Summer So Far

The first week or so of our summer break looked like this:

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All joy and bright sun and ocean waves and drippy Spanish moss and new adventures and smiles and salt air.

Our summer started with a very last minute, only slightly thought-out trip to South Carolina. My parents were going to be vacationing there and about two weeks before their arrival date, we decided to join them. We took the kids out of school a couple of days early, threw some swimsuits and beach towels in a bag and hit the road. I think we all benefited from the change of scenery.

And, it looks so, so lovely, doesn’t it? Just like the perfect, idealized version of summer.

The second week or so of our summer break looks like this:

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The contents of Henry and Charlie’s backpacks on the last day of school in a giant floor pile. When they arrived home with bursting bags of school desk detritus, I directed them to a spot in my bedroom where all of their school shrapnel would be out of the way while we prepared for our trip. I figured we would just address all of this upon our return. It’s been almost three weeks now. The pile remains, occasionally changing shape and spreading out a bit in a blob-like fashion. Bob keeps stepping over all of it on the way into our closet and we both have acknowledged that this pile exists and will need to be sorted but neither of us have taken steps to do anything about it. I feel like we’re sort of in the cheese-in-the-suitcase episode of Everybody Loves Raymond here.

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The kitchen table. Where we’re supposed to eat. In fact, most flat surfaces in our home right now look like this. No clean, unobstructed surface is safe. If such a surface is found, it must be immediately covered in Lego, toy soldiers, things kids have borrowed from my desk and not returned or just plain garbage. At this rate, I’m not sure what shape our house is going to be in when school starts back up again but the outlook is not good, folks.

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A kid, still in pajamas at a late-morning hour, relaxing in MY bed watching a small screen for way, way too long. I know I’m supposed to be carefully monitoring their screen time with some sort of clip chart/reward system/chore list but I’m not there yet, guys. I’m still just trying to catch up on laundry from our vacation. I have half-heartedly suggested they play with Lincoln Logs or read a book or run around the outside of the house in racetrack-style but we always seem to circle back to a small screen. I’m not going to win this fight before the fourth of July so I’m just going to make a mental note to try better next month.

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A sink full of dishes. There are never NOT dishes in my sink. Kids home for summer break never stop eating. Never ever. Never. I made a big pronouncement to the entire family that I was only going grocery shopping on Fridays this summer. That’s it. I’m not running to the store for more Doritos or Nutella or bread that doesn’t have little nuts and seeds in it. If we’re out of your favorite foods, tough. You’re going to have to go deep in the pantry cupboards for sustenance and eat the rest of that one box of cereal that inexplicably no one likes (Kix, for the record. No one in my family likes Kix.) We’ll see how long my grocery shopping holdout lasts. We’re dangerously low on peanut butter right now and that’s a dietary staple around here so I’m nervous my plan will backfire.

TELL ME, how’s your summer going?

That’s a Wrap

And, just like that, another school year has come to a close.

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That’s a rising second grader on the left, a rising fifth grader on the right and a never-misses-a-good-party Pre-K’er in the middle (at least she’s consistent).

These last six weeks of school were especially busy. There were just SO MANY details to keep track of. It seemed like a race to fit in as many activities and outings and meetings before the big summer break. Here, I made you a handy chart that summarizes what it all looked like:

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This chart fails to show my cookie consumption and how it closely follows the trajectory of blue and red lines.

I am relieved that we are on the other side of school and that our schedules will be, well, less scheduled for the summer months.

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Not shown: last day of school coonskin cap.

Look, I know it’s in poor taste to brag but take a seat, because I’m going to brag about Henry for a minute. As part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for fourth grade students, Henry took part in a “Race to the Governor’s House,” a nine-week intensive study of Virginia state history. Each week, Henry would study a new set of flash cards covering topics ranging from geography to trade to persons of historical significance. Then, he would take a test on those topics. His performance was pitted against the performance of his classmates in the race.

The competition amongst the fourth graders was intense, this we knew. Henry would update us weekly on his position in the race and explained that the whole thing was coming down to him and two other friends. When we headed to the school for the special Race to the Governor’s House awards ceremony, we were a little anxious since we knew how excited he was for the final results. When Henry took home first place, we were elated.

