Friday, July 15, 2016

"Summertime, the livin's easy"

"Run to the party, dance to the rhythm"

With the 4th of July already come and gone, we've hit the commonly referred downward slide of summer.  It seems a little ironic, considering the "official start" of summer, the Summer Equinox, occurs less than two weeks before the oft-proclaimed mid-point.  But I guess in a state like Minnesota it tends to seem like summer only lasts for about four weeks^.  Even though only one of our three children is enrolled in a formal educational institution, and she was only there three hours/day, three days/week, I was eagerly looking forward to "summer break", a time when we could be even less encumbered by schedules and timelines.  At the close of summer last year, before our oldest started her rigorous nine hour/week academic schedule, I did comment that I had finally realized the feeling parents have when they say they are "ready for school to start again".  No doubt the end of this summer will likely bring on that feeling again.

Summer is great because it gives us parents in the northern realms of the Northern hemisphere the opportunity to take our kids outside with requiring excessive amounts clothing.^  Although summer does require applying just as excessive amounts of sunscreen on your kids, which will make you wonder if it would just be easier to put them in their snowsuits.  But the ability to be outside certainly has its advantages in that it allows you to "run the kids ragged" with a strong likelihood that they'll crash hard at bedtime.  This becomes somewhat of a parenting survival tactic considering that during most of the summer, the sun stays out past your own bedtime and with few pressing morning activities (save the new Dinosaur Train episodes), trying to get your kids to bed at a reasonable hour during the summer can prove relatively futile.

Being outside with the kids during almost every available moment does present its own complex challenges.  Last summer, Gus was 5-8 months, and not yet mobile.  Initially I was excited for him to be outdoors and able to explore as he pleased this summer, but then I realized that because he was mobile, he could explore as he pleased.  While one side of our backyard is fenced in, the other is not, giving him easy access to one of his newly found favorite places - our neighbor's garage.  I've seriously considered putting up some temporary snow fence between our house and garage for the summer months in better effort to keep him penned in.  Sure it would be somewhat of an eyesore, but it would be significantly cheaper and likely more humane than an invisible fence and shock collar*.

Even beyond Gus,  I struggle at times to find my comfort level of letting Isla (5) & Havi (3) play outside relatively unsupervised in our yard.  While I have a general level of trust in them following the instructions I've dictated, and when outside they are typically engaging with some of the responsible older neighbor kids (or their parents), I can still feel leery at times of the kids being outside and not knowing their exact GPS coordinates.  A feeling of guilt also sets in when I realize our neighbors have been outside supervising both their kids and my kids for a good portion of the day.  I know they don't mind, and probably appreciate the company for their kids, but on multiple occasions I have not allowed my kids to go outside when our neighbors were out because I was busy with something else (about to set a new personal record on Pokemon Go) and didn't want to be the parent who sends their kids out to be watched by the neighbors.

I have to balance these feelings with the reality of my daily life - I have three kids; one who is pretty self sufficient, one who is self sufficient when she feels like it, and one who relies on me for most everything.  None of them can always be trusted to make rational decisions and each has his/her own agenda and specific needs.  If we're all playing outside and Havi needs to go potty (and insists that I assist her), Gus has to come in with me too, much to his protests.  Both Isla & Havi can operate the door knobs - if they really want to go outside (or inside) despite my instance that they not, they are physically capable of doing so, and pending my current state of affairs; changing a poopy diaper, wielding a sharp object for meal prep, taking care of my own business, I may not be able to do much to stop them at that moment.  Luckily we have a few items in the backyard (one that I'll hopefully be able to share more about in the coming weeks) that can hold their interest while I wipe (Gus or myself) or stow the deadly weapon.  

Of course no summer is complete with out the requisite summer vacation, which, because we live in 'Murica and not one of those god-forsaken European socialist enclaves, is usually like a week.  Maybe two.  But certainly not contiguous.  I've commented before (here and here) on how a "vacation with kids" is essentially a work of fiction.  As a stay-at-home parent, a vacation with kids is essentially parenting in a different environment on a different schedule, which makes parenting about 20% harder.  Fortunately, the constant use of "any port parenting" can be rationalized by the fact that, "It's vacation!"  Go ahead, have another cookie.  

