Survivor: Summer Break Edition

It’s officially, finally, happily SUMMERTIME! (Except on the East Coast where they prefer to keep children holed up in stuffy classrooms until nearly – literally – Independence Day. May God help those wild-eyed, desperate… teachers.)

Now I know it isn’t actually summer summer. It’s the tail end of spring. But school’s out, pools/parks/playgrounds are packed, grills are fired up and the ice cream truck is making its rounds.

I’ll take a raspberry Sno-Cone, please. I know, I know… artificial colors and corn syrup.

(That crunchy ice, though.)

Despite the fact that the same kids who’ve been whining and fussing and moaning and complaining about school have finally been released from the routines and rigors of formal education, it’ll likely only be about 10 days – give or take – before they start whining and fussing and moaning and complaining again.

Just days after the kids have emptied their cubbies/lockers/desks and ditched their backpacks/lunch sacks/socks/alarm clocks, parents will hear that dreaded refrain:

I’m bored.

‘Tis the season.

The wearisome, exasperating, sweltering season of sunblock, bug spray, Band Aids, and… inexplicable boredom.

Mornings seem to last seventeen hours… and afternoons stretch for days. By dinnertime, Quiet, Calm, Kind and Compliant have vacated the premises. And their wicked cousins Whiny, Messy, Loud and Unruly have settled in for the evening.

If not for babysitters, central air and Advil, very few parents would survive until TFDOS. (The First Day of School… cue the Hallelujah Chorus.)

Don’t get me wrong. Boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can spark creativity, increase focus, forge friendships… and give parents good reason to assign extra chores. And while I always maintained that it wasn’t my job to be a summer camp counselor/cruise director/party planner, I didn’t want to be a total killjoy either.

Once upon a summertime, I made a list (both because I’m a compulsive list-maker and because summer always seemed to suck the creative/playful/fun right out of me) of indoor and outdoor boredom-busters. Essentially a “bucket list” of activities, adventures and outings for the preschool/primary set. When the natives got restless, I’d turn to my strategic summer survival guide for ideas – and relief. Here’s a sampling:

Backyard picnic. (Basically – lunch outside on a blanket). Amazing how a change of scenery magically distracts and delights. Bonus: no spills or crumbs on the kitchen floor.

Coloring or drawing contest… or a painting party (for those who like to live on the edge).

Wash the car, water the flowers or clean the bikes. (Who cares if the plants get watered or the car/bikes get cleaned?) Keep a stack of towels by the door.

Make your own pizza. Got mozzarella and tomato sauce? I used to buy pre-made crusts, but if you’ve got flour, olive oil and such, let little fingers knead dough for a homemade pie.

Catch fireflies. Give the kids a clear glass mayo/mason jar and send them on an early evening expedition in the backyard. 

Snail mail. Write a letter or send original artwork to the grandparents or the troops.

Dance party. Create a playlist of favorites… and let ’em dress up and wear themselves out!

Lemonade stand. Proceeds to a children’s charity. (Let your kids deliver their donation.)

Photo contest. Hand over the iPhone, choose a theme (colors, nature, shapes, favorite things) and let them take 10 photos. Print and display the best photos on the frig.

Sugar cookie decorating. (Not for the faint of heart, but a tablecloth or tarp makes the frosting and sprinkles cleanup a little less daunting.) 

Blanket fort or bedsheet teepee. (Climb inside and read some books by flashlight.)

Leaf prints and flower pressing. Easy, artsy, frame-worthy fun.

Ice cream-for-lunch day. (Make sure it’s a nice day, so they can “detox” from the sugar buzz outside.)

DIY project: homemade play-dough, slime, suncatchers or birdfeeders.

Busy bags. Filled with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, stickers, puzzles, glow sticks and bath toys.

Plenty of (free or inexpensive) places to go too:

Library (story time). Nature trail. Outdoor concert or theater performance. Factory tour. Farmer’s market. Fire station visit. Free movie or museum days. 

