MAMA: Mother Against More Activities from BRAIN, CHILD, a magazine for thinking mothers
March 4, 2015
By Francie Arenson Dickman
I’m not sure when doing nothing after school fell out of favor. As a kid, I was a pro at nothing. We all were.
I’m trying to convince my husband and twin daughters to move to Fresvik, Norway. It’s a farming village tucked between snowcapped mountains and a fjord (Norwegian for ridiculously blue body of water). It’s a place with porches, and people who actually sit on them. A place where cows run wild and so do the kids, whose biggest decision of the day is whether to swim or bike.
No child in Fresvik, I’m sure, is sitting on the kitchen floor like my 13-year-old daughter, with her foot jammed in a contraption that promises to build one’s foot arch, agonizing over whether she should go to camp as planned or attend the Joffrey Summer Intensive as her ballet instructors have advised.
“I don’t know what’s involved in a summer intensive, but I assume it’s intense,” I tell my husband. “And I assume they don’t have them in Fresvik.”
“I’m sure they don’t have Starbucks there, either,” he says. “The grass is always greener.”
“No,” I say, pointing to the picture I’d pulled up on my computer in effort to hard-sell our Nordic relocation. “Their grass really is.”
He then points out that their grass is frozen three-quarters of the year. “It only looks like that for a couple of good months in the summer,” he counters.
That may well be, but that’s all my daughter has, too—a couple of good months in the summer, which she was going to spend at camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The antithesis in atmosphere and activity, I surmise from name alone, of the Joffrey Summer Intensive. A place more like Fresvik, which I stumbled upon while watching a PBS documentary called Twin Sisters, an incredible story about identical twin girls adopted from China as babies by different families, one from Sacramento, the other from—you guessed it—Fresvik, Norway.
The film cuts back and forth between the life of the Sacramento twin—a life filled with soccer games, minivans, and goody bag trinkets—to the world of her sister. Although the film’s focus was the kismet that led the parents to discover the girls were twins, and the girls’ bond despite growing up on different sides of the globe, my big take-away was how the Fresvik twin got the better end of the deal.
While the Sacramento girl was shuttled and instructed, the Fresvik girl roamed and rescued mice. She walked to school, she ran to the mailbox; she got bored. The disparity in lifestyle and attitude was egregious, enough to steal the show. It was commented on by the Sacramento father as well as by many of the folks who visited the film’s website. Clearly, Fresvik is the place to be. Or at least the place to rather be. It seems I have company in my desire to go anywhere, even to a place without a Starbucks, as long as we don’t have to keep on going and going.
My girlfriend recently gave me her daughter’s college resume to review. It was four pages long. Her every minute of high school was meticulously accounted for and for what? She is going to the same college that I attended. Will she fare that much better there than I did? Will she fare that much better in life? And what about my girls? Will they have to run track, preside over student council, paint for the art show, spearhead the Homecoming Committee and save the whales to get into college, too?
I hate to see my kids spend their high school years overdosing on extracurricular activities, so I’m determined to teach them to just say no. “Summer and intensive don’t even belong in the same sentence. It’s an oxymoron,” I tell my daughter, whose face is now ashen, and not just because the foot wrench is cutting off blood flow. She is in a panic about her entire situation.
“If I don’t go, I won’t keep up,” she tells me. Most everyone else she dances with is, apparently, attending an intensive.
“Jason Brown went to camp,” I offer in effort to keep her off the bandwagon. Jason, the 2015 U.S. Men’s Figure Skating champion and Olympic medalist, grew up in our town. He went to the same schools as my daughters. I have it on good word that he also went to camp.
She doesn’t buy it. “I’m not Jason Brown,” she points out.
And she’s not. Which is exactly why she shouldn’t spend her summer doing ballet. As much as my daughter knows who she isn’t, she has no idea what she wants to become. Although one day she may be a dancer, for now she’s just a kid who loves to dance. But she loves to do other things, too. There may be things she loves to do that she doesn’t even know she loves to do and won’t discover if she spends all of her time dancing and no time doing nothing.
I’m not sure when doing nothing after school fell out of favor. As a kid, I was a pro at nothing. We all were. I spent the bulk of my childhood either running around the neighborhood or watching Adam-12 with my brother.
Not that ours was the way to play it, either. Neither of us grew up with a clue as to what we wanted to do with our lives. But when What Color is Your Parachute suggested we figure it out by focusing on the things we liked to do in our free time as kids, at least we had free time to draw on.
And the twin from Fresvik will, too.
Unfortunately, my own twins and my husband made clear that Fresvik is not an option. So I’m going to shoot for camp. I never thought that I’d have to work so hard and pay so much to give my kids a chance to do nothing. Not nothing, per se, but activities that don’t transfer well to a resume, like swimming in a lake, running to get mail, talking without the aid of technology—the types of activities we used to just call life—the type of activities they still call life in the tiny village of Fresvik. An honest, old-fashioned childhood crammed into a few weeks a year. That, to me, is a summer intensive.
Francie Arenson Dickman’s essays have appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and is currently completing her first novel.