I am at war with the glorification of busy.
In principle, I know my kids need plenty of unstructured time to play and explore. If they have time to get bored, they’ll learn to rely on their imaginations for entertainment and grow up to be creative problem solvers.
But they are driving me crazy.
All those summer moments have to be filled somehow, whether it’s by them or by me. And so far, the letting-them-entertain themselves mantra is backfiring.
“Mommy, let’s play Monopoly.” (Why don’t you and your brother play?) “Mommy, come outside with me.” (Go outside by yourselves and I’ll join you later.) “Mommy, I need a snack.” (So go get a snack.) “Mommy! Foodfoodfood!”
The consequence for prodding them toward independence always bites me. It’s the 4-year-old standing naked over the mixer, crumbling rice cakes into a cacophony of spices. It’s the 5-year-old who skinned his knee while fleeing a “bad guy,” aka our neighbors’ grandfather, out for a walk. It’s the wrestling/screaming match over who gets the dog figurine in Monopoly.
So I schedule away the time. Gymnastics on Monday, story time on Tuesday, piano on Wednesday, T-ball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus swimming lessons and painting camp in between.
But while that seems like a lot, I want you to know that I have resisted junior golf, summer playground and the other camps. The activities account for only an hour or two a day. The FREE TIME PERSISTS.
In fact, while I write this column, my 5-year-old is writhing on the ottoman at my feet. “Mommy, it’s 4:30 and it’s too late for a snack! You didn’t get me my snack! The world is over! Boo hoo hoo!” This is what happens when I make him turn off the TV.
OK, learning does happen over the summer. The 4-year-old channeled his chef skills to help me make Father’s Day eggs. He cracked and whisked them all by himself, with nary a stray piece of shell. He learned to ride his big boy bike without training wheels. He went from being afraid to get his head wet at swimming lessons to diving for rings.
My 5-year-old did his first Lego projects all by himself. He did his first headstand and used a kickboard to swim the length of the lap pool. When he hits the baseball, he now runs to first base rather than after the ball. He learned to read music and plays “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Old MacDonald” from memory.
In his free time, my oldest thinks a lot about math. One day, he asked how many meals we eat in a week.
I coached him, but he figured out in his head that three meals plus two snacks a day times seven days a week times four people equals … dear God, when does school start.
Those extra grocery runs in the summer come with extra helpers. Which means everything takes longer and I get to spend even more hours in the store fighting cart/ankle collisions, I-want-thises and do-we-have-to-be-heres.
We have hunted for tadpoles and chased butterflies and splashed in the rain. We have hooked up the sprinkler and filled the kiddie pool and played water balloons and trekked to the real pool. We have scoured every store in town for DEET-free bug spray and visited Grandma and helped Grandpa on the farm and planted a garden and shopped at the farmers market.
We’ve biked downtown for the sole purpose of hitting the soda fountain. We’ve seen long-lost friends and held play dates and planned a camping trip and celebrated birthdays.
One thing my kids haven’t learned is how to sleep in. From about 5:55 a.m., when my oldest nudges me and requests pancakes, we’re rolling solid until we crash 14 hours later.
But maybe that’s a good thing. Because while my kids have been living every minute I’ve been whining, mostly in my head, instead of learning to smell those roses and go with it.
School will start soon enough, and when it does I’ll be dreaming of summer.