Pool or water park. Pack up those floaties, sunscreen, beach towels, pool toys (including those unwieldy giant noodles), ear plugs, nose plugs, swim diapers (for heaven’s and health inspectors’ sake, please do not forget these), snacks and water bottles, swim shoes, change of clothes… Never mind. Just stay home and turn on the hose. Everyone will still get wet. And hopefully wiped out, so… naps for all. Including the parent(s).

I wryly (and somewhat wistfully) refer to 1990-2005 as the nap-and-tuck years.

Partly because I felt like I was constantly counting the minutes ’til nap time… or wishing for bedtime tuck-in. And God-willing, a little peace. (And quiet.) But also because…

Is there anything sweeter than watching your little one sleep?

Honestly, back in those rough-and-tumble, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, feeding/ folding/sighing/crying, cleaning-up and carting-around, daunting and desperate days, I soaked up every single sweet, snuggly, blissful and lovely moment to be had… and stored them in my heart for safekeeping. (Those little graces helped me soldier on.)

But the real game-changer/life-saver/sanity-preserver of the nap-and-tuck years was this:

Putting MYSELF on time-out.

Not. Even. Kidding.

When my strength was sapped, morale low, bedtime still hours away… and I found myself utterly emptied of kindness, compassion, patience, gentleness and anything resembling self-restraint, I’d drag myself into our closet… and lock myself in… until my agitation and aggravation subsided. (Yes, I was sometimes on mommy-time-out for an hour. And only twice did a minor catastrophe take place in my absence.)

I remember the kids staring wide-eyed the first time I informed them I was giving myself a time-out. They were stunned into relative tranquility… or maybe they were terrified? Either way, it got eerily quiet all through the house and I made a break for the stairs.

Sometimes, you just need to step away… exhale (or cry)… pray… and regroup.

And remember that (in the words of my dear mother and other sages):

“This too shall pass.”

Those really hard days will fade into distant memory. The endless summers will be a blur. And believe it or not, you’ll fondly reminisce about this. All of it. (Even the sticky fingerprints.)

You know why?

Togetherness.

Because someday those little people are gonna grow up.

And leave you.

(Oh sure, they’ll probably come back from time-to-time – for holidays, home-cooking or a much-needed hug. And, trust me, your heart will soar when they do.)

But they will lead increasingly separate lives. Just as they should.

Just as you raised them to.

Yes, dear parents of littles, the days are excruciatingly long… but the years fly by.

And someday… you will miss this.

More than you can imagine.

Wendy

P.S. If your kiddos are lucky enough to have devoted grandparents, godparents, aunts or uncles who are nearby/helpful/involved, thank the good LORD… and them. Often.

 

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Confessions of an Impatient, Imperfect, Nit-Picking Parent

(This one’s for all the mommas who reached the end of their patience before the end of the summer.)

Anyone who’s been a parent for more than 72 hours knows this…

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

You’ve got to be tough and tender, flexible and firm, instantly responsive and exceedingly patient. And that’s just for starters.

Last week was one of the worst in my parenting career. And I’ve had some doozies, believe me. After 28 and a half years on the job, I still haven’t mastered it. Not even close. (To be fair, though, the job description has changed… weekly.)

Recently – regrettably – I stooped to a new low. I did the underhanded interrogator/ overbearing drill sergeant/uppity church lady routine. And my 20-something was having none of it. So I let it go.

(In my dreams.)

No, the truth is… I didn’t let it go. I dug in deeper. I scoffed, scowled, and scolded. Meddled, muddled, manipulated, and just generally made a mess of things. Thankfully, my kid is the forgiving type. (If he were a grudge-holder, I’d be toast.)

The devil didn’t make me do it. It was all me.

Yeah, sometimes you just fall flat on your face… and suck mud.

I sucked.

I’ve always wanted to be the mom who’s willing to play the game, read the story, stack the blocks again (for the eleventh time in a row). The one who starts the ticklefest, the water war, the pillow fight. The one who throws impromptu cupcake/fingerpaint/Play-Doh parties for the littles and French press/film fest/Fortnite parties for the bigs. The mom who’s attentive and affectionate, wise and witty, playful and prayerful, faithful and FUN. I want to be the welcoming committee, sounding board, prayer team, and biggest fan.

And on my best days, I am.

