In A (Mini) Van Down By The River

Remember that one time? When I mentioned that my kids weren’t interested in extracurricular activities? Well, they changed their minds. All of my kids. Changed their minds. All at the same time. My kids are doing all of the activities now. There are no activities left because my kids are doing them all.

Henry recently decided that Sports is his thing. It wasn’t for a long time. Now, it is. Doesn’t really matter which kind. He will gamely try them all – in a row. This past fall, sensing our reluctance to let him play tackle football, he asked if he could join a flag football league organized through the city’s rec department. We agreed that it was a good way for him to try the sport while not risking a traumatic head injury so we signed him up. The teams were well organized, the coach was super nice, and Henry really seemed to enjoy himself. I liked seeing him participate and try new things.

That’s how we added flag football to the schedule.


When flag football wrapped up, I was looking forward to a long winter of sitting on my sofa in front of the fire not having to drive anyone anywhere. Then, Henry asked if he could try basketball. I explained that I felt like we had already sported so much and basketball overlapped a little with flag football and are you SURE you’re up for that commitment and it gets dark at, like, 4:30 in the afternoon now and there are so many good things on Netflix have you seen all of the good things on Netflix and even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see my future and it did not involve my sofa.

That’s how we added basketball to the flag football.

Charlie wanted to participate in flag football this past fall because Henry wanted to participate in flag football this past fall. Why not, we thought. In for a penny, in for a pound! Charlie doesn’t share Henry’s passion for the more technical aspects of the game though and was mostly in it for the shenanigans. Namely, chasing the other players around on the field without grabbing anyone’s flag. Which, as Charlie’s coach was apt to point out, WAS NOT THE POINT OF THE GAME, CHARLIE.

Shortly after Charlie’s stint as troublemaking team member began, it became clear that sports was maybe not the right match for his skill set. Around that same time, Charlie found out that a bunch of his buddies were in Cub Scouts. Much like tackle football, we had some reservations. But, since Charlie basically spends all of his free time each weekend hiking, fishing, hunting, and carving those statues of bears out of tree trunks with a chainsaw in the garage, we thought, hmmm, some sort of outdoor-centric club might be just the ticket for this kid.

That’s how we added Cub Scouts to the basketball and to the flag football.


Millie had talked about taking gymnastics classes with enthusiasm for awhile but we had always discouraged her from pursuing her dreams because it seemed like it would really add to our workload. I mean, at this point, we had gone from zero (0) activities to four (4) activities. Where would this fresh hell fit in? When we discovered her in the basement one afternoon, constructing her own balance beam out of half-empty paint cans and a discarded two by four, we decided we had better enroll her in some sort of tumbling program. We can still really play up her hardscrabble beginning with the paint cans though when she films her Olympic team intro video.

That’s how we added gymnastics to the Cub Scouts and to the basketball and to the flag football.


I feel like I haven’t sat down since September. Unless you count sitting in my minivan as sitting. Then, I’ve sat a lot since September. In my minivan. While I wait for my kids to do their things. I wrote this entire essay on my laptop from the confines of the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey. I basically live here now. I’ve got blankets and canned goods and extra power ports. I just drive from one parking lot to another. If the weather were nicer, I’d set one of those pop-up canopies down and chat with other parents who are also waiting aimlessly in parking lots.

In fact, I had to drive Henry to a neighboring town for a practice this week and my friend happens to live close by and I thought to myself, I should tell my friend to meet me in the parking lot, where I’m sitting in my minivan and we could catch up. She also has three kids in activities and even though I bet you’re thinking it would be weird to hang out with your friend in their minivan, she would absolutely not think it was weird. She gets it. I was disappointed when I hadn’t thought to bring a little wine or maybe some snack cheese.

I suggested to Bob that we get one of those gas tanks installed on our property – like the ones they have on farms – so we don’t have to worry about where and when to fill up our car’s constantly empty tank but he didn’t think that was a wise use of money. Whatever. That idea has legs for sure.

I have no succinct way to wrap this up other than Henry is done with practice in about ten minutes and then I have to drive my minivan home and look longingly at my sofa on my way to bed. If you need me for any reason in the coming months, just come find my minivan. Basketball is done in February – I think.

Wait, what comes after basketball season?

No Thank You

A recent episode of The Moth podcast aired a story told by Elna Baker about her time living in New York City saying “yes” to every opportunity and experience that came her way. Elna is the author of the delightful book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance and her funny address to the audience at The Moth tells of how being amenable to everything led to amazing encounters. (If you haven’t already, definitely add The Moth to your podcast rotation! It’s really good stuff.)

Anyway, Bob and I are just like Elna Baker only the opposite because we’re saying no to all the things. Well, not all the things. Just some of the things. We are strategically saying no to opportunities and activities in an effort to make areas of our family life run a bit smoother. Basically, we’re streamlining.

Here are five things we’ve said no to recently:

1. Cub Scouts. I really, really wanted Cub Scouts to work for the boys. My father was a Boy Scout and points to his experience with scouting as a driving force in his youth. Scouting seems like such a good idea in theory – outdoor adventures, campfires, service to others, learning how to tie complicated knots. That’s what I thought Cub Scouts would be like. However, mostly, we just sold things, like popcorn. I don’t think the scouting of today is like the scouting my father enjoyed.

