My response to Madeline Levine’s New York Times August 5, 2012 editorial, “Raising Successful Children.”
As the mother of three fully charged wee ones, I have started to regard summertime as I do Christmas: the storybook stereotype just ain’t the reality. Although at first blush, the concept of summer swims into view with delights aplenty, awash in sun-drenched relaxation, its actual manifestation is far less picturesque.
Each year I fall prey to the same whimsy: I won’t sign the kids up for any camps. We’ll just hang out and enjoy the absence of a schedule. I cling to this plan with a self-celebratory vengeance. How lucky my children are to have me! How important it is to do nothing, to enjoy each other without the daily grind of packed lunches, rushed teeth brushing, and tearful drop-offs.
The usual trajectory is that our boundless unscheduled family time remains joyful for the first three or four days. No alarm clocks! Why brush hair? It’s overrated. Pajamas all day long! Mismatched legos coat the bedroom carpets. Breakfasts morph into multi-tiered events. The garage is foraged — old toys and new yard tools discovered.
And then, midway through day 5 or so, it happens. Family bliss comes to a screeching halt. The shouting outweighs the laughing. Doors slam. Incomprehensible rivalries develop over placemats, tattered magazines, turns switching on the blender (yes, really). My fantasy film, 100 Days of Doing Nothing, is interrupted by endless obnoxious commercials and I bolt from the theatre, desperate for my daily planner. With a sigh, I abandon my laid-back parental righteousness, begrudgingly recall the ‘I told you so’ warnings from my husband, and start calling summer camps like a madwoman.
The truth is, there is no perfect solution. Too much scheduled activity makes my kids – all kids! – bananas. By the same token, too much free time encourages them to eat each other alive, not the temptation I want to encourage. Striking family harmony is a fine balance.
In parenting conversations with my husband, I often define our primary objective as setting the kids up to succeed – in whatever form that takes for them as individuals. That means not dragging my 5-year-old to the grocery store when he is tired and I am impatient. That means not serving my daughter beets and tofu every night of the week. And it also means paying attention to each of my kids’ need for equal parts structure, stimulation, togetherness, and solitude. How this is ever lost on me is mind boggling (and embarrassing) to face. After all, the workable matrix they require to thrive is comprised of the very elements I need myself – no matter that it is bathing suit season.
Every day, my mind is overtaken by the same dream.
Somewhere over my rainbow is a place bathed in muted colors where people congregate to practice yoga, gather their families, and just plain hang out.
The inhabitants of my fantasy are not Hari Krishnas. They, like me, are busy parents festooned with yogurt-stained jersey knits, wads of jangling car keys, and diaper bags aplenty. We race into the building with sunglasses askew, kids trailing behind, and immediately uncover a feeling of solace. United by the fullness of our days, length of our to-do lists, and stiffness of our lower backs, we come in search of respite.
And this place, this magical place, oozes respite. Like an enchanted bricks-and-mortar wellness custodian, it sweeps us into a collective swaddle. We smile, we stretch, we swoon, we renew. Our kids – within earshot but immersed in their own delights – swim in a sea of playfulness, wonder, and relaxation.
Releasing myself from the assembly, I reunite with my children, noticing the lightness in my step, the depth to their glee. Hand in hand, we depart, armed for the challenges, joys, and mediocrities that await. Soon, our exchange of knowing winks reveals, we’ll be back.
Dear blog, I am sorry to have blatantly ignored your yearning glances all these long months. I promise I have not forgotten you and moved on to more stylishly distracting manifestations of the written word. You are still my one and only. My cheating exploits are entirely within bounds. Cross my heart.
Truth be told, I have started working again. Yes, actually working. Starting a business, to be precise. The wild wondrous risk of it all is positively addictive, or tummy rupturing, depending on the day.
Will you accept my faltering loyalty in the months to come? I hope so. It is the best I’ve got, and its all for you.
Once I knew you. Together we tasted candy canes on icy crisp evenings and wrapped gloved fingers around the handles of a sled. We sang beneath twinkling lights; daydreamed in red, green, and gold; and bobbed in crowded rivers of anticipation and glee. Advent dawned and you kept vigil at my bedside each magical night. In the morning, we rose to dance amongst family and fable, myth and mania. You dazzled me.
They say you passed through town again. I smelled warm gingerbread perfume on the air and caught a glimpse of tangled shimmering ribbons – echoes of your presence. But we did not meet. We did not dine. We did not climb under warm blankets to whisper secrets and sip delight.
I will not forget you, but will savor in the knowledge that you are sweetening the dreams of a new friend. Caught up in your spell, I see him swelling with joy and humming your tune. Beneath green branches, his small hand reaches for mine and I hum along.
Thankfully, the Santa Claus we eagerly await is directed by a well-intentioned female agenda.
Last week’s piece for Role/Reboot —