This morning I woke up in a panic. On summer days, I allow my children to be my alarm clock. Today, I woke up with a start, realizing that the amount of sunshine gleaming through my bedroom window was far too powerful for 7a.m. I turned, expecting to see my husband missing, in my sleepy haze wondering if he’d gotten up with the kids and was letting me sleep in. But there he was, tucked under the covers, snoring gently. A glance at the clock informed me that it was 8:45, and that was when the panic truly set in.
I don’t have a newborn if that’s what you’re thinking. The days of waking up, terrified that something was wrong because your infant was actually sleeping are long gone. No, I was sitting in bed, full of anxiety, because I was afraid that my daughters, aged three and six, would miss our scheduled summer activities. The ones scheduled by me.
I have the summers off and am beyond grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my children, a luxury I know other parents long for. I do not send them to camp because, in the springtime – when camps begin filling up – I am swamped at work, missing them dearly, and fantasizing about our long, glorious summer days together. Come August, when I have broken up roughly 89 sibling squabbles and waded in the suspiciously warm local kiddie pool a dozen times, I am regretting that decision just a little bit.
By week one of summer vacation, I felt that the only solution to my children’s wild behavior and my boredom was a strict adherence to a schedule of my own creation. If my children were entertained for every minute of the day, not only would we be making memories for them to reminisce about for years to come, but their lack of boredom would mean there would be no reason for them to lash out at me or each other. That sounds pretty Type A of me. I assure you, I am what most people would consider a Type J. Which is why this didn’t quite work out.
Each day would revolve around one or two “events,” like a visit to a museum, a local water park, or an art room. All meals and snacks would be systematically scheduled around said event, and would be mini-events in their own rites. Downtime? Also scheduled. The iPad and television would be used at certain times of the day (like when Mama was making meals or trying to take deep breaths in a corner somewhere). My children would have a routine and we would be a happier family because of it…is what I thought.
Instead, this schedule created a morning of mayhem. Every morning began with a hurried breakfast, angst over what to wear (my three-year-old never wants what I have picked out and my 6-year-old is constantly asking to wear seasonally inappropriate attire, like a long-sleeved velvet dress on a 90-degree day). Then there came the point in the morning where I start shouting, “We are not leaving this house until your hair is brushed!” while one of the girls attempts to slyly stick the hairbrush under a couch cushion.
On average, it takes us an hour and a half to get ourselves ready for the day’s “event.” This means that lunchtime is often delayed, causing everyone’s blood sugar to drop to level “cantankerous.” By 3 p.m. everyone is angry with each other and I begin counting down the seconds (hours) until it is socially acceptable to start drinking wine and for my husband to arrive home from work.
On this particular morning, a dollar showing of Minions was on our agenda. Showtime was at 10 a.m. which meant we had about 40 minutes to get out of the house in order to get there in time. I had a choice: have an even more harried morning than typical so that the rest of our day could go as planned, or just throw the schedule out the window and let the morning play itself out. I reluctantly chose the latter, preparing myself for countless cries of “She’s copying me” and laments about boredom. What I got surprised me.
Going with the flow, when my older daughter asked if she could make everyone breakfast, I obliged. She was soon happily filling up bowls with yogurt and granola, something I never would have allowed her to do if I was worried about getting to one of our events on time. She happily talked herself through the process as if she were hosting a cooking program and beamed with pride as we all gobbled it up. The girls then asked if they could put on some make-up and I obliged, with the condition that they had to ask before they put on each new product – I’ve learned my lesson. They even put on their own tunes.
When the inevitable squabble occurred (One unstructured morning helped our overall morale – it didn’t make us the Von Trapps), it was resolved in less than 5 minutes. Why? Because no one’s patience had been tested. I’d spent my morning sipping earl grey tea – finishing both cups while they were still warm. My children were still in their pajamas, their hair in messy pony tails leftover from the day before. With no one agitated after a chaotic morning, I could react calmly and rationally, choosing to listen to my daughters rather than immediately scolding them. They, in turn, were able to listen to each other and come to an agreement. And okay, fine, for purposes of full disclosure, it also helped that the iPad they were fighting over died while we were reaching a resolution.
The afternoon led us outside where the girls snipped kale from our garden and I picked some zucchini to bake with. When I realized we were out of chocolate chips, we slipped on our shoes and took a stroll down the street to get some from the local convenient store. With the oven on, everyone was getting hot, and when the girls asked if we could head to the pool, I was relaxed enough to actually want to go myself. Two hours later, we came home, put some clothes on over our chlorine-soaked bodies, and when my husband arrived home, went over to my in-laws house for a lovely birthday dinner for my mother-in-law.
When we put the kids to bed that night, everyone was worn out. The kids fell asleep within minutes of putting their heads on their pillows and I was right behind them. Laying in bed, I wondered why everyone was so tuckered out after doing nothing. That’s when I realized that doing nothing was our event of the day. Doing nothing meant putting on pink eye shadow and eating chocolate chips out of the bag. It meant diving for sinking toys in a pool while your mom chatted with friends. Doing nothing was playing a harmonica at the dinner table and eating home-baked blueberry pie. As I dozed off, I realized that, sometimes, the “event” is letting our day reveal itself to us.
Make no mistake, this does not mean that there will be no more events planned for this summer, but that we need to schedule in some time to breathe. Let’s be honest, if we let the day reveal itself to us five days a week, I’m fairly sure our next “event” would be a trip to the pharmacy to pick up a king-sized bottle of Xanax for Mama.