As we brace ourselves for summer (after the last snow, likely in June), I'm reminded of the need to NOT cart our children here and there like we are a combination of UTA and NASCAR.

Years ago, I signed my two toddlers up for a lovely music class. The same class, the same hour. It looked lovely. The teacher was lovely and the curriculum was lovely, too. I thought, what an ideal setup.

Later I thought, what an ideal migraine. While the other moms sat quietly, I bobbed up and down like a kangaroo, not to the music but in chasing my children. (I didn't know they had to stay in the circle.)

Others languidly watched their children clap, hop, dig and even lunge in time to the music. I felt as if was I wearing a neon sticker that said: "Major mother loser who can't get her children to dance on cue because she gave them cereal for dinner during the entire summer of 2000."

As I sat there, confidently smiling while trying to prevent myself from duct taping my child to the piano, I felt my self-esteem start to shake, then rattle and finally roll over and play dead.

Thankfully, a bonk on the head with a flying xylophone mallet brought me to my senses. I thanked the talented teacher, swept up my kids and said, "Park!"

Off we went to a nearby park with blazing sun, blue sky and wide-open running spaces.

In "Ten Things I Wish I'd Known before I Went Out into the Real World," Maria Shriver states, "Kids teach you things about yourself you couldn't learn on your own — lessons about patience and selflessness ... my children have taught me to let things roll off my back. ..."

Learning is not an official class. We buzz children to soccer, piano, swimming and T-ball, certain we must give them every opportunity available. And indeed there are more opportunities available today than ever before. But more does not always signify better.

One tired girl involved in many afterschool functions told her principal she was so busy because her mom didn't want her around. The principal knew her parents and that this wasn't so, but somehow this little girl didn't know.

I have heard women bemoan their budget, anxious about not providing all they feel — or that the neighbors feel — they should. One woman considered an at-home job just to pay for additional lessons. When guilt comes to shove and anxiety prevails, perhaps spending unstructured "teaching" time just dancing/singing/playing may be more ideal.

And know that the time, although not penciled in the planner, has meaning that cannot be choreographed.

This is, by no means, not a picket against structured lessons. I tried teaching my son piano, thinking this to be the perfect match (I play the piano, he wanted to play the piano ... ). I was pitifully wrong. But perhaps talking to your children about what they like and how they want to do it may be enlightening. What may be missed in overscheduled structured lessons is the chance for parent and child to learn life's lessons in the most subtle ways.

We can relax and enjoy the summer through simple things, and shockingly, our children will enjoy it, too. A few weeks back was our school's spring vacation. Rather than plan an elaborate trip (translation: endless prep and cleanup upon return with much sleep deprivation for Mom), we stayed home and did amazing things such as bowling. And the park. And games.

I can honestly say it was one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable vacations we've had.

As with all things, balance is the rose and the thorn. In the end, whichever way is best, parents can feel relieved knowing that everyday they are teaching and growing their children no matter the summer schedule.

After that morning years ago — running all over the grassy park — I heard the music in my children's laughter and realized they were still living, loving and learning.

LIFEChange tip: Discuss and set a schedule with children that fit your family needs without guilt or comparison.


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