July 4, 2014 by Julia
When it comes to summertime with the kids, there is an extremely thin line between too busy and not busy enough.
Total balance is a perfectionist goal, and while staring at our family calendar like an Excel spreadsheet at a desk job, I feel the impossibility of achieving it. And yet, I spend hours trying to plan and execute a summer that is adventurous, but lazy. Relaxed…but fun! Special, but filled with comforting routines. Also, trips! Summer is the time for making memories on family vacations! And I want to visit my long-distance friend, and travel with nearby friends, and get the kids to the beach, or escape with my husband, camp in a state park, etc. Somehow I’ve been duped into thinking everything must happen this summer. Frantic, antsy, unsettled – all accurate words to describe my state of mind these days.
I try so hard to pack just the right things in our bags, and do just the right assortment of activities, and yet there are failures big and small every day. I am often left wondering – how much of a lasting impression will this latest screw-up leave on my child’s psyche? Usually none, probably.
But when I get so busy with family stuff that I don’t have time for other projects (as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t get the possible satisfaction of completing projects at a job outside the home), I can’t help turning our summer into THE project. I want to succeed at something, you know? Just like anyone else. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to measure the success of your parenting with the happiness of your children.
When happiness fails to materialize every day (because: LIFE), it makes me cry – either with fury that the kids have no idea how hard I’ve worked to make this stuff fun for them, or with discouragement that there will be days when one tiny mistake on my part (forgetting to bring a change of clothes, for instance) is the thing that brings our entire day crashing down on our heads. It’s a bitter pill to realize that the things we work at the hardest may go unnoticed, and the most innocent mistakes may have the hardest consequences.
I’m rambling – sorry.
I am too hard on myself; I know that. It’s not easy, though, to turn off this pressure to live life to the fullest. It’s not entirely for the kids’ sake that I want to have an awesome summer – it’s for our family’s sake, myself included. It’s hard to meet everyone’s wishes, though, and when you’re dealing with vacation plans (even the most affordable, modest kind), you’re dealing with the stuff of dreams. There is that whole THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN FOR EVERYONE THE ENTIRE TIME! pressure hanging over our heads, especially mine, as the planner, the packer, the director.
I bravely took both kids to a small-ish amusement park this past Monday, with a friend and her daughter (a close friend of Fiona’s), but without Dennis. Mind you, I did this exact thing with the same friends a year ago, and it was pretty, uh, difficult, but I was so certain that it would be easier this year. Ha! What a fantasy. I love the friends we went with, and I think the amusement park itself is charming, but never again will I attempt to wrangle two young children at a busy place with rides without a 1:1 adult-to-kid ratio.
I cried behind my sunglasses about three times, did the scary-whisper-yell about ten times, did the scary-loud-yell-in-public thing three times, and shared the intimate details with my children of exactly how I was going to lose my mind. We were the people holding up the rollercoasters and the fun slides as both kids freaked out. It was hot as heck, and I was dying of an insatiable thirst almost the entire time. Fiona was on the verge of bolting out of line for rides at any given moment, as she fretted over whether they were too scary or not; on the other hand, Jack whined the entire time we stood in line for rides because like most preschoolers, he doesn’t like to wait. And of course they wanted to go on different rides, in different directions, constantly. Insanity, I tell you.
The family changing room of the pool area was like the whatever-th circle of hell – the really bad, worst one. Oppressively hot and too sticky to get our clothes on and Jack yelling “Stupid!!” at the top of his lungs and lost socks and I can’t breath and our friends have been waiting outside for us for at least ten minutes – I really have no idea, because time has stopped.
You get the picture.
And now, looking back four days later, I’m like, that was kind of fun, wasn’t it? Such is the nature of these summertime events. I can actually envision going back, willingly.
The kids at dinner with Dennis that night were like, “I want to live at that park!” and “It was SO GREAT,” and it’s already turning into a fond memory. Which makes me wonder how many of my fond memories from childhood were actually misery in present time (no doubt my parents experienced them differently than I did, too) – but if I think about that too much, my head will explode, so I’ll just let those memories remain pleasant.
Anyway, we’re getting there. By “there” I mean a summer that we will all remember fondly.
In the meantime, I shall try to relax, and sometimes focus on projects other than “making this the best summer ever.”