When I was little—in first grade, maybe, or second—I played soccer for a season. My coach was a horrible woman with green chin hairs. Perhaps they weren’t green, but Tiny Jen remembers them that way, and she was definitely horrible. I’ve never been especially athletic but I was quite the perfectionist. Trying to play and not doing it very well made me miserable. Being yelled at and forced to run laps made it worse.
I hated soccer.
In fourth or fifth grade I played softball. I wore thick glasses by then and lived in perpetual terror that the ball would hit me in the face, breaking them and rendering me mostly blind. When my coach let me play, he stuck me out in right field and we all hoped nobody would hit anything my way.
I hated softball.
In seventh grade I played volleyball. I was getting close to six feet tall by then, so people assumed I’d be a natural. Except they forgot I was gangly and uncoordinated, and that I preferred reading quietly to running drills and having other girls spike volleyballs at my head. Basically I was Ferdinand the Bull. The girls on my team bullied me mercilessly when the coaches weren’t watching.
I hated volleyball.
To my parents’ credit, they encouraged me to try each of these activities but never forced me to continue them. I had to finish out the season—once you commit to a team, you don’t let them down—but I didn’t have to keep going beyond that.
Also to my parents’ credit, they enrolled me in plenty of other activities that I did enjoy.
I took piano lessons consistently through middle school, stopping only because we weren’t able to find a teacher who could really push me beyond what I’d already learned. And I was fine with that; piano was nice but it wasn’t a passion for me. I’ve retained enough to play hymns in church if I practice ahead of time. Plus I can read music well. I’m good with that.
I took private voice lessons around sixth grade. Those pushed me well outside my shy introvert comfort zone (I had to perform memorized pieces in recitals) and gave me a needed confidence boost. I sang in school choirs for years after that, and even took more voice lessons in college. My voice isn’t solo material, but I’ve never had serious dreams of being “a singer” and I much prefer singing in groups anyway.
I took swimming lessons every summer for years, and loved them. Despite never competing on a swim team and being too chicken to jump off the high dive, swimming was always a good experience for me. When I was in high school, I worked as a lifeguard for a couple years; that is still one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had. I’m far from a strong swimmer these days—I just don’t get enough time in the pool—but the water is my happy place.
I took a handful of dance classes along the way. (Don’t worry: I can still do a mean time step.) I raised a pig for 4-H. I was a cheerleader for a while, believe it or not. I had pets + play dates + plenty of time at the library.
All of which is to say, I had the chance to try a lot of things as a kid. Some went well and others…well…let’s just say I’ve avoided playing volleyball for twenty years.
David and I decided long ago that we want to give our kids the chance to try whatever they want…within reason. So far we’ve set the following ground rules:
- They can only participate in a couple classes/teams at a time. None of this over-scheduled stress for this minivan mom, thanks.
- They have to finish what they start.
So when Mila decided she didn’t like Running Club anymore, I told her too bad. You wanted to participate, so participate. And she did. She was literally the last person across the finish line at her last race and she didn’t even notice. I was so proud of her, I’m beaming just thinking about it. Now that the race season is over, she can decide if she wants to join again next year.
Thus far, in addition to running, she’s taken swimming lessons, and ballet + tap. Margot was in the dance class too and wants to continue. (That stone face of hers up there? She takes her ballet VERY seriously.) Mila opted for gymnastics instead. After her next birthday she’ll be old enough to go to the LEGO and/or STEAM clubs at our city library, which I’ll encourage her to do. We’d like to get her into music, eventually. She’s also mentioned karate and horseback riding. We’ll see.
There are soooooo many more options available than ever crossed my radar when I was a kid. Obviously I want my children to have fun. I also want them to try new things. Get outside their comfort zones. Learn useful skills. And time + money are always a factor; there’s no way we can do everything.
But watching them do some things sure has been fun so far!
I’d love to know: what activities did you do as a kid? If you have kids, what activities have they participated in? And, most importantly, which activities do you think are the best ones? Like, most valuable lessons learned, or best bang for your buck, or just the most fun overall. I’m so curious how other families do this!