I hung back behind my eight-year-old while my husband and the older kids took off along the Capitol Crescent Trail ahead of us. It was a bright, warm day—a precursor to spring—and the trail was bustling with cyclists and joggers and people walking their dogs. My daughter’s bike seemed to have shrunk over the winter and she wobbled here and there as her knees came up high and then down again. “Stay in your lane!” I kept calling out. “Someone’s passing on your left!” And in spots where the trail snakes alongside a steep drop straight down to the Potomoc River, I rang out with a high-pitched “Be careful! Be careful! Be careful!”
I was a bit nervous because it was the first time in over thirteen years of parenting that we have ever taken a family bike ride. That’s right. We had never gone for a bike ride together. Partly that was because my husband and I didn’t own bikes in Toronto. (Chalk that up to too much theft, not enough storage, too many kids and so much winter.) But mostly it’s because we didn’t have time. We had always thought it would be fun to rent bikes on Centre Island or use the city-run Bike Share bikes on a trail, but we never had the chance.
Our weekends had become over-scheduled and it took moving to D.C. to finally re-evaluate how we want to spend our time. Every weekend had been filled with hockey games in winter and baseball games in summer. One season would end and the other would already be beginning. Layer on birthday parties and family get-togethers, school work and music practice, and it seemed that every spare moment was accounted for. Advertisements for family-friendly shows and festivals would land in my inbox and I wondered who ever was looking for MORE things to do.
It kind of snuck up me, to be honest. I had heard about parents who over-schedule their kids and that was not going to be me, no way, no how. I have better things to do with my time than shuttle kids all around town, and, besides, I actually value downtime for all of us. One sport and one arts-based activity at a time, that’s it! I put my foot down and I kept to my plan. It still sounds reasonable, even as I write it out here. And it wasn’t bad at first when I only had one kid old enough for sports. But soon enough it was two kids, then three. And then, of course, the middle child always has to be such an overachiever, and before you know it your husband is suddenly running a competitive girls’ baseball program on top of everything else.
So, to recap. We had three kids on three different hockey teams each with a weekly game and a weekly practice, plus music lessons, throughout much of the school year. That was the quiet season. Then from April through September we had three kids on FIVE different baseball teams with a complicated schedule of games, practices and weekend-long tournaments. My husband was involved in coaching most of the teams and kids sports became part of who we were. Tournaments turned into family vacations, stray sports equipment became a major decor theme in our home and I had completely given over the trunk of the van to hockey bags and baseball gear.
We were sad to say goodbye to our teams and the networks of sports families we had become friends with. But moving gave us the chance to start fresh and reassess how busy we truly needed to be as a family. How busy did we want to be?
Hockey was a no-go, we decided. My thirteen-year-old son loved playing house league hockey on his neighbourhood team, but he isn’t a competitive player. In Toronto you can find a team for just about every skill and commitment level, but that’s not the case in D.C. Here, all the kids who play hockey are serious about it. They have to travel for hours every weekend to find other teams to play against. It’s time-consuming, expensive and (honestly) intimidating.
Instead, we’ve spent the winter exploring all the free Smithsonian museums and monuments that D.C. has to offer. We’ve gone to the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the National Zoo, traipsed through parks, gone bowling and spent time with visiting family members. We’ll pick up some baseball for the girls in the spring but it won’t be five teams anymore. We’re looking forward to weekend jaunts and day trips and exploring this part of the world. Isn’t that part of the reason for making this crazy move to begin with?
I sometimes do wake up on Saturday mornings in a mild panic because there’s nothing on the schedule. Should I sign the kids up for more things? Aren’t we supposed to be scrambling? But then I remember they have plays, musicals, concerts and sports teams at school already. For the most part, the kids can direct their own interests now. And I get to relax with the newspaper and a hot cup of coffee. Maybe we’ll go for a bike ride this afternoon. Maybe we can even stop for a snack and nobody will be late for practice. Imagine that.