Back-to-school means back-to-sports, and if you've had any experience with youth sports lately, you know the drill: After your son or daughter meets the coach, you'll get a sign-up sheet for snacks and the after-season party.
This is when I whistle at the wind or hide beneath the bleachers, because I'm totally opposed to giving my child a cupcake or bag of Cheetoes for simply finishing soccer practice.
When I was young, child athletes got a sliced orange and water in a soggy Dixie cup. Today, each sporting event is viewed by some as an opportunity to party and lavish praise on our offspring.
Not me. Playing baseball, soccer or basketball, where the registration is often close to $50.00 or more, is a privilege in itself. Why do I have to throw the kids a party after every practice, too?
And speaking of parties: children's birthday parties are getting out of hand, as well. In the race for who has the best party favors and most elaborate decorations, I consistently lose. Luckily, as my boys have gotten older, they want less in the way of traditional birthday parties, which begs the question: Is it the children or the adults who are in competition?
After years of hunting down the exact shade of Thomas the Tank Engine blue for party napkins or slaving over a cake made to look like Darth Vader, my kids, armed with an expressible opinion all their own, just want to "hang out" with their friends. And when they are happy with $40 worth of pizza and watching movies with their friends until 1 o'clock in the morning, why should I argue?
And yet, every time I turn around, it seems there is still another reason I should be baking cupcakes for my boys: cupcakes for the class birthday party at school. Cupcakes for the end-of-the-season get together. Cupcakes for the birthday party with friends. Cupcakes for the family party. Cupcakes for the last day of school. Cupcakes for Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, the Summer Solstice, a good hair day.
When does it end? How many of us have to say, "Enough!" before it stops? When will it be OK to say that one cake and party each year on your birthday is plenty?
But it's not just food. We lavish our children with material gifts, too. Just look at Black Friday shopping or any other day with its own section at Hallmark. Some people will probably think it's mean that I don't give my boys Valentine's Day presents. But their dad is my Valentine, not them. And the day my son asked for a bike for Easter, I scaled back what the Easter Bunny brings, too.
Much of this overabundance, I think, amounts to parents trying to be perfect, or perhaps overcompensating for ways in which they imagine themselves to be inadequate. Just stop! We are all OK. Really. And the real losers in this rat race are the kids and their health. What we've taught today's children is that they get a trophy and a snack simply for showing up. We've taught them that everything should be celebrated with food and a party. And we've taught them that ordinary days -- with no treats or parties -- are somehow lacking compared to all the fanfare of completing a sports practice or having a birthday.
Worst of all, we've taught our children that every occasion is an opportunity to out-do one another. We've invited them to join the rat race. And they're all going to want a cupcake at the end.