As summer 2015 draws to a close, I am filled alternately with grief and with relief.
Now, it’s pretty typical for me to flip-flop from one extreme to another in my emotions in the space of about two minutes. I remember one fall day I took my children to Ticonderoga Farms by myself and thought it was the most peaceful, bucolic, carefree day then decided moments later that it was the most pathetic and lonely time I’d ever had. And back again, several times. Settling into a place of acceptance would be a great mark of progress.
But right now I’m settled into a no-person’s land at the bottom of the pendulum, somewhere between feeling
a) relieved and grateful that I only have to get through seven more regular weekdays until it’s back to my children getting out the door to school at 7:45 and not seeing them again until 2:30 or 3:00
b) grief-stricken that I am almost out of time to give my children a summer I feel good about
I was actually about to go to bed just now so that I might get up and actually exercise and not be groggy. But I hadn’t written in so long and I wanted to capture where my head is.
I didn’t expect to start crying so hard.
But that really shouldn’t surprise me. It has been a challenging time.
When I thought ahead to the summer, I intentionally wanted to build in lots of time at home so that my children could be bored, just play in our yard with neighbors, and maybe spend few days doing an in-home scrapbook camp to deal with all those old photos and to finally make some albums. I didn’t feel like I could justify the expense of too many camps, and I hoped I would be up to the challenge of creating fun and rolling with the days.
That was a nice idea, but it didn’t factor in
- that my kids and I simply do not do well without structure, even if I love the idea of not having to make lunches and they love the access to screen-time, which is off-limits Monday through Thursday during the school year
- how intense my depression would get at times and how much I would still be struggling with my overall health such that having no time alone to think or create except after they went to bed would
- drive me absolutely bonkers
- further threaten my marriage,
- and zap me of any remaining energy to do fun things with my children outside of keeping them fed with moderately (but not always) healthy food
- that my son would break his leg and be in a cast and on crutches for three weeks, making talking outings with lots of walking off the table
- that my mother 500 miles away would have a heart attack and a quadruple bypass a month after we visited her and that I would need to fly to see her in the hospital right before my husband was leaving town for a four-day golf trip
It’s not like I even had super high expectations for the summer. There were no big trips we had to cancel, because we never plan trips anyway, a fact that stings every time I log onto Facebook and see the amazing places other people seem to arrive at with ease.
I did hope we would get to the ocean, which may or may not still happen, and I do still hope I can make good on a nearly year-old promise to return to Annmarie Sculpture Garden, this time with some friends and with a longer there and on the nearby Bay beach.
We did make it to the World Children’s Festival and the Folklife Festival and to a few library summer reading events. We got in some swim lessons plus gymnastics and dance and two weeks of kung fu for she-who-did-not break-her-leg. There were some playdates. We saw Peter Pan when my sister and her daughter came to town for a wedding. I took pushed my son in a wheelchair at Mount Vernon while his sister was in camp. We made it to the county fair with friends and with family and even got awards on our photos. We saw the Native Pride Dancers at Wolf Trap. The score of Shrek the Musical, which we saw at Encore Stage & Studio before also getting the DVD out of the library, was a godsend. It’s hard to be sad when you’re letting your freak flag fly. I have to write more about that one!
My son read the first four Harry Potter books. I read along with him until he finished the fourth while I was away with my mom, so now we’ve got the audio to catch me up. We’ve watched the first three movies together, too (all in daylight and broken up to keep him from getting too freaked out).
I feel good on the one hand that we haven’t succumbed to scary-movies-in-theaters this summer and on the other hand feel like that should have been an easy thing to do while my son’s leg was broken and that it would have been memorable for both kids.
During our one family trip, to visit with extended family on all sides, we had some nice cousin time and some beautiful moments on Lake Michigan and the nearby creek, but much of the 12-day trip I was either having back pain, having gastrointestinal distress, or just plain feeling stressed about the pressure to make everything go smoothly with little sleep and no escape.
I grew bunches of sunflowers but also a garden got so out of control I felt at a loss to harvest anything but basil.
I threw a Sunday-afternoon fifth birthday party for my daughter that was generally enjoyed but whose success became dependent on the help of the unsuspecting parents who opted to say, which should not have been a surprise since I started planning only a week and ordered gifts only on Thursday.
I kept having to look over at photos in Picasa and to my planner to see what the hell else we actually did all summer, because I feel like a lot of it was spent with me in the kitchen trying to concentrate on cooking food or watching dishes while thinking about appointments to make or laundry to do and while two children each tried to tell me something or beat each other up or asked to watch something or have me read them something. Occasionally it seemed they performed all these feats at once.
The best times my children had, I feel confident in saying, were at camp. They were engaged and felt purposeful. They played and learned. They came home with things to share and experiences that made them feel alive. These were separate experiences, but for a few days they went to a drop-in camp and had fun together in a way they never do at home.
When they were around me, they got fed and sometimes hugged or patted on the head. Occasionally we danced or did yoga or enjoyed reading books (okay a lot of that with my son), but they also had to put up with a lot of short fuses. And they also cut those fuses down to the quick with their arguments.
It has not been exactly ugly, but it has not been pretty.
If I had the energy I would have gotten us to meditate together and do yoga every day. I would have gotten us out on hikes and said yes to camping in the back yard. I would have read the rest of Siblings Without Rivalry, and I would have coached my daughter on ways to express her concerns that did not include hitting or grunting.
But I did not have the energy to do what I knew would help, and the fact that I didn’t feel well enough to do those things made me feel even worse.
My favorite moments of the entire summer are when everyone slept in after we got home from our visit to family (I refuse to call it “vacation”) and I got to use the elliptical, do yoga and bathe before everyone got up. I think I might have even juiced. It was glorious. The next best was when my husband took the children to chase down a synthesizer he wanted to buy off Craigslist with my orders to do something fun with the kids if he was going to drag them all the way out to Manassas. They went to the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum, and I got to listen to NPR all day. Also glorious.
I wanted to be open-hearted enough to wish my friends well, but every image of a family having fun frolicking together stung. Even worse were the brags about what people did when their children were away from home in the care of loving relatives. In his nine years, my son has spent eight nights away from us, with grandparents and/or aunts. All of the family is far away, the aunts are pretty busy with their own kids, and the grandparents are done with the babysitting portions of their lives.
So unless there is an emergency, I don’t expect to have both of my children out of the house overnight again until they are both old enough to go to sleepaway camp. At nine, my son has done two days overnight at a beginner sleepaway camp, but at five, my daughter has a ways to go. One friend has offered to take them for a weekend if my husband and I want to go on a marriage retreat. Otherwise we are looking at thousands of dollars to have the quiet other people get while their kids are making memories with family. Being bitter is not empowering or attractive, I know, and I’m working on it. Last night I tried to speak some metta meditation when I put my children to bed, in my bed as a treat aimed to help them feel calm in the face of their father’s absence just after my own absence. My daughter cried in protest and demanded I stop using “that voice.” So much for calm and loving-kindness!
Then, a few hours later, she cried out, something she doesn’t usually do in the night. I save this draft, closed the laptop and went to console her and escort her to the potty. She settled back into the big king bed where I thought I would have joined my children by then if I hadn’t spent the evening writing.
Whether from that act of writing or from the simple act of successfully soothing a child back to sleep and walking out of the room to put on my own pajamas, I don’t know, but I somehow felt better. About the summer. About the future. We’ll see how long it lasts, but every drop helps.