It’s August so I’m fretting about summer ending, but this year the feelings are bigger and more complicated because of the (almost) year and a half we’ve had. Adjusting to having everyone at home took four to six weeks at the start of the pandemic, and I’ve used that memory as an anchor when faced with a potentially undesirable change – just give it four to six weeks and it will all seem normal – and I’m telling myself that now, but I don’t feel ready for everyone to go back to school.
This week the kids are at day camp and it’s an abrasive reminder of what it’s going to be like to have to pack lunches and backpacks and leave the house at a designated hour every goddamn day. I’ve loved our slow mornings, I’ve loved not having to get anyone anywhere on time, but mostly I’ve loved sharing a space with them and having the opportunity to watch the way they grow and learn and choose to spend their time when it isn’t being stolen from them by school. And I love their school, but after this year it’s hard to believe that they truly need to be there for seven hours a day.
I’ve been slowly making my way through Untamed by Glennon Doyle. She has a lot to say about honoring the people our children are, being true to yourself, not changing to make anyone else happy or more comfortable, and I’ve been turning those ideas over in my head a lot lately trying to figure out where the line is between expecting our kids to behave in reasonable, appropriate ways and asking them to shape themselves to meet someone else’s expectations. I’ve found myself in situations a thousand times where what someone expected of my children didn’t match what I expected of them in that moment, and I was forced to choose. It happened again recently and I went home and cried. I sat in the driveway and told Kristin that even when faced with the notion that we should shape or influence their behavior when there are potentially big personal or social consequences for their actions, how can we be sure that those expectations are objectively “right” and not just dominant culture nonsense?
Our hairdresser told me a story recently about a time her family was out for a nature walk and her son picked up a rock and threw it at a metal sign. Her partner immediately dove into, “Whoa whoa! We do NOT throw rocks!” until she asked, “Why though? There’s no one around, he isn’t bothering anyone, he can’t harm the metal sign…” and suddenly her partner realized that it was really his own father talking. He didn’t even believe that there was anything wrong with a small child throwing a rock at a sign. It’s a moment they reflect on now every time they catch themselves saying no or enforcing a rule they don’t actually believe in when they pause to examine it.
Sometimes I just want to be in our little family bubble and keep everyone in there with me and the rest of the world out, because I can’t control all of the messages the world sends about what’s expected of children, and while I insist on kindness and respect (and sometimes get it), I also want our kids to know that home is the safest place in the world for them to be completely themselves, and that behaving like a child is developmentally appropriate.
Right when I was beginning to worry about summer ending, Vivienne started asking me why her pumpkin vines aren’t producing any pumpkins. This is the first year we’ve planted them, from seeds she saved and dried last year. I googled the question and learned about male and female flowers and what to look for, and the very next day we saw what appeared to be the beginning of a pumpkin, maybe. Then a Halloween catalog arrived in the mail and the kids poured over it. I knew that it was all meant to remind me that there is more to look forward to, joy doesn’t end with summer.
I also did something I never thought I’d do and we booked a trip to Orlando for next August. I’ve always felt so ambivalent about Disney – not wanting to miss it if we might regret it, but knowing that we could do so much more for the cost and that neither K or I care much for Disney in the first place (and then there are the lines and the crowds and the heat). But then somehow it came up again and I decided that I needed to settle the debate, and after lots of information gathering we (really me, I suppose) decided to make it happen. The kids are SO excited. While it may not be my dream trip, I’m actually surprisingly thrilled about having something to look forward to for an entire year. None of our kids can remember having been on an airplane. The last time they flew the twins were lap babies. I’m excited to share something completely different with them.
I also bought tickets to take Jonah to see Billie Eilish in February, which is a good time of year to have something to look forward to (after Christmas, but way before summer when the grey and cold is feeling endless).
We have one more camping trip left this summer, actually our first tent camping of the year, and Jude won’t let us forget that we absolutely must camp in our backyard at least once before school starts. I have no doubt that our kids have a happy life – there’s no shortage of fuel for memory making and fun and freedom. The worry about squeezing in enough quality time together is all mine, it’s all about me. When I’m lost in the grind of housework and meal planning and Zoom meetings I don’t often take note of our connection to one another, and some days I feel like I’m fresh out of magic and I’m simultaneously tired and panicked that I’m missing out on time as it slips away. A part of me has spent this entire pandemic feeling like this was both a horror show on the global stage and a golden opportunity to reinvent life and experience my family from a fresh angle, and I’d better not squander it. I didn’t use every moment perfectly, not even close. But we shared a whole lot of time in the same space, the kids had expansive hours of freedom to be kids, and I hope we squeezed in a few memories that will stick. Maybe when they look back on this time they won’t recall anything out of the ordinary, and maybe that’s its own kind of blessing.