Summer: A Reluctant Retrospective

I had high hopes for the summer, but dreaded it with much anxiety as well. Just as the endless demands and routines of school wore thin as the school year ended, I did not feel ready to spend 24 hours a day for three months with all four active children. I also did not feel ready to meet the daily challenge of having to do my “grown-up work” around them. I was right to be afraid. Those long summer weeks eventually fell into ruts and grooves of sickening familiarity. Tempers flared regularly, and the freedom lost its appeal in late June. Rather than meeting my decluttering and organizing goals, I have pushed them further away by adding more chaos. In one sentence, I would say the summer was: excrutiatingly long and hot days to fill. Millions of them. To cope, I tried several approaches:

1. SCHEDULING THE DAYS. I even printed out the schedule for Jane to read aloud to the “class” at breakfast: worksheets, free play, snack, nap, pool, dinner, bath, reading, bed. I generated themes for the different weeks, and designed activities around that theme. Can you tell I was a teacher before I was a mom?

2. WORKING AROUND THE CHILDREN. The burnout that ensued after one week of the above led me to swing to the opposite extreme, and insist that the children do as I did summer after summer, and entertain themselves. I made eloquent speeches about how lucky they were to be so close in age in such great numbers. “You have your own playgroup!” I would exclaim! Unfortunately, halfway into the second week of vacation, the girls grew to hate the sight of each other, and felt they would rather play with anyone but their own siblings. Also, it was 135 degrees outside most days.

3. STAYING OUT OF THE HOUSE. This way, I didn’t have to have a whole lesson planned for each day, but could let the site we visited do all the work. We went to the zoo, several parks, playzones, etc. We went on countless playdates and trips to the pool. We went to every playground within a 20-mile radius many times over.

What bothers me now is how hard that all felt, and how much of a strain it was to keep up any of these projects and commitments. I would wake up dreading the day ahead with all of its complications, bloodly battles, demands, and impossible goals. I felt so burdened that I spent little time enjoying any of it. Long ago I started counting the days till it would be over.

And now this. The long-hoped-for day has been handed back to me. After encountering wreckage everywhere we drove this morning – including no donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts! – I have a heavy feeling in my stomach that tells me that we are not going to school this week at all. Then there’s the five days off over Labor Day weekend before school really gets going over a week from now. So the fact is, I have nine more days of summer vacation. How can this have happened???

After some swearing and some self-pity, I have come up with the plan that these days will be what I had always hoped the summer would be – slow times of togetherness and meandering instead of any kind of regimented activity. Now I can finally give the girls painstaking little braids throughout their hair, paint their nails, and play dress-up with them like they’ve been asking me to do all summer. We can play five-way ball in the cul de sac with Timmy and I can get a much-needed workout for free. We can just sit on the couch and snuggle and talk and read books. The more I think about doing nothing in particular, the longer the list grows.

During those snuggles, maybe we can talk about all the amazing things we accomplished this summer: all three girls taught themselves to swim, the twins taught themselves some basic reading, we baked thousands of muffins and cupcakes, we saw lots of new places, and we worked as a team through the inevitable bumps in the road. Maybe it’s worth spending a few days remembering that stuff.


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