The other day, my older son told a funny story about a former student of mine. The story reminded me of a paper this boy had written for my seventh grade honors English class almost three years ago, one that played a part in inspiring me to write a post on summer parenting and childhood expectations.
We’re only a few days into our summer vacation this year, and I’m already feeling the beginnings of that pressure I wrote about, the pressure to make this summer (and their entire childhoods) magical. I doubt I’m the only one, so here’s my original post to remind us all:
This last summer, I was having a conversation with a fellow mother in the school parking lot. We were talking about our children and their excitement or decided lack thereof about going back to school. While both of my boys would gladly never darken the doors of an educational institution again (or so they say with the amount of conviction one can have when one believes one’s own lie), her daughter and mine were both looking forward to the social aspect of school.
And then she said something that I loved so much I asked her if I could use it. She was beginning to grow weary of trying to come up with summer activities for her daughter, who, like every kid in America it seems, can be quick to cry “Boredom!” during an unstructured day spent at home. And then, she told me what she told her daughter.
“You know, not every day is a ten.”
Then she continued, saying that not only can’t every day be a ten, but that it might even be good to have, say, a four day.
Girlfriend speaks crazy. Had any children overheard our conversation, they’d probably still be tucked in the fetal position.
But don’t you feel it? Don’t you often feel this pressure to make your children’s childhoods magical, to not be the one that ruins their chances at growing up with all of the fun that can possibly be had in a time of such opulence, in a time where every event, every party, every moment has to surpass the one before it?
I know I do.
And then when my kids grow to the age where a place or an activity loses its magic for them, I more often than not lament not that I didn’t give them that experience, but that I didn’t give it to them enough.
I’ve taken my kids to Disney twice, but I lament that I didn’t take them when they were younger, and that I didn’t take them the year we had planned to before I unexpectedly took a teaching job again, and that I may never get to take them during Christmastime so they can see the decorations.
Or here’s a fun fact about me: My kids lived with the Atlantic in their backyard for many years, and now they live on a salt marsh, and I can regularly thank God for the overwhelming blessing of that and yet still lament, almost in the same breath as the thankfulness sometimes, that I’ve never had the yard space to give them the over-the-top swing set I once saw at a birthday party.
We took our kids out West for two and a half weeks, spent several nights in an RV and saw dozens of interesting sights, but when we got back, I felt guilty that they had to entertain themselves for a good part of the next week because I needed to work.
But then, in a moment that is not lost on me, after a day of working and running various errands, I came home to find my children had spent the last five hours (literally, five hours!) cutting cardboard boxes into various forms of weaponry and running around the house battling over the fate of the universe.
Being the good mother that I am, I made them stop when I got home so I could take them to the pool for some “summertime fun.” The pool’s not Disney, of course, but having to drive there qualifies it as a structured, fun activity at least. When we arrived, however, we were turned away due to some light thunder reported in nearby areas.
Guess what the kids did as soon as we got home again?
They found another box and between battles, began adding to their arsenal of weaponry. LCB and I spent the remainder of the day finishing up work in the house, but if we suddenly departed for China, I doubt they’d have noticed.
I doubt they’d label that day as a ten if I had asked them afterward because they’ve been conditioned (not least of all by myself) to identify things like Disney trips, extended vacations, and the birthday where they got the new gaming device they’d been longing for as days that merit a ten. But perception often differs from reality, and the reality (and perhaps the irony) is I’ve rarely seen them so consumed with an activity, and I’ve rarely seen them have so much fun.
Besides, no matter how hard you try, they’ll probably want something else anyway. Case in point: Last week, a student turned in a short essay I had assigned on a local issue. In his essay, he argues that our area needs a Dairy Queen in close proximity. Okay, fair enough, but here’s the part that had me rolling with laugher. He wrote, “Think about it. Would you rather live in a house on the stinky, smelly, disgusting salt marsh without a Dairy Queen, or in a house that has a beautiful view of the Dairy Queen?”
Wow. I’m nearly consumed by my own failure now.
He probably doesn’t know or doesn’t care that I live on the stinky, smelly, disgusting salt marsh, nor the lengths I’ve gone to over the years to avoid living in places with direct views of retail buildings and neon signage. And yet, it made me think that perhaps, after all my work to try to provide a home for my kids that I’d rate as a ten, maybe their idea of a ten house is one that basks in the nighttime glow of the red Dairy Queen lights.
Ah, well. Maybe so. But just maybe, someday after my children build their perfect ten homes in the shadows of all things commercial, attempting to create “magical childhood experiences” for their children, one of my grandchildren will write an essay about her longing for a life by the sea.