Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer is for Children

This time of year as a younger adult living on the East End of Long Island, I would make a pact with myself to have the “best summer ever” knowing that it was only three months long, and would take another nine to come again. It was the best time of year, and everyone waited all year with anticipation. However; I was experiencing another feeling along with my anticipation; fear. Fear that I might miss out on something. Weeks in advance, I would strategically plan nights out in waterfront restaurants and bars, days at the beach with friends or alone reading magazines, and plenty of special events like concerts, wine tours and daytrips. I felt like I was on the high end of manic episode trying to fit it all in and make sure I missed nothing come Labor Day Weekend when I would turn into a proverbial pumpkin.

 These days a night out on a waterfront restaurant, or reading a magazine at the beach would result in a crime scene unless I had a babysitter in place. Summer certainly is different these days than it used to be, and although I am up at sunrise rather than getting home, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love summer through a child’s eyes; the wonder of the beach, the magic of a garden hose, and the joy that an ice pop can bring. But lately a familiar wind seems to be blowing in from my former life that has potential to be a buzz kill for our summer. It is the same feelings of fear that I might miss something; possibly depriving myself and my child of an opportunity to partake in a fun experience only available during the next three months.

Getting large quantities of beach time, park time, play dates, parties and the endless entertainment opportunities that this area offers for families will feel like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle, where there will always be a missing piece. No one can do it all. There is a flavor of restlessness, similar to my solo years where I was missing out on something, yet completely exhausted. But as a mother now, I can run myself ragged, and end up with nothing more than a meltdown in return, let alone no appreciation of what we tried to accomplish for our kids.

I must remember that it is not about me anymore. As we have learned everything we do will effect our children. If we spend our time running around like lunatics trying to capture the perfect summer, we will miss what summer is all about. It is the time of year that we are supposed to feel lighter and freer. My selfish agenda, so I don’t feel we are not missing out on anything, might just be one too many trips to the petting zoo, turning my daughter into a wild animal. So now that I have identified the potential problem of running around with my head cut off, what is the potential solution you may ask?

I must relearn to see summer through the eyes of my two and half year old. Happiness comes in small frequent doses when you’re little. It isn’t about grand experiences that we spend months saving up for and anticipating; they aren’t capable of that kind of reward system. Being chased in the back yard can be as much fun a trip to an amusement park. A kiddie pool can provide the same amount of splash as a beach day minus the sand and lugging of beach equipment. And my daughter’s very own ice cream cone can feel as novel as going to a carnival without the chaos.

I am not particularly proud of my tendency to overdo. I used to be, and felt others were somewhat pokey or uninspiring. An overdoing tendency can come in handy in certain areas and bring successes to our lives, albeit missing out on joy and more importantly missing out on what our toddlers need. I have made it my resolution this summer to stay in the moment when I am with my daughter. To not “should” on myself with the endless activities we could be doing at that very moment. To enjoy her youth, and know and appreciate that her “no expectations” summer will not last long. I am going to work hard at getting out of my own way, and at not getting caught up in my usual summer motive operenti. I am going to realize that missing one sunny day at the beach or a park play date isn’t going to hurt her, in fact we both might need a day indoors that doesn’t even require getting dressed until noon.

Nobody will have the perfect summer, nobody. And if you think they are, they probably are an over-doer that is still feeling restless and exhausted. We won’t help but be comparing and measuring up the experiences that our children have and don’t have. We are living on the East End of Long Island in a time where most families are either strapped for money or for time, and those that have endless amounts of both of these precious resources are worth unfriending. We are also living in a time where the summers of all of our friends and acquaintances will be posted, liked and instagrammed, it’s going to be hard to not feel like we’re missing out.

 And is the traditional summer vacation a must? For my family, a summer getaway can be paid for in a few days of both me and my husband working, but finding the time to getaway in the busiest time of year is impossible. Yet other families that have the luxury of more free time, will find a trip of that caliber too expensive for their budget. And we have to ask ourselves is it even worth it? Is it worth the stress and potential arguments with our husband to create the perfect summer, because you know how healthy that is for your kids. The questions to ask yourselves are these; Does my toddler need this experience right now? Can we do something easier, something closer, something cheaper, something in the off season?

The question that I have been using to determine whether an activity or experience is something worth doing is this: “Is it a lot for a little?” meaning is it too much energy, time, stress and money for the joy it can bring my child. There is no point in doing something that will add stress into our lives, when the whole point is the bring joy.

To share an example of using the “is it a lot for a little” question I have a situation from my family involving driving out east in the summer. Holiday weekend traffic can turn my husband into a twin brother of the incredible hulk, ripping off green skin and all. My daughter loves farm animals, particularly horses. But does my daughter need to go to the Hampton classic, or will seeing the horses at a local farm on the North Fork suffice? Is itworth it to involve exposing my daughter crowds and a case of my husband’s road rage to say we went? There will be years of sitting in traffic and driving further than we would like to when our children our older; keep it simple while you can.

I leave you with one of my favorite summer childhood memories. The year: 1983. The Place: my parent’s house. After a year of reading one of Richard Scary’s Books that illustrated the jobs of the townspeople, I had an infatuation with the story’s ice cream man. The page with him on it was tattered and torn from my frequenting it. I remember questioning to my mom, “really, there is a man that comes to the house and brings ice cream?” It wasn’t something I had ever seen in all my four years. It seemed like some kind of magic, almost make believe. I didn’t think it was something that would ever occur in our boring neighborhood, only having two other families with kids on the street.

And then it happened, one night after dinner, while I was practicing my wannabe cartwheels on the lawn. I heard it, and yelled for parental confirmation. It was an unfamiliar, yet unmistakable sound, getting closer with each passing second. With a huge goofy smile, I asked my parents if it really could be an ice cream man? We walked to the driveway, and flagged him down. I picked out a soft vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles; the regular order of most kids. The sweetness that my ice cream cone brought will stay with me forever, and I am looking forward to sharing the same sweetness with my daughter because that will be a memory that will be with her forever.

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