“Does this go on all winter?” Noah asked from the back seat as we pulled out of the driveway on our way to his ski lesson.
“Yes,” I replied.
“The winter is soooo long though,” he said, exasperated.
“You’ll have a different teacher this week,” I told him. “Let’s see how it goes and if you don’t like it we can stop.”
A few weeks earlier Noah had started his second season of ski lessons, something that he had been looking forward to since late summer. The year before he had taken half-day lessons and loved it. This year, because he was five, the only option for him was a full day lesson. The first lesson had gone ok, he’d had fun even though one of his friends, who is a year older, and some of the other kids were calling him names. This bothered him, but by Friday he was excited to go skiing the next day.
At the second lesson most of the kids, and the instructor, enjoyed going as fast as they could down the mountain. Noah is cautious and thus he was always bringing up the rear. The group was not a good match, but he hung in there for the day, without complaint.
I’ve always loved skiing. As a kid I covered every inch of the walls in my bedroom with ski pictures. The topic of skiing is what allowed me to meet my wife, Erin, and it is one of the reasons we moved to Utah. We want our kids to love skiing as much as we do, but we don’t believe in forcing them to love something just because we want them to. Nor do we feel they always need to be busy with activities.
After forty minutes and two more pep talks about giving it one more chance, we pulled into the parking lot. Noah was listless. I tried to keep an upbeat demeanor as I started gathering our gear.
“Daddy, I don’t feel well,” he said softly after a few moments.
“You don’t? What’s wrong?”
After ten minutes of trying to tease out of him exactly what was wrong, I decided it was best just to head back home.
“Are you saying you don’t feel well because you don’t want to ski?” I asked.
“Uh-huh,” he said, nodding his head.
“You never have to tell me or your mom that you feel sick because you don’t want to do something. You just tell us you don’t want to do it. If it is something like this we can just not do it, but if it’s something like school you may have to buck up and go. But always, no matter whom you are with, speak up when you don’t want to do something. Okay?”
“Okay,” he said and then closed his eyes and was asleep almost instantly.
As I drove home I thought about all that had gone on in the last couple of weeks. Noah had started the afternoon program at his pre-school so now he was going five half days a week. Erin had worked two weeks in a row, which translates into working five days having two days off and then working about eighty hours over the next seven days. I myself was worn out so I could only imagine how Noah was feeling. We’ve not gone back to the mountain since, nor has either of the kids asked to go.
We as a society, it seems to me, feel that our children need to always have a structured schedule, that we can’t leave them up to their own devices and imagination for a moment. We have a myriad of rational and irrational fears and reasons as to why we feel this way. I was speaking with someone recently who told me that when he was a kid he and his friends would play baseball everyday after school in a field, using rocks for bases. He went on to say that there are all these manicured baseball fields today that have been built but largely remain empty because no one is organizing a game. The truth is our children would be much better equipped for life if they had to find things to do on their own, use their imagination, work out conflict, get dirty and expel their energy with unstructured play. Simply put, to spend more time just being kids.