying overnight, for a total of 48 bounces on a trampoline! Such is the madness of a parent whose children are involved in any type of after school activity. I was not there for the glory of winning, but because my children loved it, qualified and wanted to go. I don’t believe I was the only one.
However the greatest madness of all, in my opinion, are the parents of children involved in competitive swimming. I feel I am perfectly qualified to speak about these parents being one myself. I am also the coach to these swimmers so I am able to look at both sides of this particular coin. These parents get up at 5am. They bring children to the pool for a ninety minute swim session, and drive them home to breakfast or for some straight to school. The vast majority of these swimmers will never make the national team, nor indeed make division one. It is commitment of the highest order. These young swimmers, in the majority, swim because they enjoy it, and are challenged by it, and parents bring them to the pool knowing that.
Last Sunday morning at 6.30am, my fellow coaches and I boarded a bus for a town two hours away, with forty swimmers on board. Others chose to travel by car. It is at these events that I begin to clearly see what swimming gives to these young swimmers. Last Sunday I watched a few of our young swimmers overwhelmed by nerves, cry . After a few gentle words I watched those same young swimmers line up for their races, biting fingernails, and fidgeting as they did so. I then smiled as these same swimmers dived in and swam their hearts out. I celebrated with the other coaches when we watched them finish and saw the huge smiles of achievement on their faces. This was a lesson in life they could not learn in school. Other lessons were also learned that day. Such as the swimmers whose goggles fell off on the dive, yet they swam on at full pace regardless, showing a strength of character some parents did not know their child possessed. Towards the end of the day we had a lot of weary swimmers. The 5.30am rise was showing. Yet, when their moment came, they raced as if they were fresh. Once again demonstrating their ability to dig deep and tap into courage and strength of mind they may never before have used.
As we drove home that night I remember thinking that in years to come these same young swimmers will probably forget most of what the day brought. However, I think they will remember the friends they spent the day with, and the many lessons swimming that day taught them.
This, to my mind, is what parents are looking for when they sign up a child for after school activities. It begins with the hope that their child may be talented at this activity, but for the majority it becomes an activity their child enjoys, and hopefully one which will enhance their lives in so many ways, without necessarily bringing them glory.
As I say goodbye to my early morning young swimmers in the mornings, I am always conscious of how much they have already achieved before most of their classmates are even awake. Lessons they will not learn in the classroom. Lessons that their outside school activity gives them in spades every day. Lessons that will remain with them throughout their lives. Definitely well worth the time, effort, and money the parents invested.