“Funny how you’re the editor of this great parenting magazine and you’re really just winging it.”
That’s what one of my daughters told me a few years back. I don’t remember the exact context. It might have been right after I shared one of my astute parenting insights. Like this gem: “If you try to wear those basketball shorts to school, I will tackle you and forcefully remove them.” Or maybe it was after hearing this nugget: “If one more person complains about dinner, I’m never cooking again. Ever.”
Summer brings these out of me.
During no other season does it become so clear to me that we haven’t established a game plan. Every year as June approaches, when the morning wave washes over me (this is the laundry list of things to do that ticks off in my head the second I become conscious every single day – and yes, it sometimes includes laundry) one of my first thoughts is, I need a strategy for summer.
This wave intensified when I quit my nine-to-five job, and started working for myself some fifteen years ago. You see, in exchange for being able to shun the daily commute and eliminate, or at least reduce, outside childcare, we work-at-homers have to be organized and flexible at the same time. In summer especially, we must make important scheduling decisions on the fly, like whether to spend the next half-hour setting up the Slip ’n Slide, unloading the dishwasher halfway while taking a conference call, or attempting to meet an editorial deadline.
When you work from home, the family and business calendars tend to fuse. So as both my husband and I are self-employed, over the years our summer strategies to keep the house managed, the work flowing, the bills paid, and the children engaged have run the gamut.
In the early going, summer was all about enrichment for the kids. How do we ensure everyone is active and evolving – the TVs off and the brains on? That might have been why we moved into the library for several months, or why, when Sam was almost four, Robin was toddling toward two, and Lindsey was just rounding out my uber-stylish maternity bathing suit, we decided to give the neighborhood pool a shot. After writing a check for the $400 family joining fee, I assured Scott, who did not even own swim trunks at this point in his life, that we would put the membership to good use. We ended up paying two C-notes a visit that year, but I made up for it the very next summer by steadfastly clinging to the notion that we really would become a pool family one day and buying way too many rash-guard swim shirts, floats, and swim goggles.
When the goggles came off, however, I already had new direction. In retrospect, we’ll just call this the how-much-money-can-we-spend-on-camps-our-kids-have-no-interest-in-attending plan. The parenting prize that summer was twofold: we learned about our children’s true interests; and we discovered the ingredients for a worthwhile camp.
As your children get older, you start to remember what your own summers looked like and why you had kids in the first place. I don’t recall having assigned chores as a kid, yet I can clearly remember doing things around the house – often at my mother or father’s persistent urging and sometimes without even being told. At our house, we’ve used charts with pockets, posters and tally marks, rewards and consequences, bribery and blind trust, as well as persistent urging.
In other words, we play it by ear. This flexibility leads to the occasional and unexpected parenting win. Last summer, for example, each of the women children made dinner for the family one night a week – planning the meal, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. They could consult cookbooks, the Internet, and work with each other, but no parents were involved in the making of said meal. While this isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it worked, so we’ll try it again.
Of course, through it all, I’ve learned there is no single recipe anyone can follow to guarantee a refreshing and productive summer – or any season of the year – for yourself or for your family. The other thing I’ve learned almost eighteen years into this parenting gig is that yes, I am most definitely winging it. Aren’t we all?