- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 25, 2006

Let this be an open apology to all the couples I once judged as socially inattentive — not that you knew I felt this way.

In fact, let this be my confession that I secretly thought you were inappropriately consumed with the interests and extracurricular activities of your children.

Chalk it up to lack of experience, naivety about the way parenting really works in our day and age. Let’s just say I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

And you, well, you were too busy chaperoning the school dance and shopping for snacks for the soccer team to notice that I thought you were neglectful.

At the time, my children were still small — two were as yet unborn — and life was simple. They had no curricula, much less a schedule of extracurricular activities. A busy day included an hour of “Sesame Street,” an afternoon at the kitchen table with Play-Doh and cookie cutters, a walk, a snack, a nap and a bath. By 7:30 each night, they were tucked into bed, and I was emancipated.

Back then, I spent my spare time finding ways to interact with adults. I formed a book club, and I actually read the books before the club met.

I joined volunteer groups and attended lots of meetings — because bettering my community also enabled me to gather with other women who were unlikely to spill juice on me.

In addition to stretching my literary consumption and my community service muscle, I entertained — and I used actual china, not Chinet.

My husband and I regularly hosted other couples for dinner parties, and our friends reciprocated. We went with friends to movies, sporting events and even occasionally to a play or a concert.

Soon enough, however, I noticed a change in our social circle. We would get together at the home of friends only to discover that a few couples had begged off the invitation because of conflicts in their schedules — conflicts such as dance recitals and soccer tournaments.

The friends whose children were Cub Scouts or Brownies called only when it was time to sell popcorn or cookies.

The friends whose boys played in the youth hockey league dropped off the face of the Earth.

I sanctimoniously vowed my family wouldn’t fall into the trap of child-centered insanity. I had grown up just fine without spending my afternoons bouncing from one activity to the next, and I decided my children could do the same.

That just goes to show how much I didn’t know.

My downfall came when I thought I could limit my children to the offerings in the local parks and recreation catalog. I rationalized that I would ferry them only as far as the community center for tap lessons that met just once a week for eight weeks — not that you could learn any real tap-dancing in that short span, but at least it wasn’t overly intrusive on our time.

Then, in the time it takes to say, “How many days a week do we practice?” my life took a turn, and it’s never been the same.

Introductory dance classes became 12 weekends a year on the road to dance competitions. Instructional basketball evolved into a travel team that plays on weekends in the summer. A minor role in a school play became a six-week drama camp with evening rehearsals and two performances.

To be more involved in the lives of our children, my husband became the basketball coach. To supervise their activities appropriately, I became the volunteer coordinator for the school play.

Multiply our commitments times four (because it wouldn’t be fair to coach one child and not our other three), and what you get is a former social life and friends to whom you say things like, “We should get together sometime.”


We became the kind of couple I looked down on a dozen years ago for living vicariously through their children.

But as I said, back when my family was young, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

For example, I didn’t know how invested I would be in watching my son on a basketball court, putting his all into the game, learning tenacity and teamwork. I didn’t know how important it would be to him that I come to all his games and cheer him on.

I didn’t know how much my daughters would be able to learn from running, dance, music and drama beyond the ability to compete and perform. I didn’t realize that the poise they could gain in those settings would help them be more confident in life. And I didn’t know how crucial it would be to stand at the finish line or sit in the audience just to offer moral support.

I also didn’t anticipate the new friendships that would occupy this season of my life — I didn’t know how close I would grow with the parents whose schedules mirror mine and whose parenting journeys I share with such enthusiasm.

It has been a long time since I misjudged those couples who disappeared from our social life into the lives of their children. One of these days, when I’m finished doing the same, I plan to look them up and have them over for dinner.

Which reminds me, I wonder where I put the china?

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com)or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks @comcast.net.

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