Can I be real a second?
For real, I have to get this off my chest.
I don’t like summer break.
I’ve tried. Really and truly I’ve tried. I’ve even gone so far as to talk myself into it. I would put up a start of summer post that read:
I’m hoping that me and the three love-bugs will spend many days outside just watching the clouds roll by and waiting for the delicious melody of the ice cream man rolling through the neighborhood.
There will be sidewalk chalk.
There will be bubble juice and every conceivable contraption to make bubbles.
There will be sprinklers and new bathing suits.
There will be trips to the pool.
There will be trips to the playground.
There will be Popsicle stained mouths and dirt stained knees.
There will be bug bites and lightning bugs trapped in jelly jars.
There will be cook-outs with ketchup stained paper plates.
There will trips to the Vineyard, to the grands.
There will be smiles and laughs and happiness.
Let’s get started. . .
I thought that if I could conjure up the good time in advance, there was nothing preventing it from happening. And summer was fun. We did all of the things and then some. Trust and believe however, when the back to school alerts started springing up, no one was more excited than me.
As a kid, I wanted nothing more than week after week of freedom while the sun rose early and set late. As a parent, however, seeing the sun streak across the sky at 5:54am and finally decide to rest up by 8:37pm has me wringing in my hands over what I’m going to do to fill the hours in between.
I have the best mom friends, no question, but when I see posts on FB from them talking about “Whoo hoo! School is out” and “No more packing lunches!” and “Nothing by relaxing by the pool!” I wonder, who are these women?
To “Whoo hoo! School is out!”, I say, “Really? Can I send my kids over to your house, then, because mine are looking me in my face like, What’re we doin’ today, tomorrow, and after that?”
They want a planned itinerary. I want them to enjoy their summer vacation like I did. I was outside. Screen time (TV) was limited. I was at the pool, floundering around trying to pass a swim test to graduate to the deep end where my friends were. I did the book challenge at the library. We went to an amusement park. As I got older, there was some summer school in there, a two-week sleep-away camp, stuff like that. I don’t think my mom had the subtle undercurrent of anxiety that I do when I look at the calendar and see 12 weeks unfurling in front of me.
I caught myself trying to be slick and scheduling some camps for the kids every other week, not only to keep them active, but to keep me sane. On the off weeks, I’ve felt like the cruise director from the Love Boat (look it up), clipboard at the hip, ticking off the activities scheduled between feedings. There will be bubbles and hula hoops on the porch from 9 to 9:20, snack on the grass from 9:25 to 10:10, playing in the sprinkler from 10:15 to 10:21, snacks on the Lido deck at 10:30. . .you get the idea.
To “No more packing lunches!”, I say, “I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.” I’m being cheeky, of course, but while some of the school routine goes away between June and August, making lunches isn’t one of them. Occasionally, I’ll treat the girls to lunch out, but more often than not, I’m that mom with the packed lunch at the pool, the Ziploc bag of microwave popcorn and leftover Halloween candy at the movies, and the Scout bag of snacks and juice boxes in the back of the car at the playground. They hate that, kind of like I hated it when my mom whipped out her bag o’ homemade snacks from her purse. Ahh, the circle of life.
From the moment their little eyes open until I am herding them upstairs for the bedtime routine, my girls are constantly asking what there is to eat or when they can eat next.
When I’ve had them make their lunches on their own, the results have been laughable. One packed chips, crackers, cookies, and a slice (one slice!) of ham. The other packed two squeezable applesauce pouches, two bags of chips, crackers, spreadable cheese, a slice of bread, cookies, and small container of ranch dressing (???). I know, they’re not going to die eating like that, but working towards raising healthy, savvy adults means resting a guiding hand on their shoulder when they start listing too far off course.
To “Nothing but relaxing by the pool!”, I think, “They must have grown kids who can swim because pool and relax only happen when I go to the pool by.my.self. Granted, I do have a small person who just turned five and who, despite her protestations to the contrary, is not a mermaid. So I’m in the water — or at least sitting with my feet submerged close enough to hop in if she’s in distress. And of course she wants to be with the big girls who want to be anywhere she’s not, which means mediating the sisterly struggle at home, on the way to, and while hanging out at the pool. I know that this time will be short-lived. Soon very soon, all three girls will be gliding through the water without floaties, being the sirens they claim themselves to be.
I’m exaggerating, a little bit, but I do wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m not clicking my heels at the prospect of “no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks”. My armpits get sweaty just thinking about it.
How do I fill up the time? How do I make the summer fun for the girls without losing my mind? How do I keep the girls entertained while trying to get the mundane stuff done? How do I keep the girls from climbing the walls when it rains or when I don’t have an activity planned? These are legit questions pinging around my brain the other day, master calendar spread across the table and September 1st an oasis on a distant horizon. Then this article popped into my inbox.
What will leave the greatest impression on my kids as they grow? The fact that every day of their summer was chock-block of things to do from sun-up to sun-down because if they aren’t being constantly entertained, did their summer even really happen?
How about a mother who was smiling and engaging and laughing and playing because she put herself first. That means, trying to make everyone else happy, she made herself happy. As we all know, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Trust and believe this doesn’t mean I’m going to be living my best life while the girls are left to fend for themselves. It just means, if it makes me happy to not do something or to do something else, I’m going to do it. I have to get of my own way, too. TV in the middle of the day isn’t going to turn their brains into mush.
I have made my kids’ happiness the most important thing. Instead of dialing it back from the marathon of the school year, I have been tacking on another 13 miles and trying to run it with my best time ever. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to be happy, but I don’t have to kill myself to do it. I have unconsciously self-imposed these far-flung standards of what we have to be doing to ensure we’ve had our best summer, every summer. That’s unsustainable. It’s swathing my kids in a sticky sense of entitlement that I loathe. As a result, I’ve blamed it all on summer break.
I’m willing to do the work to change my perception of what summer has to be. I’m going to do things that make me happy which in turn will benefit the girls in the long run And while come mid August, I may be surreptitiously packing their school supplies in between trips to the pool and shoving snacks in their faces, at least I can say I will have given it a try.
Summer’s almost here!
Tell me about your plans in the comments.
Also published on Medium.