Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My "shoulda woulda coulda" summer

The air has changed.  It’s turned.  Even here where seasons are marked only by the lessening or the heightening of humidity.  There is a west wind that pulls the mind from the fresh green of summer into the crispness of fall.  The bite of an apple, the opening of a new notebook, the fresh sheets of paper, a sharpened #2—all of these are the indicators that we’ve entered somewhere new albeit familiar.

It makes me wonder exactly, where did the 80 days that marked our summer go? 

I had big plans this summer.  I was going to TOP last summer.  My children would be well-versed in art, music, history, science and pull some skills on the green that would make them junior PGA eligible.  When asked, “what did you do?” They’d be able to say, “Where do I start?”

I didn’t reckon that they would have a say.

And I forgot how it is 1003 degrees outside here in the summer.

I did not sign them up for any kind of camp.

I overestimated my own energy/vigor.

I also underestimated how much my kids just wanted to be with me

And that’s where this post ends and begins.  It was nice that I had the option, that my children are old enough that a minute by minute review of their whereabouts is no longer necessary.  Their current needs weren’t beyond anything I couldn’t supply. Unlike my parents, I was not at a job where I
Week 6 "Maps"
couldn’t take time off to be with them. 

There are so many articles to say that children are overscheduled in the summer or that the benefits of camp for children far outweigh any reservations that a parent may have.  My opinion is simply that it is not so simple.  You know your children best.  You know your family situation best.  You know where they would thrive.  You know your finances.  You know where they need to be, and, as a result, where you need to be for both of you to feel happy and secure. 

Anything else seems to thrive on a culture of “woulda shoulda coulda” that inspires guilt and worry among all of us.  I was not confident that my children could handle a sleep-away camp, and there was no actual day-camp topic that they particularly
Week 4 "Rhythm"
felt driven to learn more about.   No skills they wanted to perfect and no new ones to add to their arsenal.

It drove me batty.  Because around me it seemed that kids were learning.  Actively and at rest.  And mine were, well, I felt that I could see brain matter ooze out and drip down their ears.  Where was the line of being at rest and perfecting the art of laziness?

And why was I so gung-ho worried about the divide?

There are so many times, too many to count, that I’ve been told by older women in grocery stores and in checkout lines, that their happiest moments have been when they were in the trenches with their kids.  Begging them not to grab anything, promising various and sundry punishment when they did anyway.  “I miss those days,” they would say to me, grabbing my elbow, “cherish them.”

This summer I began feeling my middling years.  Don’t get me wrong, I have never, ever, ever been an athlete and could never, ever, ever been mistaken for one.  I loved books more than sweat and any adamancy I have for a workout has come from a desire to whittle my waist and stay healthy for my family than any real euphoria received from endorphins and the rush therein.  (I am not at all convinced that they exist actually.)  

I was tired, horribly tired, most of the time.  I felt writing to be too much and began to question not only the blog but also any writing I could do in general.  And in early May my hair started falling out.  The kind of shedding I’ve only seen once and that was reserved for post-partum crazy that reconciled itself rather quickly.  In about 6 weeks I lost half the volume of my hair.  And it sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and worry.  After consultations and biopsy I was given a diagnosis that it wasn’t permanent, and would grow back in time.  But the interim between testing and diagnosis of three weeks made me even more acutely aware that the days of being with my children and their wanting to be with me was very much like the first shock of a cold water jump—they would be gone and out of my arms long before my body got acclimated to the new sensations.

"In the summer, the song sings itself."
William Carlos Williams

My true boys of summer, all of them born during the hot months that denote the season, were content in their late mornings, game playing and swimming routines.  Rarely did they wish to venture beyond into the wider world.  And if they even moved toward the backyard, for the 15 or 20 minutes before the sun scorched them into running for cover, they were reluctant to do so without me.

And so I unlearned my preoccupation with occupation this summer.  And I tried to hit pause on the playback of what I felt needed to be done to further them for the future.  As ridiculously vogue as it seems to be, I decided to see how much I could remain “in the moment” with children who were on the cusp of a new year: 5 to 6, 7 to 8, and 9 to 10. 

