Like most mothers with sanity as a priority, I swore that my kids would not be overextended while they were young. I played basketball as a child starting at age 2, but that was once a week after age 8. There was a brief period of piano, then dance class, neither of which lasted because they were inconvenient for my family, specifically my young sisters who required an early bed time. Even as a child, this made sense to me. I much preferred to run around outside and play, read books, watch movies, torture my sisters. The last thing I wanted after a day of school was more people telling me what to do with my precious free time.
Times have changed, though, and now the trend is to have extra-curricular activities as soon as possible and as often as possible. I tried to resist, but it is so hard when ALL the other kids in school are doing such fun things supported by their loving, well-meaning parents. I am also loving and well-meaning! I decided that it would be best to start enrolling the kids in various activities. We started with soccer. Colin has been playing since he was 5, which equates to now 3 seasons. It is finally starting to resemble an organized sport rather than a pack of hungry hippos following a ball around while their young are straggling around the edges, not paying attention and will likely be picked off and eaten.
As a side note, Caroline attempted soccer for a single season this past year, which was terrible and embarrassing for all involved. She mostly didn't pay attention or care about the game or her classmates at all - except when she did and would terrifyingly charge at the other children, visciously knocking them down and stealing their ball (or snack, she was not particular). Once, I was trying to motivate her to play and participate, that her team needed her. She callously met my eyes and said, "I'd really rather be alone, I don't even like those kids."
So Caroline doesn't play soccer anymore.
Colin loves it, though, and looks forward to soccer every session (twice a week!). However, he also has other things he's signed up to do. He is a Cub Scout at our church, which is three nights a month. Piano lessons are every week and he has a weekly playdate with his aunt so that Patrick and I can sing in church. He's a busy guy and busy guys sometimes need a break.
Which is how we came up with the One Free Pass. Each kid gets One Free Pass for each activity and, when they use it, they are let out of the activity without question. They get to decide when they use it and why. Sometimes it's because they're tired, sometimes they have a better offer, sometimes they just aren't feeling it that day. I will never let my kids quit an activity (unless its unsafe, etc) but sometimes you just don't want to go. In order to build a sense of responsibility, self-awareness, and self-care, we decided to give them this control. They pick the time and can invoke the pass without explanation.
The other night was our friend Elliot's birthday. Colin was so torn about what to do - he felt so busy and tired, but it was soccer! He loves soccer and could totally rally! But it was Elliot's birthday, and if he went to soccer he would not be able to see Elliot on his birthday. Colin does not make decisions easily or quickly, and this was a tough one. If he used his pass, he wouldn't have another one! If he didn't, he would be sad not to see Elliot and would be really tired! Ah, life is SO HARD!
Eventually, Colin decided to use his One Free Pass. We took homemade birthday cards and cookies to Elliot and then went to bed early. As we snuggled into bed, Colin said, "I'm glad I used my One Free Pass, Mommy. It was important to see Elliot and take care of myself today."