But…

I can be lazy, short-sighted, selfish, impatient, presumptuous and downright b!#<%y too. (If not for coffee and Jesus, there’d be no survivors.)

When I feel stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, I get irritable, inflexible, unreasonable. And the more I say, the more I sin.

I overstate, exaggerate, manipulate. I assume, accuse, cajole and – (wince) – judge.

Thank God for this:

Love covers a multitude of sins.

(Can I get a “Hallelujah” from all the other humans with offspring?)

A mom friend once said to me: Little kids, little problems. Big kids, bigger problems. At the time, I remember thinking, Have you ever tried to extract a Polly Pocket playset piece from the itsy bitsy teeny tiny nasal cavity of a writhing, hysterical toddler? That’s a very small, VERY BIG problem.

But now I get it.

Instead of spilled milk, mysterious rashes and choking hazards… it’s speeding tickets, sexting and cyber bullies.

(It’s excruciating… waiting for the whole “cause and effect” concept to take hold.)

Lord, have mercy.

I do think it’s pretty great that God chose to make newborns stationary. You plop them down someplace and – miraculously – they stay right where you left them. I believe He did this to give new parents a chance to acclimate to having a very small, very needy human being in close proximity, one who’s incessantly hungry/thirsty/sleepy/poopy. At least they stay put. But not for long. Soon, they get rolling… and “sit, stay” rarely happens again. Their inclination is to scooch, crawl, walk, or ride their bikes as far from us as possible. Next thing you know, they’re 16, 17, 18, 19… and they’re asking for the keys so they can drive away. Far, far away. Into the big city. Or the mountains. (In Colorado.)

From the time they take their first steps, we encourage our kids to seek and savor independence. But what we don’t realize is that the more independent they become, the less control we have. And the more terrifying it is. And, well…

Desperate mommas do desperate things.

When it comes right down to it, most of my parenting failures are a direct result of my own anxiety and insecurities. Though it pains me to admit it, I often parent from a place of fear, pride, or a pretty anemic notion of love.

Let’s face it: parental fears are persistent… and plentiful. Injury, illness, insect bites and infestations. (If you’ve never had to wield a fine-toothed nit comb and lice-killing cream rinse, you should drop to your knees right now and give thanks with a grateful heart.)

The world is a perilous place to grow up. Not only do we have to worry about mean girls, bad boys, bullies and predators; we now need to issue urgent warnings about opiods, active shooters and texting/driving fatalities.

Worse yet, even when my kids manage to steer clear of the danger zone, I turn and fall headlong into another “parent trap.”

Pride.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made is parenting by popular opinion. (It’s a minefield, littered with high horses, haughtiness, blame and shame. Don’t go there.)

Another biggie was openly (and smugly) stating all the things I’d never do if my son _______________ or when my daughter ________________.

Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.

Yep.

Invariably, that very thing you swore you’d never do… you’ll do it. And discover you’ve tumbled headfirst into the pit of despair (with all the other demoralized, defeated, derelict parents). You’re facedown, eating crow. And there’s only one thing to do.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(He’s got strong arms.)

But the thing I most regret in all my years of parenting is this:

Conditional love.

I love you if you…

I love you when you…

I love you… but…

Not only am I guilty. I’m a repeat offender.

I dole out love in meager doses… or with a laundry list of prerequisites.

Why can’t I just love him freely and fully just the way he is? Why don’t I love her lavishly even when/if/though… Why can’t I just pour out love like there’s unlimited free refills? Splash it all around? Drench my kids in kindness and mercy and grace?

Maybe because I haven’t steeped long enough in Love and Living Water myself. Maybe because I don’t often enough go to my Father for advice. Maybe because I’m inclined to keep wandering far, far away. Which is pretty foolish… because I’m lost without Him.

The only perfect parent is the One enthroned above. His love never fails.

He’s a good, good Father.

And His mercies are new every morning… Before the alarm goes off and the lunches are made and the backpacks are loaded. (Even before the coffee is done brewing.)

What a relief!

Wendy

P.S. One last confession: I was not (and never have been) the momma who shed a few tears on the first day of school. I was the one doing the happy dance all the way home from the bus stop.