When we come upon a few days off of work (my wife's work, that is), we will often have thought provoking discussion as to whether we should attempt to fill that day with a conceivably fun activity, which will likely produce an abundance of tears, or go the more cost effective route of staying home and doing nothing.  Because we're always eager to broaden our children's perspectives through diverse experiences, and consequently raise our stress levels, we typically opt to do something.  This year one of our "somethings" was a trip to a local "zoo" that we hadn't yet visited.  It was overpriced and overwhelming (while simultaneously being underwhelming - it had a lot of birds and animals that were close relatives of the deer), but kids seemed to enjoy it.  At least according to the photos of the outing that we didn't delete from our phones.

Living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and being good Minnesotans, our summer "vacation" also always includes a trip "up north" to "the lake".  Every year my mother-in-law's respectable-size family descends on a quaint family-owned resort in the Northwoods of Minnesota for a week of reuniting, eating and drinking, and more eating and drinking.  This adventure typically requires at least 1-2 days of prep work beforehand - to ensure that every conceivable child request has been stuffed into the van (thank God for all of that storage).  It also always requires, upon returning from "the lake", uttering the comment, "we need a vacation from our vacation" at least ten times when recounting your time away to your acquaintances.  When we returned home from "up north" this past June, we spent the better part of a day cleaning up the destruction the kids had done to the house before we left.  They had spent a good chunk of time unsupervised while my wife and I packed and frantically finished up our quota of baked goods to bring with.
Our days of lake-going have long changed from our childless days of baking our skin and saturating our livers.  Now, partly sunny with a nice breeze provides such a pleasant environment and decreases the kids' non-stop desire to swim and your obligation as the beach lifeguard.  I'll admit I wasn't too shook up when our kids caught swimmers itch - recognizing that a justifiable dose of Benadryl would lead to an early bedtime for them and me too.  Like any other kid-filled adventure, being "at the lake" has many ups; fun to be had with the cousins, staying up later than normal, having dessert with most every meal, the standing 4pm Happy Hour (primarily for the adults), and downs; crabby, overtired, overstimulated, oversugared kids, severe bloating from the excessive eating, and emergency room visit worthy bug bites.  This year we even managed to squeeze in another "something" while at the lake, making a family trip to visit Itasca State Park.  We crossed the headwaters of the Mississippi River about a half dozen times and hiked just long enough (about a half mile) to justifiably say we were out in nature.  Of course we were back in time for the 4pm Happy Hour.  

Our annual lake trip tends to be a microcosm of how our summer goes.  It's something we look forward to every year, stress about when the trip is nigh, enjoy the experience once there while simultaneously retaining a steady level of stress, somewhat look forward to our return home while also begrudging the fact that we have to leave, be happy to be home while also feeling stressed out about returning to a dirty house and an empty fridge.  Less than a week later we repeated the process by heading to another lake (we actually had to drive south this time) to celebrate the 4th of July with my Mom's family.  The time was shorter and the crowd was smaller, but the happy hour was more of a daily affair and crazy Uncle Tim coordinated the annual fireworks display.  There were still plenty of tears.

The remainder of our summer will be filled with lots of activity and little activity - happy mediums seem non-existent in parentland.  From soccer to t-ball to theater camp to bible school, fun doesn't seem to stop.  Until it does, all at once.  I've found on the days you are busy, inevitably your kids will have no interest in getting dressed and on those days that are void of activity are the days they (and you) are likely going stir crazy.  At some point, by the end of July, I'll inquire out loud and to no one in particular if it is time for the kids to go back to school.  A few weeks after that, when it is actually time for the kids to go back to school, I'll wonder in a dumbfounded manner where the summer went and how it can be time for the kids to go back to school already.  And then we'll start the countdown till the next summertime.

The local area "zoo"
As it was perfectly described to us by some friends,
"It's funny and sad but awesome.  All at the same time."
M - I - Double S - I - Double S - I - P - P - I

Fireworks in the daylight - not quite as visually spectacular but still loud.

^Staple Minnesota joke about the weather.

*Had I made this investment four years ago, the economics might have made a little more sense.

Titles courtesy of the late Brad Nowell

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