Registering for after-school programs is taking over my life!

When Ian Mendes almost misses the deadline to sign his daughters up for swimming lessons, he vows to be better prepared for registrations down the road.

1SwimmingRegistration-August2013-iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. And with all those away-games, his wife, Sonia, deserves her own version of the Stanley Cup.

This week, I’m visiting my in-laws in Edmonton.

While you might think that sentence includes a double-dose of bad news for me, it has actually been really enjoyable. Besides, Edmonton is just like every other city in Canada — where it is described as “really nice to visit in the summer.”

Read more: 10 great Canadian road trips >

We’ve also been spending time meeting some of Sonia’s friends that she grew up with in this area. On Monday night, we were at one her friend’s house for dinner when I looked up at the microwave clock and noticed it hit 7 p.m.

A slight sense of panic started to take over my body, as I realized it was now 9 p.m. back home. At that very moment, swimming registration was open for the fall/winter classes through the city of Ottawa.

Every responsible parent knows the exact date and time of the online swimming registration for one reason: You’ve been burned in the past. And you always swear you will never be stuck with a lame swimming time and date again. So the countdown to the start of swimming registration has the same drama and hype as New Year’s Eve in a lot of parents’ homes.

If you’ve ever had to register your child for a class through a city website or via telephone, you know it can be a massive pain. You’ve got all the classes lined up perfectly in your mind — but you’re at the mercy of the system. It’s often bogged down with thousands of other parents who are sipping Pinot Grigio at their computer screen and trying to put their kids in the exact same classes.

So understanding the urgency of the situation, I rudely interrupted Sonia’s conversation with her longtime, childhood friend. I’m not sure what they were talking about, but it really didn’t matter.

“I know this sounds like an odd request, but could we use your computer for a few minutes?” I asked our hosts. “We need to use it for online swimming registration.”

Usually, that sentence would kill the mood at a dinner party.

But these friends have four kids of their own and as soon as the words “online swimming registration” escaped my mouth, they dashed out of the room to get their laptop.

We quickly loaded up the city of Ottawa website and found that we couldn’t get into the registration system. We kept hitting the refresh button, but the screen kept freezing up like it was using a dial-up connection from 1998.

The feeling of hitting the “refresh” button with no response can be frustrating. It takes you back to the last time you were trying to buy concert tickets online, but having a hard time connecting to the Ticketmaster server. (And no, trying to buy The Wiggles tickets doesn’t count). Before you know it, the event is sold out and you’re looking to buy tickets off a second-hand website at double the price.

But the problem with swimming classes is that nobody is selling spots on Craigslist after you’ve struck out online. Creating a post that says “female seeking whale (swimming class)” would probably not generate the type of responses you would want.

With each passing moment, our worst fears were starting to be realized; we weren’t going to get the ideal swim classes for our girls because we couldn’t connect to the server.

Instead, we’d probably get a 4:15 p.m. slot on a Tuesday, which would mean we’d have to rush them to the rec centre after school. Maybe we’d be forced into a 8:00 a.m. Sunday class that puts a damper on the entire weekend for everyone. Or worse: We could be forced to put our girls in swimming classes on different days in different pools — creating a logistical nightmare that also leaves a big carbon footprint on the city with all the extra driving.

I fired up my Blackberry and tried using the phone to register for the classes. The last time I used a touch-tone keypad to register for a class was in journalism school in the mid-1990s. This seemed so archaic, making me wonder if there was also a fax option for swimming registration as well.

But alas, the phone line was also busy — just like when you try phoning a radio station to be the 88th caller to win those same concert tickets you couldn’t purchase online.

What made our situation even more frustrating was that Sonia was receiving emails from friends that said they had made it through the cyber red tape and registered their kids for classes. People’s Facebook statuses were also starting to read “Kids registered for swimming!”

We tried to register for more than an hour at our friend’s house and had no luck. We said our goodbyes to them on their porch; each of us quietly certain that was the last dinner invite we would receive to their house.

We finally got through to the system about two hours later when we returned to my in-laws house. But at that point, our top choice for swimming classes for Lily was already full. We could put our names on the waitlist, but we knew damn well that was like putting your name on the waitlist for a brand-new daycare or Green Bay Packers season tickets. It was never going to pan out.

We did finally get our girls registered for classes on a Saturday morning. They aren’t at the same time like we had hoped — but they were close enough that they overlapped a little bit.

Read more: Teach kids swimming with five fun and easy games >

It’s just another reminder to mark our calendars for the date when the spring registration starts in a few months. And we will make sure that if the registration starts at 9 p.m., we’ll be trying to connect to that damn server at 8:30 p.m.

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