Their wanting me to play soccer with them made me grimace.  And brought back memories I’d rather forget.  I even told them some of them, how playing in school was always a heart wrenching puddle of awfulness.  I was not any good.  I was too skinny. I would not be picked.  And it came true.  No one wanted me on their team.  I had wished for years that I could opt out, I would've been happy to take a double of calculus AB rather than a minute of PE.

They grinned.  And said, “Mommy, Halliseys don’t quit.”  “You need to try.”  “We’ll help you Mommy, you can be on my team.”

And they were right.  With them, these boys. It doesn't matter. My left feet.  My lack of enthusiasm or uncoordinated effort.  Not even a little bit.  All that mattered is that I showed up.  I played.  I tried. With my kids, I got a lot of points (not just talk) for effort.

That facing of exertion unwrapped expectation of other moments.  And I found myself learning a lot
Week 2 was "Curious."
(All the weekly words and accompanying
activities are on the blog FB page.)
more than I thought I would.  We collaborated on a word a week to explore, and I hoped that we would at least do one item on the activity list.  (The picture is usually as far as we got.)  And I had to unlearn the expectation that lists should be checked off.  The boys were naturals at not adhering to any other timetable than what their own bodies dictated.

The lack of schedule made the ordinary everyday an occasion, like getting new sneakers or trying a new branch
African drumming with Steve at a local branch library.

A cooking lesson became more than math and fractions, it encompassed science, and I learned that basil tastes much better than lemon and m&ms on pizza.  (It truly isn't the most versatile food.)

When we would go visit my Dad, and I explained to more mature ears what his disease meant and why, I saw new understanding take place.  I learned that courage comes in all forms like when a very shy boy takes center stage in playing games at his grandfather's dementia care facility.  When Sam allowed his hand to be shaken and told he was "terrific," I swallowed a baseball-sized lump and thought that if he could do that, I could face all my fears of no one liking what I had to say and write again.

When I saw Joe pour over a hefty volume on the
history of all Marvel characters, sometimes late, late too late in the night, I learned in the morning that Wolverine had no past because his healing factor kicked in on his mind and taken away all the bad memories.  Also he fought with Captain America.  (These news briefings are as important in our world as any others I dare say).  And I realized that in the telling is memory and not just of the story but of the active listening that took place and will stay in his cortex for when his own child has a tale to tell.  

When my youngest would come right next to me to read his book while I read mine and look at me with squinted eyes to tell me, “well we sure don’t have time to cuddle cuddle like we used to,” I caught on fast.  He was mourning the space on the couch shrinking too.  He was holding on to the inches fast because he knew somehow that the days of us holding on to the same space would be few.  
A chance moment and observation
of my own that I got 

to pass along to my boys.
 Jake was right, our puzzle halves were never going to fit as perfectly on the width of the cushion again.  I learned to hold onto them, under the blanket and watch all sorts of crazy animation on the television. 

This summer we've perfected the art of unstructured time.  My kids have had 
way too much screen time.  We've eaten too much candy.  They've watched movies, they've read  a little bit, they've Lego-ed themselves into a new category. 
 Ice cream has qualified for lunch.  They've played board games some, and cards, but mostly we've done a whole lotta nothing.

The day will come when they want to do a whole lotta something with someone else.  So I'll gladly trade in my couch potato, power-napping, lack of writing self for this brief window. 
Because a whole lotta nothing with them means a whole lot of them for me.

So I guess I'm saying that I don't regret it, and I hope you don't regret a single coulda shoulda come Fall--even if that one kid has mastered Mandarin in 2 months, and that one mom talks endlessly about it.  

Or even if the schedules you had to adhere to made you feel that you missed something else, or that you didn’t get done anything you felt you must do.  If you look back on it, I believe you will have learned something new about you and your kids that you didn’t know before. 

As school has started, and I’ve had these 80 days, I’ve picked up a lesson or two on letting things go.  And I hope that the wind on which it caught will carry us right through to an easy transition to learning this Fall.  Here’s to a great one for you and yours—hope you’ll find those quiet summer moments of courage, introspection, and learning pop up like bright rays of sunshine even as the days grow shorter.  Happy back-to-school!  

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