An Overscheduled Childhood

I’m feeling really unpopular these days, because it seems none of Neil’s friends are ever able to visit him for fun and play at his home, and they’re not inviting him over to play with them either. It’s enough to make me wonder about personal hygiene and personality flaws, but I know deep down the problem is harder to overcome than that.

All of Neil’s friends are fanatically scheduled into sports and enrichment activities. Neil seems pretty busy already with cub scout activies weekly and often on the weekends, as well as karate 2 or 3 times a week. But that’s nothing compared to what his friends do. Some of them are in sports like baseball, which practice 3 times a week and play for at least one full day on weekends: and that’s not counting in award ceremonies. Many take piano lessons or dance classes on top of that, and then they have to tag along with their equally hyper-scheduled siblings. And when vacation appears, the achieving families schedule in the doctor and dentist appointments and amusement park vacations they had to put off because they were always so busy while school is in session.

Neil had a week off in February, and I put in calls to 4 or 5 families to see if their child could come over to play. Two never responded; two responded after the vacation saying they’d been out of town, and one, the mother of Neil’s closest friend, tried to schedule us in for a 1/2 hour visit at her home sometime after her daughter’s ballet class and before her son’s doctor appointment. Needless to say, nothing came off.

So last week, on Neil’s most recent week off, I tried a different tactic. A week before the vacation, I picked 4 activities: a trip to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center on Friday; “The Last Mimzy” at a local movie theatre on Monday; the Chabot Space & Science Center on Wednesday; and the school-requested workday on the campus garden on Saturday, and I simply invited 10 families to join us for any one or several things. I figured a variety of choices in a variety of fun local places raised the odds that someone‘s schedule might have an opening to let them join us.

Some families let me know they’d be out of town all that week, others said they had nothing in particular planned and would probably meet up with us for something; most didn’t respond at all. As it turned out, not a single family joined us for any event. By luck and chance, not personal invitation, a schoolmate of Neil was at the movie theatre with us, but she went to see “The Robinsons” instead. I actually found it very disheartening: it felt like throwing a party no one comes to.

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