The push-and-pull of spending a mostly unstructured summer at home with my kids is an imperfect elephant dancing on a see-saw kind of affair.
Pretty magical when it works. And as awkward, unpleasant, and terrifying as that picture in your mind when it fails.
There’s a lot of chatter among parents these days about wanting our kids to have what we had as kids, especially when it comes to freedom from structure. As a stay-at-home parent, I see the beauty and the pitfalls of creating your own world every day. It can feel like that horse-pill size vitamin you don’t want to take, though that’s usually a sign that you’re doing it wrong.
This is my first summer at home when my kids are really old enough to play on their own all day, if not quite old enough to send out into the neighborhood until that iconic dinner bell that no one every really had.
I can tell them to figure out what to do for themselves. I can tell them ,“Just a minute,” when they want my help and then wait for the inevitable, “Never mind.” I can actually do whatever I need to do to be a sane, functioning adult and they can—mostly—leave me alone.
And other times, I can stop being an adult doing adult things and take a trip down memory lane to recreate that back-in-the-day summer fun for my kids.
It has its moments. It can be great fun. Also, it has its moments. It’s not for everyone. As much as it can be good for the kids, it can be hard on a parent to be “on” all day, all the time. Although, really, my goal for the summer is to teach myself, and my kids, that we all need time to be “off.”
What really helps me to get through the non-Kodak Moments is to remember why we're doing this.... so why is it that my kids are attending Camp Mom?
Because yesterday, we had four different plans, and today, we might make it to the pool if we can get out of our pjs.
Because right now they’re playing some game they’re making up as they go along that I totally don’t understand. And they’re laughing.
Because I can ask them what they want to do today. And then do it.
So my daughter can take a whole day to put together a complicated Lego set. So my son can help. So they can both figure out how a 4-yr-old and a 7-yr-old can work together on a project made for 6-12 year olds. And no one will help them. Ok, someone will only help them, but only once.
So we can take day trips with a decent adult-child ratio.
Because they need to be bored. Because they need to figure out what to do for themselves. Because they need to solve their own problems. Executive thinking and all. Because otherwise, apparently, they will never be President.
Because we can have time alone. Because they have enough “socialization” from September through June.
Because they’re still so little and I can see the relaxation in their little bodies to be in their own space, to eat food when they’re hungry, to pee in their own potty, nap if they need to, not to brace themselves to be out in a big world when they could linger in their little world just a moment longer.
Because we built a playhouse outside and they need to use it. While I paint my nails. I mean read a book.
Because they told me that every day feels like the weekend and doesn’t that sound nice?
Because they still like me. And love me. And want to be around me. And because I want to be around them. Really. Mostly. Really.
Because they’re changing so fast and learning so much and I get to see it. I get to watch them swim and draw and play and it’s like a check-in that we don’t get during the school year.
Because I’m dumb enough and patient enough—mostly—to try. And crazy enough to think it’ll work. And lazy enough to wait until it does.
So we can afford for me to be writing in the next room while they watch themselves.
Because I’m still a stay-at-home mom and that won’t last forever.
Because this could be the last summer like this.
I haven’t lost sight of how grateful I should be to be here with them. And I also know that it’s no nirvana, that today is a good day but other days we’ll drive each other crazy. But I’m glad we made this choice.
Just don’t ever call it “Mom Camp” in front of them, because they’ve been to real camps, and if they expect that from me, we’ll all be wishing for school to start again.