It’s here! A bright weekend morning in June and finally, it actually feels like summer! I don’t know what gift to open first. I can take my coffee to the front porch and immerse myself in the perfect green of a lush lawn, and a chorus of busily chirping birds. Or, I can put on my old garden gloves, and quickly plant the last of the bright pink impatiens that sit patiently out back. Or, I can hop on my bike and just peddle as fast as I can, as far as I can to capture some childhood glee. On my block, the weekend joggers, serious and healthy in their razorback tanks, mix easily with the usual meandering dog walkers. An unshaven, dad who just picked up his dry-cleaning, drives around the corner a bit too fast. I glance over to see all four windows rolled down, the clear plastic bags rippled and flapping in the breeze, and I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan blaring from the car’s speakers. Yep, he is feeling summer too!
For families, the transition to summer is a mix of joyous anticipation and the usual family-life irritations. New routines mean new house rules. But it’s summer, so we brush aside those notions to enjoy our long-awaited fun! It’s summer; sure you can have a sleep-over! It’s summer; sure here’s $4.50 for a caramel macchiato. It’s summer; I’ll just load up these dishes and let the kids enjoy themselves. I’ll pick up these left-over pizza boxes. I’ll gather up all of these gym shoes – and socks from the kitchen floor. Hmmm…you see what’s happening.
Jerry Seinfeld made the observation that there really is no such thing as “Fun for the whole family.” Either the kids are having fun, and the parents are miserable, or the parents are having fun, and the kids are miserable. Okay, so not entirely true, but true enough to make us laugh. Nobody likes to be the wet blanket, but do yourself a favor and don’t avoid the hassle of laying down the new summer rules. Being a martyr usually does not end well.
One of my biggest challenges has always been letting go of my expectations for how my children should spend their summer days. I longed for them to be content to play games in the yard like lying in the grass and lazily identifying shapes in the clouds. They longed to play video games or walk to 7-11 for a Slurpee. My plans for bike rides were ignored, and even trips to the pool became a point of contention. They had their own ideas back then and guess what, they still do. (Yet I still secretly believe my ideas were always so much better!)
In my defense, I have a good excuse: I’m a mother. Unlike in past generations, a vital task of motherhood today is operation management. Many parents (let’s face it, usually Moms), do the “invisible” work of scheduling activities, arranging carpools, purchasing equipment, planning meals around these activities, washing the clothes to wear, and so on. Women, working outside the home or not, manage the details of their children’s lives. Through middle school, we master the household details, academic details, social details, and emotional details. In high school, things shift rapidly to our children, and by college, we’re really only called on when there’s a crisis. I guess old habits die hard. Recently, I decided on the best activities for my teenage and college-age children. I even floated a few of these grand plans. (You should take a fun summer class! How about a Habitat build? Now is a great time to read a good book!) Shocker, the recipients of these golden nuggets weren’t interested. Well, at least they all have jobs. I’m calling it a win.
A couple of weeks ago, my 17-year-old daughter informed me that an iced latte from Starbucks was being delivered to the house via DoorDash.
“Now?” I asked. From my pre-coffee fog, I was able to locate the kitchen clock and see that it was 6:51am.
“Yep,” she replied defiantly. “I deserve it.” She explained that not only was it the last morning of a grueling final’s week, but she was using her own money from her part-time job. She was showered, with full makeup, wearing jean shorts and a flowy blouse which hung perfectly on her youthful frame. As any parent of a teenager knows, one should never begin a line of questioning unless one is fully prepared to follow it through the valleys and hairpin turns that might lie ahead. Still in my pajamas, I recognized my disadvantage. I let it go.
If you live with young people, you have a front-row view of the ever-shifting habits driven by technology. Fortunately, my husband, fully dressed and caffeinated, eventually got wind of the event and addressed the indulgence of such an act, (regardless of who is paying.) I can’t help but wonder if, in time, my husband will also view this “indulgence” as the norm, and partake as well? I guess we’ll find out.
Recently, during a family session in my counseling practice, I had the honor of witnessing a heartfelt conversation between a set of 19-year-old boy-girl twins. The boy described how on his college campus in the wake of the #metoo movement; he sometimes feels judged. The prevalence of consent sex education leaves him feeling “on trial” for behavior in which he would never engage. His mother, sister and I, all admitted feminists respectfully listened. I had spent enough time with this family to know that the core character of this boy is one of kindness. I felt his struggle. He turned to his twin sister and asked how she might feel if she received a constant reminder to “never steal from the cash register” every time she was starting a shift at her job at Chipotle. She thought about it and responded,
“Well, if 19-year-old girls were a demographic statistically known for stealing from the register, then I might understand.” The mother and I met eyes: clever answer. Yet, I’m not sure if it is enough to appease her brother’s sense of unfairness. The mother asked aloud if this is the cost of increasing safety on college campuses. We all looked at each other, but none of us had a definitive answer. Again, time will tell where the pendulum will settle.
Listening to young people in my life (both professionally and personally) informs me of the unseen daily struggles and inclinations of their world. Much like the cloud game, perceptions shift as I see shapes that were not there before. When I’m not present and searching, I miss the shape, and then it’s gone.
One of the quickest ways to alter perceptions is through gratitude. This time of year, that shift is readily available. Close your eyes and raise your face to the sun. Roll down the car window! Walk around the block. One thing I’ve learned about parenthood is that we are rarely given the gifts that we had expected. But they are gifts nonetheless.
In closing, I share wisdom from a beloved retired Elmhurst teacher, Barbara Clancy who recently passed away at age 67. Mrs. Clancy was known for seeing things in children that others missed. She taught 3rd-grade, and her students, including my son, adored her.
Parting Words of Advice
Throughout life you will all have challenges to
face whether at school, the workplace or your
personal life. Some challenges may be small while
others greater. You can either feel sorry for
yourself or treat what has happened to you as a
gift. Every challenge in life is either an
opportunity to grow or an
obstacle to keep you
from growing – it’s YOUR choice!