Now, here’s where I admit that, overall, Bob and I were pretty hands-off with this race stuff. We tend to focus a lot of our homework completion laser eyes on Charlie so Henry runs mostly on auto-pilot. I signed the slip giving Henry permission to participate in the race (probably because that was all the way back in March), I saw the flash cards that Henry would bring home and I occasionally quizzed him on the topics covered. But, we really didn’t realize just how hard he was studying for this or just how diligent he was in taking the tests. Because, to our complete surprise, Henry won the Race to the Governor’s House by correctly answering 31 questions each on 9 separate exams. He answered 279 questions out of 279 questions correctly. His teacher pointed out that they weren’t multiple choice questions, either. Most questions were open-ended where he had to write in the answers from, like, his own brain. He had to really, really know a lot about Virginia history. He aced the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

We are so proud of his accomplishment. Henry is, too.

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I posit that nerd trophies are WAY better than sports trophies.

We have a lot of fun plans for this summer and I’m enjoying how much easier it is to explore and investigate and travel now that the kids are a bit older. Our adventures are more enjoyable with each passing year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still settle an innumerable amount of sibling arguments each day, spend a good portion of the time wondering how much screen time is really too much screen time and count down the August days until they return to their classrooms but, until then, you’ll find me lazily sleeping in until 6:30 in the morning. I know, YAY SUMMERTIME!

Follow Up

Well. That was certainly something, wasn’t it?

In the midst of a discussion with Bob on the day that linked piece was published, he mentioned to me that, on occasion, he wishes I would complain less about the kids; about parenting our kids. Actually, the conversation went something like this.

Me: So, that thing I wrote about cherishing every moment kind of blew up. Some of the commenters on Huffington Post said mothers these days do way too much complaining about mothering.

Bob: I can see their point. I feel like, sometimes, when you complain about the kids, I think to myself that you should just suck it up. Because, it’s, like, your job.

Me: {Speechless. Completely, totally speechless.}

My reaction basically vacillated between these two faces.

Just imagine my face vacillating between these two reactions for many, many minutes.

Me: WOW! That is brand new information. How often do you feel this way, BOB? Tell me! I’m so curious! This is so interesting! I want to know more!

Bob: …

Me: …

Bob: …

Me: …

Bob: Well, now I’m not going to TELL you because I probably should not have told you this at all to begin with and I am now regretting this situation in which I find myself so let’s pretend this whole thing didn’t happen and I’m just going to stand here at the sink and do the dishes.

On the one hand, I understand Bob’s point. I do probably complain a lot about parenting my children. On the other hand, parenting my children is a relentless, incredibly challenging, full-time job for me so, do you want to hear about how our kids fought incessantly over one (1) Nerf dart for four hours, Bob, or should I just drink this entire bottle of wine, alone, in our closet instead?

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Bob’s admission really speaks to a larger issue for me. This issue of how we’ve placed motherhood on a pedestal. A pedestal high above all other labor. A pole position of sorts that treats all of the emotions and feelings and sentiments surrounding it with tremendous reverence. Mothering appears to be the type of work that should be above complaint. A job that should be treasured for the sheer privilege of being able to do it. And, complaining about that privilege is seen as a deficiency.

So, when Bob hears me complain about the kids, it tarnishes just a little bit in his mind what he thinks motherhood is supposed to be all about, which is a decidedly more rewarding and sentimental version than the version that I live out day to day. His version has more hugs. My version has more poop.

This disconnect between what mothers experience and what mothers are TOLD they should be experiencing is really at the heart of what I was trying to address in a humorous manner in my last post. I think one reaches a certain point in their mothering journey where they remember all of the hugs and none of the poop. So, I know other mothers speak with the best of intentions when they remind us not to complain. I know they speak with the benefit of hindsight. I know they don’t mean to admonish. Reading all of the comments and messages and reactions to that essay reminded me of that.

But, I will never stop being honest about my mothering experience. The good, the bad, the ups and downs. Even if that honesty elicits comments that make me a bit eye-rolley. I hope you’ll be honest, too. And, if you ever need to complain, I’m here to lend an empathetic ear. I’ll even invite you over for closet wine.