We drove up into the mountains this weekend to play in the snow. All the kids were thrilled, because it was the first time any of them had ever been in actual falling snow. It was fun to see them running, slipping, then trudging about. Their enthusiasm really was contagious…for about five minutes.

Then reality set in. Jacob had worn his one pair of sneakers, which were not at all waterproof. Almost immediately his feet were soaked, and he soon shivered in silent dismay. The other kids wore mittens, but not the waterproof kind; so they, too, complained of cold, achy hands. We had two sleds with us, which the kids were itching to use, but of course there was “No Sledding Allowed” anywhere within a fifty-mile radius of a public restroom, so we opted for this photo instead: 

As most parents know, trying to provide your kids with ‘fun’ these days is an arduous, guilt-ridden, never-ending procedure. It’s also terribly expensive. We’ve been hitting up ‘Goodwill’ routinely, in hopes of snagging reasonably priced rainboots and outerwear. But to outfit seven people takes time. Especially given the thrift store’s availability and our limited ‘snow gear fund’.  

We eventually drove to Leavenworth, an adorable Bavarian-themed town right on the other side of the mountains. Its central square contains a large, grassy slope that kids were sledding down, there in the dark, under the twinkling lights of the Swiss storefronts across the street. My kids dashed over with their sleds, and much merriment ensued, to my utmost relief. I had spent a large portion of the drive worried that we’d come all this way, spent all this money on food and gas, for very little ‘fun’ at all.

As we drove home in our crowded car full of wet, tired children, I worried about Jacob and his frozen feet. I worried about how much money we’d spent on a ‘free’ day out to the mountains, especially after we were pulled over by the police for a burnt out tail light. I fretted over Jacob’s college applications, all quickly due, at a mere $80.00 per application. I wondered where we could find waterproof mittens for our motley crew, and what size boots the boys needed now, and were their feet going to keep on growing?

And it dawned on me, on that dark, windy road, that parenthood feels like ‘parentnoid’ most of the time. Are we doing enough for our kids? How about now? Are they on the right teams? Are they in enough over-priced activities? Are they wearing the latest, greatest pair of $80.00 sneakers? Do they have the grades and the community service hours, the extracurricular activities and awards to make it into the college of their choice? Can we finance, like David Frum outlines in his article, http://canadianblogs.net/david-frum-is-college-now-the-ultimate-crapshoot, two or three sight-seeing trips up and down the Eastern seaboard to scout out colleges for our precious offspring? (His bountiful ‘college sight-seeing fund’ aside, imagine my surprise at agreeing with David Frum on an issue!)

Parenthood has become one big, churning, never-ending race, wherein you are to produce masterful kids who are superb at everything; well-rounded, charming, athletic, and talented, too! This pressure to ”succeed” is so great in current-day society that we’ve all become just like those hired castaways, marooned on some vast island, waiting to see which little uncoordinated urchin will be kicked off first, while the brazen and bold victors march on to record paydays and lucrative television contracts. The whole point of this game is that the last one standing can actually afford to go on living!

Last night, while Jacob worked on his college essays, my girls played the latest version of Monopoly, called “Here and Now, America has Voted!”  In it, you can purchase Disney World for a mere $2,400,000. You collect 2,000,000 each time you pass ‘Go’ on your way to the Mall of America. You avoid arrest for insider trading or identity theft by hopping the red eye to JFK International Airport after selling your life time, 50-yard line, season tickets on e-Bay for a whopping $200,000. This is our world, here and now! As I watched my girls circle the board with their tiny Starbucks coffee cup and Hummer All-Terrain vehicle pieces, I didn’t know whether to cheer or cry. Then Jacob called for me to proofread part of his college essay, and this is what he wrote:

I’ve never had many shoes. At the moment, I only have a worn-down, paint-splattered pair of Converse…I don’t mind my lack of footwear much, though, because I spend a lot of time walking in other people’s shoes. Not literally, of course. But…the nights I spent on stage pretending to be a completely different person… surrounded by all of these people working to understand their characters and each other has the strange effect of making you more comfortable in your own worn-down, paint-splattered shoes, even when you’re pretending that they’re someone else’s…

And just like that, my parentnoid faded away. I realized that here and now, Jacob’s feet are not frozen at all. They’re not even stuck in the mud, but running straight towards new land. His lack of adequate footwear through the years has actually given him something to write about, a way to stand out from the crowd as he tries to get voted onto the island!

As for the rest of us, we don’t have to keep walking down the parentnoid path. We shouldn’t be driving ourselves crazy over the current notion that constant ‘fun’ and ‘enrichment’ make better kids. Sometimes, no shoes are fine. Maybe all of us parents just need to chill out and drink more wine, like the French. We can discuss the millions upon millions of dollars we will need to see us into old age, while our kids head off to navigate the Mall of America without us. That’s fun, right?