I met with the parent of a client the other day and when asked how her summer was going, she said she didn’t want it to end. I smiled at her admirably and noted that most moms (in particularly stay at home moms) were counting the days til school started. She laughed and said, “Well they must have those annoying kids. Mine aren’t annoying.” She went on to say that her 10 year old was quite happy to stay home and play video games all day. “The only time he ever asks me for anything is when he’s hungry. He’s not like those other kids who always want you to take them to the park and Wonderland. I’m tired and he lets me rest.” This non-annoying 10 year old has a younger brother who has a developmental disability. Their single mother who I met with is on her own with them (as well as a couple older boys who no longer live at home) – I don’t doubt she’s tired. But still, the concept of just letting her son play video games all summer made me raise an eyebrow (you know…that unintentional judgmental eyebrow that we all seem to possess).
Her parenting philosophy stayed with me that day… and for rest of the week. I’d recently returned from a three weeks roadtrip across Western Canada with my kids. We lived and breathed adventures – we are after all, Team Adventurers! And sure, I’m tired too but does that mean I should just let my kids play video games so I can rest? There’s a world to explore and we need to keep busy! Don’t we?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized she might be on to something. I also realized that my kids are not annoying about wanting to be taken places; I’m annoying about insisting we must always be doing something. Even at home there must be a project or housework to do. Resting is for lazy people who don’t appreciate life. We can and will do better than that.
But at what cost? I am so incredibly tired. And so are the kids. Sure the house is clean (ish) and we are being appropriately stimulated but maybe we should just relax.
Ironically the kids had recently pleaded with me to stay home for the entire upcoming weekend. “PLEASE – We just want to stay home and play with our toys.” The previous weekend I’d sacrificed a music festival so that they could stay home and play – wasn’t that enough? Okay in hindsight, I made them clean the house and run errands all weekend. And they spent the following week at Universal Studios with my parents. So yeah okay… I guess they are ready for a break.
I’d cleaned the house (again) and stocked up on groceries before they came home on Friday night and promised (cross my heart) that I had nothing planned for us for the entire 3-day weekend. Of course in the back of my mind I was secretly planning trips to the beach, the park and out for ice cream – because seriously – as IF we will actually stay home ALL weekend.
The challenge began on Saturday and I spent about four hours painting the foundation of my house. I’d already bought the paint so I didn’t have to leave the property and it was kind of a nice outside job; not to mention a huge accomplishment. (I tend to measure accomplishments by how efficient I can be). As soon as I’d finished I realized that just because I stayed home all weekend clearly did not not mean that I would be chill about it. I needed a new rule: RELAX (no more projects!!)
Later that afternoon I debated a quick trip to the market…wouldn’t some corn on the cob be fabulous with dinner? The market is not that far away; would it still count as an outing? Oddly enough I tend to follow my own rules (society’s rules – not so much) and not only would this outing defy rule #1 but I also had a fridge/freezer/pantry FULL of food. Sure I wanted corn for dinner but we didn’t need it. In fact, I wasn’t sure how we would even manage to eat all the produce we had before it went bad. Why spend money when we didn’t need to. hmmmmm… Now there was some more food for thought. Suddenly my challenge/list of rules grew –
- No leaving the property
- No projects/intense cleaning/organizing – Learn to relax!!
- No spending money (not even if someone was selling corn on the cob door by door)
This was perfect timing because I had spent last week wondering how we might financially recover from our recent adventure (our financial situation has changed significantly since the trip was initially planned). Don’t get me wrong, I regret NOTHING about our roadtrip but I also know I need to curb our spending habits…or rather….MY spending habits… especially if we do ever want to leave the property again.
And so we stayed home. And were not at all productive. And spent no money. And ate the amazing food that I had already stocked up on. And I let the kids watch as much Netflix as they wanted. And other than painting the house on Saturday morning, I resisted the urge to leap into any other house projects. I forced myself to sit and relax and let the kids just do their own thing. In other words, I tried to not be annoying.
