Once in a while, something stirs my brain cells. In this case, it's another blog,
about the matter of over-programmed kids.
I suppose it depends what you call over-programmed, and some people's definitions do get my knickers in a twist. Guess what? My daughter was in day care from age three months until she aged out of it. Alternative? Probably homelessness: under this roof, two incomes have always been a necessity, not a luxury.
Possibly she had an exceptional programme, but Emily came out of the experience a naturally introverted person (blame the genes) with excellent social skills and a cheerful, irrepressible, disposition she did not
get from her parents. She did not lose her nature, but she acquired something else. So guess what? Despite the obsessive efforts of people who want to romanticise the 1950s as the era of the ideal family, who want mea culpas
from anyone using day care or whose kids do something besides play in the street, I don't feel guilty. Nor am I guilty for being very damned proud of my daughter.
Besides the day care, she also swam. When she was 11 or 12, she was reading a swimming magazine whose editor we knew, and working through a questionnaire for age-group swimmers. One of the questions was "What made your parents choose swimming for you?" She threw down the magazine and never read it again. Emily, you see, chose the sport for herself. This fact still ignites contemptuous disbelief in adults of the more know-it-all variety. When Emily was swimming at the age group level, the fact elicited anger and envy from other swim parents: directed at her, not us. I can hardly find words to express my opinion of adults who are jealous of a child.
I don't want to talk about her for the moment, but about those obsessive parents that sparked my friend's blog. Swimming attracts more than its share of these. Cyclically (usually in Olympic years) it is a fashionable sport. Somehow, it has also gotten the reputation of being an easy road to an athletic scholarship. This has to rank as one of the most psychotic of parental delusions. That combination makes a certain class of swim parent among the most toxic human beings in existence. Fortunately (perhaps because of the toxicity) swimming is the most highly disciplined youth sport I know: in its rigid separation of young swimmers and their parents.
It isn't an easy sport, after all. Many young swimmers, favoured by physiology, do extremely well very early. They and their parents go a little crazy, and the insanity lasts until puberty, when to succeed means to work. At 10 the lucky ones do well just by showing up. By 14, doing well means 10,000-15,000 yards in the pool a day, plus dry-land exercise, plus school, and (believe it or not) a social life.
In 14 years I suppose we saw about every form of parent-child dysfunction. There was the father of two morbidly obese children, convinced he could turn his unhappy and indifferent children into Division I athletes by overtraining them. There was the archetype of the overprogrammed family that bothers all of us, who tried filing abuse charges against a coach because their child wasn't getting his exclusive attention. All they got out of that was a reputation. Their child eventually stopped swimming because no club team, and eventually no public or private school team, would put up with them.
It's not a harmless sport, either. I know one motivated and very pleasant girl who blew out her rotator cuff at 13. She swam again, but she had overtrained and was lucky to have the use of her arm. I saw another girl about the same age end her swimming career in an instant, when she broke both ankles during a turn.
That's the bad side, the dark side. Read some people, and they sound like they want to shut down all after-school programmes, turn the kids loose in the neighbourhoods, where they would presumably be overseen by the happy stay-at-home housewives. Not every kid benefits from "free play." Some have more focused motivations, whether they be dance, art, music, or sports.
Now, back to my daughter and the bright side. She swam for 14 years, through college. She did well, but was no Olympian. There was no scholarship. She already had an academic scholarship at the college she chose when she joined its team as a walk-on (and finished as captain). She had already learnt to make tough decisions. She discovered patience and resilience. Sport brought her many successes, but an equal number of disappointments, and taught her to handle both. I like to think she is giving some of that back now. She's a clinician dealing with some of the worst hurt people imaginable. She helps them make tough choices, to combat disappointments, to enjoy their successes, and to persevere in difficult recoveries.
Em asked advice from us, but made her own decisions. She got from us what such young people need most: the assurance that, do what they will, they will never disappoint us.
I do not remember getting any of that from free play. Looking back, I think free play may be somewhat overrated. That gets back to the romance of the 1950s. I was there; it wasn't that good; get over it.