Summer Break With Kids: The Good, the Bad, the Downright Ugly
by Linda Sharps
During each day there are times when I feel enormously lucky, deeply content. I smile indulgently at my children and answer their every question with my full attention: "What is my favorite swimming animal? Oh, I'd have to say the otter." I make bright suggestions: gosh, does it seem like a good time of day for some ice cream? I am beatifically rooted in the exact moment and in no rush for the next one to come along. Namaste, motherfuckers.
Then there are the times when I'm practically crawling out of my own skin, restless and stupendously bored, not a single ounce of patience or a gentle motherly smile left in me. I've got that Grinch monologue stuck in my head: And then ... all the noise! All the noise, noise, noise, noise! If there's one thing I hate ... all the noise, noise, noise, noise!
Summer break, man. This is hard.
There really are lots of good things about the kids being home with me. I like the relaxed vibe, the break from juggling bus schedules and pickup times and after-school activities. I somehow greatly prefer assembling and serving a lunch over packing one to go each day. I love picking an outing at random during the lazy afternoons: should we go to the pet store and laugh at the mice galloping like tiny Seabiscuits on their plastic wheels? Should we go to the bookstore and flip through Minecraft manuals? Should we hike near the river and look for the perfect skipping stone? Should we get some Capri Sun and fine-tune our Pulp Fiction adrenaline-shot-to-the-heart techniques?
But even the most bucolic activities don't take up the entire day, and even if they did, I can't spend eight hours frolicking and stabbing juice bags: I have freelance writing deadlines to meet, I have housework, I have errands and chores and the occasional desire to eat my own damn lunch. I expect my kids to entertain themselves when I tell them to; I can't and won't be their cruise ship director.
Which is to say, I'm sure I am like most moms who are home with their kids during the break. I'm forever grasping at some elusive notion of balance: I want to do fun things with my boys, but not all the time. When I need to focus -- or I just sit down and gaze slack-jawed at my phone and tune out the world for a minute -- I need space, but oh my aching crap, space is NOT HAPPENING this summer.
They want to know if I'll print a Godzilla off the Internet. Well when you're done working, Mom. *Ten-second pause* Are you done yet? They want to continually tattle on each other: He said the S word! I did not! I said SHIP! They play inside, making absolutely insane amounts of noise and completely destroying the house from top to bottom, and when I shoo them out into the backyard, they return within minutes, noses pressed to the glass doors like dogs. Can we come in now? When I tell them to go outside and STAY outside, they ignore the vast majority of space in the backyard -- the yard that stretches hither and yon with all sorts of magical childhood possibilities, the yard that was practically the entire reason we bought our decidedly imperfect house -- in order to pace robotically back and forth in this one tragic bare-dirt area, exactly like lions trapped in a particularly depressing zoo.
They beg and beg for screen time: TV? Cartoons? iPad? (I often agree in order to buy some peace and quiet, only to find myself assaulted by the Wild Kratts theme song or the voice of that annoying British guy who narrates his Minecraft games.) They want a snack approximately 8,000,000 times per day. They know better than to utter the phrase "I'm bored," but they wonder out loud if maybe I'd like to drop everything I'm doing and go buy them a new LEGO set. They make unbelievable messes: crumbs everywhere, cut-up bits of paper all over the floor, toys strewn as far as the eye can see, shoes forgotten in every room.
Here is the one constant: they are loud. They are SO loud. They are the loudest thing in the world. Honestly, I never knew children could be so loud. It's like sharing a house with two human vuvuzelas.
The other day I was cleaning up the kitchen behind them for the frillionth time, this self-pitying sensation of IS THIS ALL THERE IS rising in my chest, and I managed to drop a container of diced peaches on the floor, which instantly shattered and sent sticky juice onto, I swear to god, every single goddamned surface, and I could hear the kids in the next room whooping and hollering because they had dragged a bunch of furniture around to make their own American Ninja Warrior obstacle course and I thought I was just going to crumple to the ground and cry. It's so, so hard sometimes. All the work, the cacophony, the isolation and loneliness combined with never actually being alone.
But like I said, that's how I feel sometimes. Other times, that IS THIS ALL THERE IS feeling melts away and here's what I see in its place: THIS IS EVERYTHING. These laughing kids, this blessed life. And on it goes: the good, the bad, the everything of it all.
Do you find yourself struggling during summer break sometimes?