Back in June, the summer stretched out in front of me luxuriously. Vacation! No more waking up at 6am to make lunches, no more homework battles at the end of the day. I was going to create golden memories that my children would treasure forever! …Yech!
I seem to have many friends who have the best time AS A FAMILY on their summer vacations—no difficulties, no anxieties, no fighting…only fun, adventure and foreign lands. And their children even freaking write journals about it to add a dash of enrichment to the whole thing…Yech!
But I can’t seem to do it, and I fear it must be because I am not trying hard enough, or because I am not being sufficiently adventurous. We have to go where no one speaks English! Where no one has cars, television, underpants or shoes! Where they put butter in their tea and eat termites picked off the bark of trees.
I do think I have created wonderful memories in the past, but I am ashamed to admit that I have nearly killed myself doing it, and 80% of it was an anxiety-provoking pain in the ass.
So as this summer approached, I felt the dread and anxiety descend. Here we go again: create the world of fun and enrichment, and EVERYONE HAS TO HAVE A NICE TIME! Kill me now.
Then I went to see a wonderful wise woman, who is imminently practical. I feel Wendy Mogel was put on Earth to even out the balance sheet of parenting difficulties. If you haven’t read her books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, I suggest you rush out and buy them or download them now.
I sat down in her office and poured out my plans, objectives and fears for the summer, and also my inadequacies as the person in charge. She listened attentively and then said what I have been longing to hear:
“Vacations are hard—especially for the person in charge.”
Music to my ears! Yes!
“The schedule is erratic and there is no normal family rhythm.”
Louder music! Yes, yes!
“In fact, vacations can be a nightmare, nightmare, nightmare for the mother.”
Ecstatic internal dance to this music! Yes, yes, yes!
She gave me two tasks for the summer:
1. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS!
2. DON’T MAKE MEMORIES
She gave me two goals for the summer:
1. YOUR CHILDREN ARE STILL ALIVE
2. YOUR MARRIAGE IS STILL INTACT
…you have done a great job.
So now it is the beginning of August. So far I have survived, both my kids are alive, and my marriage is intact. (Okay, I had one night where I couldn’t sleep; polished my resentments until they shined, and almost woke my husband up to yell at him…but it passed.) I have not planned too many things, and I am not trying to create memories. Hopefully a few were made along the way…but definitely not the 3-day trip to the beach where everyone got sick and fought. The kids have watched too much TV. (They love Frasier, while my husband and I are addicted to House of Cards.) They haven’t been learning a language or practicing their math facts. We have taken some wonderful hikes, and some hikes where I yelled a lot. We made some cakes. We stayed in our pajamas until noon.
We have space and time that doesn’t have an objective—not even the objective to “have fun.” But I think my daughters have exhaled, and then they have been allowed to inhale what they choose.
I don’t know if this kind of goal setting just invites raising “no-good-nicks” (as my grandfather would say) or precludes an Ivy League school, but I do know that trying to create memories and fabulous vacations was a crushing weight—one that I felt I was always failing at, and being a grump to boot.
On the other hand, I am pretty sure I can keep my kids alive and stay married till September.
Wish me luck,
Ps—I would love to hear your vacation experience—even if you are one of the blessed that floats through family vacations leaving a trail of golden memories in your wake. I want to hear, because I want to learn.