What was the result?
There was no yelling/tempers/frustration all weekend. Why would there be? We all got to do what we wanted and there were no demands placed on any of us. (Okay I did insist that every evening the toys were put away and I ran the dishwasher/cleaned up the kitchen.) We were to live a relaxed life, not a TV hoarders miniseries life.
The kids’ screen-time was significantly less than I had anticipated. Sure they watched some movies and numerous episodes of Pokemon but afterwards they would spend hours playing and reenacting what they had watched. Their imaginations never cease to amaze me. It helps that they are best friends and want to play with each other every waking hour of the day. Rain didn’t even crack open his DS the entire weekend, of his own accord. He was having fun without it.
Non-structured spontaneous fun can happen at home! This included painting pictures in the backyard, lego in the front yard, stuffed animals all over the house and digging in the garden (kids + mud = ridiculous fun). We watched a thunder storm from the front porch while eating cheesies (and no they weren’t the all natural organic brand) and we laughed when the wind would blow the mist all over us.
I started each day with a quiet cup of coffee outside. As much as I might dream of waking up to a view of a mountain, ocean, or even a pond I was more than satisfied with the trees that surround my quaint neighbourhood. I think I should seriously contemplate starting more days this way… calm, quiet and reflective.
Throughout the days I fluttered between the front porch and the back patio. I read. A lot. (The 100 year old man who climbed out his window and disappeared; The Professor’s House – both greatly recommended reads). I didn’t do my hair or put make-up on and I gained about five pounds in the form of root beer floats, icecream drumsticks, cheesie, fresh bread with herbed butter etc.. Apparently sitting around on your ass doesn’t help the size of it. (I’ll work out extra hard next week!).
We ate simple meals from ingredients on-hand. I resisted temptation to create unnecessarily huge complicated meals which would result in a large amount of clean-up. I was also desperate to not turn on the AC (I hate Air Conditioning) so I kept the oven off and the stove use was kept to a bare minimum. Hello bbq, watermelon, salads and gazpacho..
Moral of the story – being busy does not make you a superhero
Typically, I wear my hectic life like a badge of honour. I work full time, raise 2 kids and manage a house practically all on my own. Before Jason died, I felt overwhelmed with only having 2 days every 2 weeks to try to get caught up on life and have a bit of respite. Since his death, I’ve been learning how to manage life without even those 2 days. Something has to change or I may possibly crack. This is a good starting point.
Moral of the story II – Own Your Shit
Yes, of course we will still continue to have adventures all over the world. We will not limit ourselves to our property indefinitely or even for the rest of the summer. But we will also take time to regroup, unwind and relax at home [without guilt].
I think we, as a society are trained to either apologize for or to justify any sort of relaxation in our lives. In comparison, what struck me most about my client is that she owned her life. She made no apologies for letting her 10 year old spend his summer playing video games. And why should she? He is having a great summer and she is relaxed. This situation works for them. He’ll go back to school in September and still know how to read and interact with other kids. In the meantime, he is safe and loved and appreciated. Isn’t that what really matters?
I need to be able to say, “I read a book today while my kids watched a movie.” without feeling like I’ve cheated as a parent or a housemaker.
I need to believe that if I let my own 10 year old spend five hours on his DS in one day, I’m not a parental failure nor have I just ruined his chance of ever getting into University. (Besides we’ve probably spent all his university tuition on adventures and cheesies)
I need to believe that “Relaxation does not equal Laziness”. For that matter, taking time to regain your strength does not equal parental ineptitude. Kids should learn by example that taking time for yourself makes you stronger and ultimately happier.
And most important of all, I need to be able to say all of that without angst of the judgmental eyebrow coming from the mirror, my un-intentioned friends or social network sites.
I will own my shit…. but first I’m going to have a glass of wine and flip through a magazine. After all the kids are busy watching a show on Netflix.