Mid-Summer Crisis

The months of June, July, and August offer endless possibilities for children: lessons, camps, reading programs, etc. My seven year old is not interested. Summer for him is swimming in the pool, hanging out at home, and playdates with his friends. He wants nothing to do with anything that smacks of organization, instruction, or scheduling. I am baffled by this behavior. I blame it on the fact that he has no social media account, so he cannot understand what he is missing out on via social comparison.

I even restrict his screen use. It’s something that he needs to earn via reading, personal hygiene, and household chores. Many times throughout the day, he and his sister are happy playing with their respective figurines: she with her Polly Pockets (thank you e-bay) and him with WWE wrestlers. They set up bowling games with water bottles. They turn his bunk bed into a restaurant. I should be happy. This is what is encouraged by experts, what many lament today’s children are missing: self-directed, imaginative play. However, I am still caught up by the scheduled activities and excursions that my children don’t know they should want.

Clearly, I have too much time on my hands and too much time to reflect if my greatest parenting crisis is that my children are content to stay home. When the fourth of July hit, and our plans for the fell through, I was crippled with angst, experiencing a full blown mid-summer break crisis. What have we accomplished? What have we done?

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Meditations on Housework

Growing up, I was not encouraged or even expected to do many chores, aside from cleaning my room. I have vague recollections of cleaning the undersides of tables as a small child, but generally the expectation was for me to stay out of the way. Whenever I started to do something, my mother would inevitably take over. I understand why now that I have my own children, as watching them tackle a household task or even a craft is painful. It’s all I can do not to push them aside. Also, it is terribly inefficient, as I will end up having to rewash streaky windows and re-sweep the crumbs that did not make it into the dust pan. Inevitably materials will be lost, as papers are ripped, stickers misplaced, and glue globbed on in puddles. I try to see their end products more holistically instead of thinking, I could have done this much better by myself. The experience is what matters. So what if a cake only has sprinkles on one side?

Luckily my children are stubborn and will not quite trying to do things on their own, even in the face of my exasperation. My four year old must continue put the toothpaste on herself, even though half of it ends up on the sink. I’m proud that they are not deterred by failure. This is my reminder.

It is also a reminder to appreciate the peace that comes with completing a task on your own, even if it is cleaning the kitchen. I had a perfect cleaning day today, as I discovered that cleaning is the best task to complete while listening to podcasts. While listening to the Tim Ferris Show and On Being, I kept a notebook handy to jot down notes. I lit candles without having to worry about someone continually blowing them out. I squirted my stainless steel cleaner without having to share the bottle and contain my cringes as five dollars worth of product is devoted to a quarter-sized surface area. Who knew cleaning could be so relaxing? Some days it is part of my in-house Montessori program and other days it is meditation.

How do you raise spiritual, moral children without religion?

Both my children were baptized Catholic in a beautiful ceremony full of rituals and blessings, as my husband and I were decades earlier. However, this initiation full of both traditions and superstitions, felt more like a placeholder than a forever commitment. While I believe in the communal benefits of a church, I do not believe in organized religion.

Growing up, I enjoyed Catechism classes and devotionally read my grandfather’s old prayer book. I never enjoyed, though, sitting in church. It seemed more of an hour of mental discipline than spiritual awakening. For one hour each Sunday, I would try to contain my natural propensity to fidget and roam and to stave off boredom. It seemed so passive.

As I grew older, I became more resentful of the role of women, the discrimination of homosexuals, and the history of corruption and violence. I remember my first college philosophy class and how existentialism spoke to me, how we can self-create and regulate our own reality and find eternal life through the legacy of our actions. Every action becomes weighed then and no slate can be wiped clean simply by asking for forgiveness.

I feel every step of my spiritual journey, which continues, was important. So how do I start off my own children in a way that feels honest? Inevitability, as citizens of a predominantly Christian culture, they are already aware of the concepts of God, Jesus, heaven, and hell. However, they do not all quite make sense and they have endless questions. Today, my son asked why the devil is evil? I had no ready answer. I ended up explaining how the world is full of opposing forces. However, my six year old was not ready for an epistemological discussion of dualisms. I then, and I regret this, discussed how you could not have superheroes without villains. Is it blasphemous to discuss God as the ultimate superhero?

More than anything I want my children to understand that people hold a variety of beliefs and that anything is possible. I want them to believe in something, but I do not want to dictate, or have a specific book or religion dictate, the tenets of that belief. How do we begin?

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Mr. Sketch and the Morning of Doom

The final fifteen minutes before it is time to leave the house I feel like Indiana Jones, navigating a booby-trapped cave. Every moment is fraught with peril: the serving of breakfast, the selecting of clothes, the powering down of electronics. Today, the rolling boulder coming towards me goes by the name of Mr. Sketch. The scented Mr. Sketch markers are the Air Jordans of first grade, an aromatic status symbol that comes in an array of twelve colors. For weeks, my son begged for these markers, going as far as putting them into my Amazon shopping cart.

When they arrived in the mail, it was a celebration of rainbows. For the next week, my son and daughter both sported Mr. Sketch mustaches from all the aggressive sniffing. However, there was one blemish in my son’s happiness. The markers were for home use only, to be shared with his little sister. Every morning he would try to sneak them into his backpack, and every morning I would remove them. Today he caught on to me catching on to him and checked his bag that I dutifully packed with his lunch and homework and found no Mr. Sketch. It was 8:25 a.m., time to leave the house. Let loose the boulder.

In the face of a tantrum, rationalizing only does so much. However, I still tried, calling to mind every parenting book and calmly explaining we had already told him “no.” He countered with, “I only want to take them today.” We countered with, “This is a privilege that you need to earn. We can discuss how you can earn this privilege after school so that you can take them tomorrow.” Delayed gratification is not in his wheelhouse. I try not to think of the Marshmallow Test and what this means for his future. The tantrum escalates. It is now 8:30 a.m.

If I had a time machine, I probably would have hopped in and took away my “no.” Because, honestly, I did not care that much about the ink levels or potential disappearance of a marker. However, once a negative answer has been issued, I believe it cannot be taken back. A no cannot be made into a yes by whining or crying. I am a stressed, heartsick woman of my word.

In a situation such as this, where reasoning is not an option, I believe the experts would recommend I remove the child from the situation. So I carried my son into the vehicle, squirming and crying and shoeless. To my credit, I did not raise my voice. I simply grabbed our coats, our bags, and his shoes and threw them in the vehicle and let him kick the back of my seat all the way to the elementary school. Tonight on Amazon, I believe I am going to order an Indiana Jones style whip.