I love my 13 year old son, but I will also be the first to admit that he isn’t one to move his body all that much without serious motivation. For example, with P.E. being canceled, and soccer being canceled, and riding bikes around the neighborhood with friends being canceled, Tristan has become this slug of a boy who wants little more than to play video games 24/7. I assume all of you living through a pandemic with children can relate.
In fact, a few weekends ago, he was asking for more screen time, and I got so sick of hearing about it that I finally told him he could play screens if he spent some time moving his body. He ended up riding our stationary bike — while holding a table, of course — for way longer than I expected him to. He actually watched his tablet while riding, and I didn’t complain.
Was he tired the next day? Nope. He woke up feeling like a million bucks, because that’s 13.
It isn’t much better with my two daughters. We walk the dog as a family, but there just aren’t a lot of options right now for physical activity. Especially when two parents are working from home and cannot facilitate games or oversee bike rides, and the playgrounds are still closed. Like most parents, I want my children to have the chance to move their bodies, but the options are limited with everything being canceled.
Last week, Mel and I got three sign-up sheets in our email. Two were for my 13-year-old and my 6-year-old to sign up for fall soccer. And one was for my 10-year-old to sign up for fall gymnastics. After the kids were in bed, we sat at the kitchen table weighing the pros and cons of signing our children up for sports in the shadow of a pandemic.
The standing rule in our house for many years has been one extracurricular activity. No more, and no less. We want our three kids to be involved in something, but we just don’t have the time to commit to more than one per child. We also don’t want them to be overwhelmed. Now suddenly we have to take into account this qualifier: Can the extracurricular activity be done safely with COVID-19 in the mix?
We discussed what we knew about the virus. We discussed how we live in a pretty rural area of Oregon with few cases of COVID-19. We discussed how our area was already in phase 2 of reopening, and as long as things continue to go in the right direction, we should be in phase 3 by the time the season starts.
Mel brought up the differences between soccer and gymnastics, and how soccer is played outside. There is plenty of space between players most of the time, and the ball is kicked, not thrown, so that also limits the possibility spreading the virus from multiple people touching the ball. Gymnastics, on the other hand was held indoors, where the risk of transmission is higher. The email we were sent didn’t say anything about disinfecting the equipment between gymnasts, or face coverings being required, and that made us worried.
Eventually, after much discussion on the subject, we felt safer about soccer, but gymnastics felt like too much of a risk. Naturally, this put us in a precarious place with our children. It is always difficult to split the group like this. Whenever you sit down with your children and say that some children can do this, while others can’t — regardless of the reasons — the odd one out will feel picked on. So we were left to make a choice: either opt for no sports for anyone because gymnastics didn’t feel safe, or explain the situation to our children, and help our middle daughter find a new sport until gymnastics is safer.
Ultimately, we went with the last choice. We signed two of our kids up for soccer, and discussed options with my middle daughter. Naturally, she wasn’t thrilled about it, but on the whole she took it well. Right now she is deciding between soccer and cross country.
I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about the “new normal” recently. And sadly, I think this is one of those situations. I used to worry about how hard I was going to have to push to make sure my children finished the season. I used to worry about having dinner at 4PM or 8PM because of soccer practice in the afternoon, or how I was going to get to a gymnastics meet and two soccer games in three different towns, all on the same Saturday. Now it looks like I might be doing that, while also trying to assess the very real risk of my children participating in these sports (beyond the usual bumps and bruises).
I think all parents are going to be having these conversations as areas begin to open up. They are going to need to weigh the risk, with the benefits, and try to figure out what is best for their children, while also looking at where they live, the sport the child plays, and how it all relates to the possibility of infection. The hope here is to keep our children safe while also helping them live a happy life that promotes a healthy body.
I want to think that Mel and I made a good decision, but like everything right now, it could all change tomorrow.