Somehow, we'd become so focused on helping my daughter keep up with her after-school sport that we hadn't noticed it was no longer fun.
Back when we were new to town, I skimmed the local paper for activities for my 6-year-old daughter. Ice-skating lessons were starting up at the local rink, so I signed her up. I remembered how much fun I had as a kid skating around with friends after school.
Soon, Ashley and I waited in line for the beginner lessons on Saturday afternoons. While we waited, the ice was filled with older girls, working one-on-one with their coaches. They'd practice their moves over and over, eyeing their coach's face for a sign of approval. The girls' own faces were a picture of determination.
I'd never want my daughter to spend her afternoons like that, I thought to myself.
But Ashley enjoyed the lessons. She delighted in getting colored ribbons each time she mastered a level. And when she skated in the annual ice show, she was thrilled to wear a little skating outfit.
One session led to another and soon she reached a level where private lessons were "strongly recommended." Everyone at her level was taking private lessons. So my husband and I squeezed our household budget and soon she had a private coach. On weekdays, we'd dash from school to rink when the coach could see her. While she practiced, Ashley bypassed play dates, Girl Scouts, and other social activities along the way. Soon she skated year-round.
One day in third grade she brought home a flier announcing beginner basketball lessons on Saturday mornings at her school.
"That sounds like fun," she admitted. "But I'm at the rink then."
Motivated by a look of interest in my daughter's eyes, I thought about it. "Not really, we're finishing up then. We could probably make it."
Her face lit up. "Really?"
For six weeks, we rushed from her skating lessons to the school, where Ashley dribbled and giggled with her school friends. She looked relaxed and happy.
The next year her coach suggested she enter a large competition. We agreed and Ashley approached skating even more seriously, but she worried that she wouldn't learn her new routines in time. We scrubbed our bare-bones budget even further to pay for extra lessons, more ice time, and new costumes.
One week her coach had to reschedule us to Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, I realized Ashley's lesson would take place right before the beginner lessons. I took my seat in the bleachers, watching dozens of little girls arrive and wait in line to learn to skate. Already on the ice, my straight-faced daughter was working with her coach.
At that moment, the clarity of what we'd become overwhelmed me. I focused my attention on Ashley, studying her face for any sign of happiness. At the end of the hour, I silently thanked the coach for rescheduling us to this time slot.
I said nothing at first, letting her get through her upcoming competition, but then I took a leap.
"Why don't you take this summer off from skating," I suggested.
She looked at me as if I were crazy.
"I'll fall behind," Ashley said.
"Fall behind from what?" I asked her.
What were we working toward? My original notion – her skating around with friends for fun – was long forgotten.
"You can do some different things. You've never been to camp. Or we could all go to the beach!" I offered.
Her eyes lit up. "That might be fun," she said.
That was three years ago, and Ashley hasn't asked to return to skating. Now, she plays basketball and takes art lessons. She joined clubs after school – the school paper and chorus. Sometimes, she does yoga or she has friends over.
Sometimes, she does nothing at all.
And as we go along, I make sure to check and see if she's still having fun.