You might think parenting five school-age children would limit my recreational opportunities, but I find myself taking up new hobbies all the time.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time in an exciting new endeavor: Turning off the light in my sons’ bedroom. I do it five, six, sometimes 10 times a day. This activity really helps fill in those empty gaps in my schedule.

Barb and I have four high-schoolers and a fifth-grader, all of whom are involved in every activity imaginable. “I won’t be home until 9:30 because after my underwater basket weaving team practice there’s a meeting of the bird feeder making club. We’re designing one based on the floor plan of Mar-A-Lago.”

At the moment we have two baseball players, a track athlete, three choir members, a basketball player, three dancers, a restaurant hostess, a dance teacher, two Sunday school teachers, a praise band singer and a sidekick to Aladdin in the school musical. Either some of our kids are involved in multiple activities, or people are leaving excess children at our house, hoping we won’t notice.

One would assume this leaves Barb and I with little time for activities of our own, and there is some truth to that. We used to be active in community theater, but who has time now that someone always needs a ride to the bird feeder club meeting?

We still try to stay active with interests outside of work, and the kids have – bless their hearts – proved quite helpful. The boys keep me sharp by turning on their bedroom light every time they enter, and failing to turn it off when they leave. They do so to provide me an important job each day, boosting not only my feeling of self-worth buy my level of alertness.

The children’s thoughtful contributions don’t end there. Their nonstop motion around the house, sometimes while illicitly wearing shoes indoors, gives us frequent reminders to vacuum and mop the floors. And there’s nothing to boost an aging parent’s dexterity like negotiating a mine field of shoes deployed just inside the door, especially when that parent is carrying bags of groceries. It always seems to be our turn to furnish snacks for the underwater basket weaving team.

The other day I shared the exciting news about my new hobby via social media, and found many other parents also have picked up activities they didn’t exactly pick out for themselves. Lance said he became quite expert at picking up shoes. Ike said his hobby has become shutting off a space heater his son uses to warm his room all day while he’s gone. Others said they developed a skill for switching off not only lights, but fans and televisions, usually while the rest of the family waits in the car. George said he expanded his switching-off skills to lights in the bathroom, hallway and closet. I’ll have to work my way up to that. As the kids might say, #parentgoals.

Some friends suggested starting a parent support group that would meet at a local winery. Others shared links for buying motion-detecting light systems, but that would deprive me of my new hobby. As Jennifer pointed out, if not for running around shutting off lights, how would we get our 10,000 steps in every day?

More seasoned parents informed me I’ll have the pleasure of enjoying such hobbies – turning off lights, dodging shoes, mopping floors – as long as the kids are in the house. That’s great, because I simply don’t know what I’d do with all the free time if the children didn’t continue to present me with hobbies designed to keep me active and alert.

I guess that will be something to think about as Barb and I near the empty nest phase. Until that brainstorm comes, I’ll just have to wait for that light bulb over my head to turn on. Rest assured, I’ll turn it off before leaving the room.

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Ben Bromley writes for the Baraboo News-Republic.


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