Facing summer with her young sons, Pam Lobley was sifting through signups for swim team, rec camp, night camp, scout camp, and enrichment classes. Overwhelmed at the choices, she asked the boys what they wanted to do during summer.
“Why can’t we just play?” they asked.
A summer with no scheduled activities at all … The thought was tempting, but was it possible? It would be like something out of the 1950’s. Could they really have a summer like that?
They could. They did! Here, in an excerpt from “Why Can’t We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy”, the author celebrates her son’s 11th birthday. Is he growing up too fast?
July 2 was Sam’s eleventh birthday. It kind of snuck up on me . . . so much for the 1950s making me organized and capable. I took out all of our scheduled activities . . . why did my days still feel so haphazard? All of the sudden it was July 1, and I was dashing to Target at eight thirty the night before his birthday to buy the toys he wanted, then racing home and making a cake from a mix at ten o’clock in the evening. NOT the 1950s.
For his birthday Sam had asked for action figures, Legos, a Build-A-Bear Teddy Bear, and a cake covered in strawberry frosting, sprinkles, and chocolate chips. He may be approaching puberty on the outside, but he is a little boy on the inside.
This was a relief to me, because a few weeks before I had come across a study done in Britain stating that childhood now ended at age eleven. Yes, that study said most parents believed when a kid reaches the ripe old age of eleven, they’re done with toys. They want to listen to music, think about the opposite sex, and sass their parents. In other words, eleven was the new fifteen.
“Pester power” had become so strong that pressured parents would give in to demands by their children to have grown up privileges; like watching inappropriate movies or dressing provocatively or drinking alcohol. Kids wanted to grow up faster, and parents were too tired to argue.
In the 1950s, parents weren’t too tired. They weren’t tired because they got married young and had their kids young. I had Sam when I was thirty-five, so the year he turned eleven, I was forty-six. You bet I was tired, and fatigue does affect parenting. For instance, if I would hear my sons cursing in another room, or sneaking a cookie, I’d just pretend not to notice. Not dealing with those things would save my energy, so I could deal with something else later, like when the boys were pretending to shoot each other during dinner.
Someday, I thought, Sam and Jack will outgrow shooting each other during dinner. Let’s assume that, at any rate. In the meantime, they acted like kids, and no amount of encouragement from me had managed to change that.
I hated hearing about this study, and felt sorry for kids who got old so fast. I wanted my boys to grow up as slowly as they possibly could without being social misfits. I wanted them to have a childhood so slow and deep it kept them grounded as adults. If it took Sam twenty years to learn how to hold a fork with his fingers instead of his fist or stop gnawing on his dinner roll like a squirrel, so be it.
When Jack told me, at age four that “Winnie the Pooh is for babies,” my heart sank. A door had closed, and Tigger was out of my life forever. Doors close all the time. That summer, Sam and Jack started to do their own showers, including shampoo. They could get a Band-Aid for themselves. They could call a friend on the phone by themselves and be polite to the grown up on the other end.
Little by little, they took their steps away from me. Which is as it should be, and I didn’t want to be one of those deflated moms mooning around and wondering where her life went when her kids go off to college. I had told myself that I would allow them to grow up slowly, that I would be there for all of it, and that I would feast so richly on those years that I would be able to let go easily when the time comes. More likely, I will be half insane from watching Sam eat like a squirrel for twenty years and hopefully that will make it easier to send him off college.
In any case, on his eleventh birthday, Sam still loved toys, and he still loved that we hid his presents and gave him clues to find thema birthday treasure hunt. He skipped around the house batting at draperies and shouting, “I found it!”
He begged me for his favorite blueberry pancakes for breakfast. He ate one and then asked for cereal. Later, we went to meet my mother-in-law at the mall, so she could take us all to lunch. He picked TGI Fridays, because he had seen it on TV. He refused to order from the kids menu. “I’m eleven, now, Mom,” he said. “I’m an adult.” Had he read that study from Britain?
He ordered a regular-sized burger off the menu, but couldn’t finish it. He ordered mozzarella cheese sticks and couldn’t finish those, either. He kicked Jack under the table and played with the new action figure he had received that morning. When he and Jack went to the bathroom, Sam crawled under the stall to peer at him and annoy him. They came out of the bathroom shoving and giggling. It was a perfect lunch.
On the way home, we stopped at Build-A-Bear so that Sam could use his gift certificate to select a custom teddy bear. I saw a woman with three boys, each older than Sam. I swear one of them had a mustache. They were all getting bears. Maybe I’m not the only one whose children want to grow up slowly.
I thought about that study. I think that parents who say eleven is the new fifteen simply want their children to grow up faster. They want their kids to eat like adults, to watch TV like adults, to misbehave like adults, because it’s easier than having kids. Are they thinking the faster my kids grow up, the sooner I can get on with my life? I understand. Children are exhausting and difficult to comprehend, and they slow you down.
But sometimes it’s okay to slow down.
That night, my mother called to wish Sam a happy birthday. She asked him how it felt to be eleven. “Kind of exciting,” he replied, “kind of heavy, too.”
He knew he was growing up. He just didn’t want to rush it.
You can see the author read a different story from this book here. In this laugh-out-loud excerpt she plays the board game “Life” with her children, and becomes a little freaked out at the life choices they make.
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Facing summer with her two boys, ages ten and seven, Pam Lobley was sifting through signups for swim team, rec camp, night camp, scout camp, and enrichment classes. Overwhelmed at the choices,…
Why Can’t We Just Play?
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