This summer was categorically awful. Possibly my worst ever. I am so very glad it’s over, and so in love with our local public school system, I could dance though the school parking lot at drop-off and then weep with gratitude into the little intercom thingies they use to keep out people like me.
Before you get the wrong idea: The Cherubs are great. They are still their stellar selves and the Ryan family is closer and more bonded than I would have thought possible back when school got out in June. The bummer is, we bonded through surviving days upon days of boredom, frustration, and planning failures. I’m writing about it here in the spirit of full disclosure about the potholes on the road of instant parenthood…and in the hopes that I’ll re-read this early next spring and do better next time.
Here’s what happened:
Last year was great – both kids went to camp two days a week from 8-5. They had enough activity to keep them interested and challenged, but lots of time at home to play with new friends, chill out, etc. I had a couple of days a week to get things done (read: have down time and not talk for a few hours). And we still had plenty of time to do trips to the beach together to soak up enough salt water & vitamin D to get us through the winter.
This year, #1 Cherub aged out of most day camp registrations. He turned 14 in July…to late for me to sneak him into regular camp, too early for a job. (Also, we don’t have all the paperwork sorted out for him to start his life earnings quite yet). We found two, week-long sports day camps in August, one for basketball, one for soccer. But other than that, #1 summered at home. Did I mention that his best friend moved away?
#2 Cherub asked to go to a different day camp, the one her best friend goes to. It was cheaper for full weeks than for 2 days at the other camp, and offered all of the outdoorsy swimming/boating/sporting activities she liked from last year, so I thought it would be a win. She went for 3 weeks in July. Unfortunately, the camp counselors didn’t like to “make” their posse of tween girls do activities, and so #2 returned home many days with her bathing suit dry, carrying yards of freshly woven gimp braids as her day-long project. (Most expensive backpack decor ever.)
In terms of the bigger picture, here’s what I failed to realize:
When your kids are in week-long camps, there are no trips to the beach for you. There’s just not enough time between drop off and pick up (which for #2’s camp was 30 minutes before the stated time, because apparently even gimp braiding has its limits), and there are no free weekdays when someone isn’t in camp. There are really no trips anywhere for you, because the at-home kid will complain at the prospect of going anywhere, or doing anything, because they are bored and frustrated and they hate life, and why should they have to do something that the other one doesn’t have to? That wouldn’t be FAIR.
So you sit on the couch, or in your little office, bored and frustrated and hating life, Googling “sleep away camps with immediate openings,” for most of the summer. You can’t really write or get work done, because there are questions from at-home Cherub every 3-27 minutes. It’s not pretty. And yes, I realize that most parents use this time to DO INTERESTING THINGS with their children, things that create memories and build their learning. Bless those parents. Because the educationally wonderful things that would be enjoyed by one of my Cherubs and me? It’s a subset of zero. It’s the Venn Diagram with no overlap. I am the worst parent in this history of ever when it comes to walking through museums, using crayons to do rubbings of cemetery headstones, or saying things like, “Let’s bake a cake from scratch so you can practice math!” I couldn’t even get my kids to go kayaking. I’m good at love, humor, enthusiastic cheering, and conversations about deep matters of life. That has to be enough, because it’s all I’ve got.
(Lest you think I’m posting something the Cherubs wouldn’t want made public.. last week at church when someone asked #2 if she was excited to go back to school, she said “Yeah…it will be good to get a break…” She meant from me. And I don’t blame her one bit.)
Back when I was thinking about adoption, all my thoughts were of time together: getting to know each other, figuring out what the kids would need and how to meet those needs, making sure they felt safe and loved… all good stuff. I forgot about the reality of people: how even in the most loving relationships, we need breaks from one another. We need to go out into the world and do different things so we have something to talk about at dinner. We need time to be alone.
And I think everyone in our family now understands how deeply we need days at the beach.
There were two rays of sunshine that got us through this summer.
First, our church denomination had its Regional Conference in July. I wouldn’t think of July in Syracuse as a summer vacation highlight, but it saved our bacon. There was fun and structure, new people to meet and old friends to introduce. There was a hotel with pool and a basketball court. There was God, and so much hope and encouragement. All four of us agreed that it was one of the best weeks we’ve ever spent together.
And second, when we got back from Syracuse and realized the shape the rest of our summer was in, Steve dug around and found a VRBO in Maine for the last week of August. Did we know that #1 would he’ll miss half of soccer tryouts? No. Thank you, God, for understanding coaches. Did we know that #2 Cherub would miss an opportunity to be part of a special, invitation-only singing group that happened that week? No. We’re new at this. But there was sunshine and water, dinners out and amazing time with friends and family. My Dad taught #1 to drive a golf ball. #2 swam for HOURS in the crazy waves. They were regulars at the Sugar Shack. It was a little bit of salvation, right here on earth.
New summer, when I won’t have the Olympics to punt to when we’ve all given up hope and can’t stand it anymore, I hope to do things differently. I hope to have enough parenting resources to come up with a PLAN, one that puts the “big rocks” of summer (beach time, days to sleep in) into the jar first…and to make sure there are lots of rocks in the jar. Our kids might be ready to handle sleep away camp, so perhaps we’ll try that. #1 will (God willing) have a job. We will (again, God willing) spend another week with our Vineyard Church tribe, and a different week in Maine. I don’t know how we’ll pull this off. (If you have brilliant family tips for summer, PLEASE comment!) I’m just grateful to be back in the routine of school life, and hopeful for the coming days :)