Summer Parenting : How will you grade yourself?

lakestclairPoint-aux-Roches / Stoney Point, Ontario

I may as well be upfront about something right from the start. My kids ate a lot of hot dogs this summer. They have mostly spent their weekdays home alone while I work Monday through Friday. I have run home each day at lunch to check in make sure they have eaten, but mostly they have fended for themselves. As I said, there were a lot of hot dogs.And there was macaroni and cheese…not the slaved-over-a-hot-casserole-dish Mac’nCheese that we see supermoms everywhere posting to their various social scenes. This kind involved powder cheese product and came from a box. There were days I went through the drive-thru…more than once. But. There were days I made glorious feasts of roast beast that curled their little-ish toes. There were surprise brownies and meatloaf and days that I generally, “was a boss” at cooking and parenting.
For me, mid-August is that point in that blur that is the “Canadian summer” where I look back and evaluate: Did I win or fail at parenting this summer?
As a single mom I carry the guilt of not being able to give them the summer experience I see every time I, or they, open a browser. I remember last year at this time. I was working as much as I could, and like most single moms, much of my 2 weeks of vacation a year was eaten up by sick days – not always my own, often they were to stay home and care for a child who was unwell through fall and winter months, when strep throat was a constant in our household. We are the ones who chuckle quietly when our friends and colleagues ask why we never “use our two weeks vacation to go on a vacation”. We cannot hold on to vacation days to save our lives. This was the case for me last summer when I had approximately 3 vacation days available to enjoy the summer experience with my children. Of course, I had nary a cent to move my car, let alone take them on adventures and enjoy all that summer has to offer. We spent those few days at the beach. Or visiting Grandma’s house. Or sitting in our own house, each in our space, as a tribe of introverts do. Last year at this time I was consumed with feelings of utter failure. Sometimes the weight of providing little humans with lifelong experiences crushed me. When this would happen I would think (every time) “It’s ok! I will remember this feeling. I will use it to propel myself in the direction of greater prosperity so that I don’t have to feel this way again. Something brighter lies ahead”. My kids spend time with their dad on weekends, so my days for summer redemption were limited. Now I realize that in the grand scheme of life’s possibilities my kids are extremely spoiled. We live in a democratic country, and while I am under-employed, I am employed. They have never wanted for a roof over their heads nor gone without eating. I have managed to do it while working “school hours” so that I could still run to sporting practices and to act as Mom-Taxi, my unpaid second job. But, as a parent I aimed so high. I have imagined all the places I wanted to share with them, and visited almost none of them. I have started sentences with “when we go to….” and still have never gone there. I have promised to “buy it on my next payday” and then had to humble myself to the reality of bills > income.
So I’m ready. I’m doing my inventory. I’m getting ready to count the lashes I’ve been accumulating and preparing for self-flagellation.
Still under-employed? Check. Still can’t pay the bills? Check. Still couldn’t afford any cool camp experiences? Check! Looks just like last year!
Except something is different. This summer I will have had three days to spend with them (one was a Holiday) doing summer things. My kids are a little bit older now. At 15 and 11 they are loving their independence. Rising to responsibility. Without me home to drag them outside each day, they will happily exist indoors, plugged in to their other worlds, hardly batting an eye at the coming and going of the sun. This has made me get more ambitious in my off time. Since my work day ends mid-afternoon, I have taken advantage of beautiful days and dragged at least one of them to the beach for some vitamin D and “mom time”. I’ve gotten better at enjoying them apart rather than always forcing us all together to “be a family dammit” and then losing my patience when there is conflict. I have taken the pressure off of them to live those childhood experiences I thought I was supposed to offer them. Instinctively, they have become much more tolerant of each other and of us as a united tribe of three, venturing out into the world. Now of course there are still arguments in the car, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s just how we roll. But they are far less frequent and trivial.
One of those “family vacation days” we had together was spent at a dear friend’s family lake house, on Lake St.Clair. Our kids spent the day together. There was swimming for some, and video games for others. There was boating, and splashing. I was able to sneak away for a gorgeous Kayak along the shore, littered with turtles and plastic in need of capture. Our big, stinky, yellow lab Gibson swam until he could float no more. The kids pigged out on pizza from the town’s local home of pizza awesomeness. We did not stay over so there was a road trip either way, stinky dog in tow. Both of my kids, separately, told me it was “one of the best days of their lives”. We had enjoyed every last second of it. We sang in the car. We got dollar drinks and value burgers on the drive home. We stopped in a small town so my long-limbed teenager could stretch his legs with a few kick flips. We took road trip selfies – and didn’t post them for all to see. We were fully present and appreciating every second of a jam-packed, go with the flow, wonderful day. We snuggled and smiled. We were blissed out on each others’ company. It was like harnessing that second last day of summer camp where you can still enjoying being there before getting sad about leaving. There it was. Without even trying.
We had enjoyed one of those moments I thought they were going without. I knew they would remember back to that day-probably forever. It wasn’t Disney or even the local water park, but it was a kick ass day. Just us, the dog, and good friends. The remaining family vacation day is still to come. This time we are jumping in the car and driving to a nearby city for the day. We are going without a plan. We will wing-it-on-a-budget, and do whatever strikes us first. My teen will travel with his skateboard as always, stealing tricks and flips on washroom breaks. My little one will fixate on a tablet for the one hour drive. And then we will do something great. We will enjoy the newly mastered quality time that suddenly replaced the quantity we always had. No pressure to perform.
Last night we drove to the darkest beach we could find in our lakeside town and watched the Perseid Meteor shower together. They both groaned and whined and wondered “how much longer do we have to stay here?”
…and then the sky lit up as a fragment of space rock burned up before our eyes, leaving a glorious streak of light across the north sky. We stayed long enough to see a second, then a third. After the fourth I decided to end it on a high note (rather than packing in every minute and second until everybody hates the whole thing-another lesson learned). If the sky is clear I will go back tonight and enjoy it for myself. For them, the little taste was enough. They chattered contentedly all the way home and went to bed without any protest. My little one drifted off telling me how exciting it was to wish on his first shooting star.
From the outside, it may look like nothing has changed this year. From the outside, it looks just as grey as last year. But from the inside, everything looks different. From the inside, it feels like gratitude rather than helplessness and guilt. I have gone through all the lists, I have seen the brilliant recipes and food porn from other moms….I have held myself up against those two income households, and refused to neither compete nor fall. I have stood on my own memories this year. This summer was as noteworthy as it was fast. This year, I’m calling it a win. My goal for next summer is still to do more. But the big plans have been revised. With sand in my shoes and meteors streaking across the sky, I realized the experiences are all right here. They aren’t somewhere we have to go. They aren’t calculated by days. They are moments. And I have to take them now, rather than cry about having missed them later.

kayak

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