Our entire fall was seemingly spent selling popcorn and picking up popcorn and delivering popcorn and collecting money for popcorn. Since I had served as the treasurer of Henry’s Cub Scout pack in Richmond, I knew that a large chunk of fundraising efforts goes right back to the local Boy Scouts council. Which, I don’t know. The amount seemed kind of egregious. When we moved up north, we found a much larger pack to join and I thought maybe things would be different. It wasn’t. We just managed the sale and distribution of a lot of popcorn during our precious weekend free time. Bob and I were bummed. Plus, there was a lot of weekly homework with this new pack. Lots of worksheets to complete and pictures to color and the whole thing just seemed like such a drag. We absolutely do not need more busywork in our lives. Henry hadn’t even learned to tie one knot.

So, we quit. Henry wasn’t that into it which sealed the deal. If he were genuinely interested, we would have nurtured that but he was not. I was disappointed to quit something before the year was finished but it was absolutely the right thing to do. We don’t have any regrets. If we were city-bound, I might feel differently. But, we live a couple of miles from the Appalachian Trail, have regular bonfires in our backyard and have to do nightly tick checks so we’re pretty outdoorsy to begin with. (The kids are, not me. Oh, haha, definitely not me. I’m inside on my phone.) And, Bob has promised to teach all of our children how to tie knots.

2. Satellite TV. It’s a little crazy but we haven’t had programmed television up in this joint for about six weeks now. Back in March, our satellite TV provider doubled our rates. That would be just fine if we could ever find anything to watch on our TV ever. We never could. Instead, Bob and I spent hours flipping the remote, past several hundred home shopping channels, just to find HGTV (me) or the History channel (him) or Disney Junior (them). We had made progress in our effort to lessen the amount of television the kids watched but we thought we could do better. The rate jump was merely the final impetus for cutting it out completely.

I’ll admit I was nervous, you guys. The TV is kind of the background noise to my daily tasks. I’ll watch the news while folding laundry or doing the dishes and we would typically plop the kids in front of Disney Junior just to survive the last hour before bedtime. Taking that all away seemed drastic. Especially, since where we live means very limited options when it comes to television. We don’t have cable that runs to our neighborhood, hence the satellite dish, and our internet connection, which is barely a notch above AOL’s dial-up service, means we can’t stream anything, ever. Even a rooftop antenna would only get us one channel out of West Virginia (Ion. I don’t even know what that is.)

So it came as a huge surprise that, since canceling our service, we don’t miss television at all. Not even a little bit. We signed up for Netflix which sends us DVDs in the mail, so antiquated a notion that they should probably be delivered on ponies. And, the kids can rent some familiar titles at the library (Sophia the First, Curious George) so they’re happy. To replace the dearth of news programming, I successfully stay current on world events by reading, my Twitter feed and watching clips of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on YouTube.

We’re also doing more – gasp – reading. Instead of plopping the kids in front of the TV after pajamas are donned, we’re diving into chapter books. And, Bob and I are doing more – gasp – talking. Instead of plopping down in front of the TV at night after we’ve plopped the kids in bed after they’ve been plopped in front of the TV, we sit and chat instead. All in all, it was a dramatic change that wasn’t so dramatic after all.

3. Diapers. We’re done with diapers folks. It’s been one tumultuous decade of diapering and wiping the behinds of others but it is all in the rearview mirror. Millie was true to the post-3-years-old tradition around here of learning how to properly use the toilet but once she decided she was Good & Ready, it was all done in only a couple of days. She stays dry at night, too. (I’m so glad I just spent $50.00 on pull-ups.)

All of the kids in this picture can use the toilet independently!

All of the kids in this picture can use the toilet independently!

This has made our life so much easier in so many ways. It’s also entirely weird to walk right past the baby section at Target. I have spent a decade – a DECADE – of my life shopping that area for formula, bottles, toddler snacks, lotion, body wash, pacifiers, wipes, crib sheets, socks and diapers. Now, I have zero reason to go back. It is delightful and a bit disconcerting all at the same time. It’s like I’ve graduated to the other part of the store, the girls section, where all of the glitter and too short shorts are found. I’m ready but I’m not ready but I am so here we go!

4. Tiny youth sports. Charlie, man. Despite saying he wanted to play soccer again this season, he totally didn’t want to play soccer again this season. He is entirely uninterested and watching his lack of enthusiasm from the sidelines, on a Saturday afternoon when I could be doing a million other things, has cemented my feelings that sports are for the older kid set. Henry plays soccer as well and is really pretty committed but he also has over three years of age advantage on Charlie. So, I think we’re pulling the plug on Charlie and team sports after this spring season concludes. (We already quit Cub Scouts so I can’t quit another thing prematurely. It’s goes against my principles. I’m still counting down the Saturdays until it is all gloriously over though.) I know the argument is that youth sports helps teach kids how to be part of a team but Charlie’s one of three kids so he’s basically learning how to be on a team just by waking up in the morning. We’ll reevaluate in another year or two but I’m not really mourning this loss.

5. Volunteering. Between church and school and our community, there is a lot going on and it seems like the need for volunteers to help with this or that is endless. Because I like to be helpful and don’t like awkward silences when no one steps up to fill a need, I have overcommitted myself in the past. One of the things I’ve tried to do recently is really be more strategic about what I say yes to and what I say no to. This is really hard for me because I want to Do! All! The! Things! but what I’ve found is that saying no to the wrong things helps me find and say yes to the right things. By saying no to an intensive volunteer opportunity with the kids’ new school, I’ve been able to say yes to co-chairing my local MOPS group. Trading something that wasn’t a good fit for something that was. Picking and choosing carefully instead of randomly plugging in my efforts has really helped me manage my time more effectively and works much better for our family.

So, let’s compare notes. Tell me, what have you gleefully said no to recently?