Wednesday, July 23

Great Expectations: Summer Vacation

Hello All...

It's been a while.

How is your summer going?

Our is...well...going...

     Wink. Wink. Smile. Smile. Says the mom trying to create some semblance of structure and sanity around very unstructured days with a 14 mo. old who is a walking pickpocket, cup tipper, dishwasher climber, tissue box destroyer, cabinet emptier, shoe flinger and general disassembler of all things in all parts of the house + two older children who look at me with yearning eyes that say "Ok're the activity director, right? Whatta we doin' today? And please, please, pretty puhleeaze don't say organize the playroom or clean our bedrooms AGAIN!"

in case you needed proof

     Ah yes. Summer vacation. In all of it's splendid gloriousness. In all of its crazy chaoticness.

     I love summer. I love the warmth and the sun and taking runs at dusk. I love grilled chicken and vegetables, corn on the cob, berry picking, and beaches (though I must confess, I haven't been brave enough to take all three children yet!).  I love watching the girls ride their bikes and how their hair turns lighter with each day. I love their tanned skin and band-aided knees. I love eating  ice cream with them, the longer days, buying cherries at the farmers market and  wearing nothing on our feet but flip flops (and let me tell you, when you become a family of five there are flip flops EVERYWHERE! There are so  many that it becomes a seek and rescue mission to find two that match sometimes!).

     I LOVE not having to bundle everyone in layers, and jackets and boots!

     Summer always makes...I can't even say it...that season that starts with the letter "w" (shhhh! don't say it aloud!)...seem so very far away and maybe...just maybe bearable one more time....if we must... but let's not talk about that right now.

     However, for all of the things I LOVE about summer I must confess, summer as a mom of small children does one say this...a tad hairy at times (:

     I recently had a discussion with a very wise mom whose own children are college aged now. "Ah yes, summer vacation," she aptly said, "is like drinking water from a fire hose."

     That just might have been the best description I have heard to date to describe the daily goings on at our house.

     And yet, in the midst of the fire hose drinking marathon there is a great paradox-- As a mom I can start to feel like for as much as I'm trying to do, I'm not doing enough.  That they are not getting to do enough.

    What's up with that?

     The kids can seem bored and it feels like my fault.

     When we don't have a jam packed schedule of activities, I feel like I'm doing something wrong.

     Because I haven't managed to schedule the playdates I wanted to, or do one of the crafts I had hoped to do, or because taking them all to the beach feels like a feat of such gargantuan proportions that I have decided not to,  I start to feel like I'm disappointing them somehow.

     Because some days it feels like all I can manage is to stay home, feed everyone three meals and clean up in the wake of their towels, sand, clothing and bathing suit changes, and then pick up the array of socks, underwear, shoes and game pieces that seem to find themselves scattered about the house, I feel like the kids are 'missing out'.

    On what? I'm not totally sure.

    We seem to be a culture seeking a constant activity buzz and even though I don't really want the buzz, I  want my children to enjoy their summer. I want them to have great memories of long hot joyful, fun-filled days. Somehow a subliminal message has weaseled its way into my mommy mind that if we are not on the activity buzz rocket ship I'm letting everyone down.

    Off to outer space is what I would like to say to that rocket ship whose name is mommy guilt.

    Does anyone else ever feel this way?

     Really, what do kids need? They need to feel loved. They need a tin of water balloons and a spicket. They need someone to help them apply their sunscreen and make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.  They want you to read them a book and watch an episode of their favorite cartoon on the couch with them.

     And while I know all of that, kids tend to have needs and wants, and as a parent it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of wanting to meet as many of their wants as possibly...even if it happens unconsciously.

     Some kids are thrill seekers. I must say, Ava would hold a ticket to a different theme park every day of the week for the entire summer if she could. I'm totally not kidding about much as I can say all she needs is for me to read a book to her, she asks me EVERY day when we are going to Darien Lake and Canada's Wonderland. She would also like to know if she grows another half inch by the end of the summer (and she probably will) if can we drive back to Ohio to go on all of the rides at Cedar Pointe that she didn't get to ride when we were there two weeks ago.

     I think she wishes I could take them swimming more, that we could go to Darien Lake weekly, that we could install a pool in our very tiny backyard and that life were a little more festive than it actual is because...well...there is a baby in the house that needs a lot and naps a lot, who requires constant attention and who isn't quite big enough to ride anything at Darien Lake.

     And so even though she is only seven,  I realize that I actually may be disappointing my sweet girl on some level with what I am and am not capable of. I'm realizing that as a mom of three I have limitations and that those limitations are very real and have very real implications for what we can and cannot do on many of our summer days.

     Life in our house, some days, IS plain boring.

     Even for me.

     Yes we have taken the same bike ride 16 times. Yes, we are going to the same park again. Yes, it is ham sandwiches and go-gurt for lunch, again.  No, we cannot go to Adventure Land right this moment, and probably not even by the end of this week. Though I will try to make it happen (despite the fact that theme parks make me cringe) by the end of the summer.

     I'm realizing that even though this makes me a little bit sad...the fact that I'm likely disappointing my daughter on some's part of maturing (or growing up, so to speak) as a mom and it's part of growing up as a kid with siblings.

     So, while summer  often comes wrought with great expectations, I'm learning that we we have to consider and reconsider, over and over again,  what it is that makes our days...our lives...great.

     Is it big exciting, activity packed days at Adventure Land. Or is is small adventures in one's own backyard...feeding ducks and watching a momma bird sit on her eggs in another bird's nest in our shed?

    Is it go, go, new, new, new places...or is it finding new things to see as we frequent the same old places?

     Is it squeezing the most activity out of every day or is it learning to be ok with doing less?

     I know the answers to my questions.

     (Sometimes knowing is the easy part, it is living the answers that is often much harder.)

      The answer is (as far as I can see) that there must be a balance somewhere in-between. That new adventures are fun, but familiar places are refreshing and offer a different kind of fullness.

     That being busy is not always a bad thing, but that being still is not so bad either.

     That kids will always be kids who will have far more energy than you do and that some "boredom" is a requirement for a summer vacation well lived (how many times do you remember saying "I'm bored!" to your own parents!).

     That being content with less requires just as much energy as attempting to plan more.

     I will close with the words of one of my favorite motherhood authors Katrina Kenison in her book "Mitten Strings for God" (the book I always reference when I'm feeling guilty for not doing more). In this chapter titled "Play" she describes how good, old-fashioned, unplanned days are quite good for us after all.

     "I grew up in a typical New England town, where it didn't occur to anyone to plan their children's days or even to keep too close an eye on them when they weren't in school. My childhood seemed--to me then and for many years afterward-- completely uneventful. But now, raising children of my own, I consider my childhood rich indeed, for I still hold within me those feelings of freedom and self-reliance, and memories of summer days strung together like beads on a string, all of them mine."

     Here's to hoping my sweet girls feel the same way about their own summer days many years from now.