The girls spent last week at the Cape attending Camp Grammie (& Poppy). According to them, they spent their days swimming, looking for sand dollars, staying up late, painting, eating ice cream at every meal, and making memories. Pretty much what girls their age should be doing in the summer. Grammie assured me there was some broccoli and even a little reading during the week, but no dreaded math facts.
With the girls away, it allowed Michelle and I to…. work more and watch Netflix on the couch a few hours earlier. I think the quiet almost shocked us into a state of indolence. Turns out, there is a rhythm to the house that you come to rely on to keep you on track when everyone is operating near the edge of exhaustion.
We have yet to feel the impact of “No More Checks!” I have not placed that outdoor pizza oven order yet. Nor has Michelle selected the perfect piece of haute couture from Givenchy. Right now, we have only just adjusted the electronic routing numbers to funnel those potential retirement payments to various summer camps scattered about the greater Metrowest area.
For Cecilia, camp is old hat, but it’s been fun to watch Ally finally get to go off and be with the “big” kids. For the past year, I believe she’s been convinced that Cecilia visits a magic wonderland where they sip from chocolate fountains, eat snacks all day, run through rainbow-infused sprinklers, and do arts and crafts until their fingers cramp. Well, now she knows. Cecilia was only lying about the chocolate fountains.
After the first week, Ally’s happiest place on earth is camp, not Disneyland (too many terrifyingly large costumed characters). Just think, she hasn’t even gone to drama camp yet!
The girls recently learned a new phrase: “Uncles never say no!” We spent the last seven days on the Cape with family and the girls’s aunt and uncles spoiled the girls rotten with presents, crafts, clothes, cheese balls, compliments, whip cream and attention. Mostly it was the attention and the complete inability of my brother-in-law to say no. They have no idea how good they have it.
The innocence of youth is galling. And I do sometimes worry about it. But not on vacation. If you’re going to spoil your kids, vacation seems like an appropriate time. It’s an especially good time if you’re an aunt and uncle and can escape back to the hotel when the first cracks appear in the kid’s composure.
As parents, unfortunately, we can’t escape when all the good times come home to roost, but luckily mai tais and boat drinks are wholly acceptable after 11 a.m. on vacation time.
We have a spreadsheet to manage the kids camps. Where? When? How much? I’m not sure how we got here. Summer may be easier for kids, but it’s a logistical game of Twister for parents. Next summer, we’re going to try at least a few camp-free weeks. No agenda. No legal waivers. No car pools. No pre-planned crafts. Just a hot sun, access to the hose, and a day to fill. Boredom is supposedly a tonic for kids. And all that autonomy apparently helps, at least Mayan kids, with better focus. Kids and Dad alike could use more of that. If I hustle I can probably write the best-seller: How to Parent the Mayan Way.
Ce would probably give me grief if she knew I said summers were easy for kids. She’s doing an hour a day of various chores and summer learning. Did that cause you to audibly gasp? Then you must not be my daughter. Each day she wakes up and appears to hope that I’ve forgotten because each morning we repeat the same dance (not the rousing, fun, ensemble musical type, either) where she reacts like I’ve asked her to cut the lawn with a pair of nail clippers.
The walls of our house are a constant dripping waterfall of drama. If neither one of these girls ends up in the theatre the world will be poorer for it.
The times they are a-changin’. Allison is now officially a pre-K graduate and after nine years we are done with day care. Are we elated? Yes. Are we nervous? Yes. Are we sad? Maybe a little. Putting your child in day care is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t decision. But if you want to raise your kids, have a career, and have a life, you need some help. For the last nine years, we’ve gotten lots of help. The girls had a routine. They made friends. They grew up. They prepared for school. They built up ironclad immunities.
While day care was for the kids, it also ended up giving us, as new parents, a lot, too. Before day care we lived among the community, but not in the community. Before day care, we were those strangers that walked their dog and lived in that quiet house with well-tended flower beds. Before day care, we left on the 6:20 a.m. train and rarely returned before dark.
Leaving your 8-week old infant with virtual strangers is beyond hard. Day care provided us with a group of people going through the exact same thing. Oh, look, that Dad is also carrying his crying child inside by the ankle and his shirt has 4 different stains before 9 a.m., too. That weird red and purple rash? Don’t sweat it, my kid had it last week. It provided a safety net and a soft landing on those days where it seemed like the world was coming apart at the seams.
Most importantly, it turned many of those strangers, parents and teachers alike, into friends. It gave us dominoes nights and taco parties and the tumble bus and Oktoberfest and showed us every day that we weren’t alone or unique in this strange new journey called parenthood. It made us part of a community.
Today is my ninth Father’s Day. That is plenty long enough for habits and routines to become well worn. That is at least a thousand diapers. A thousand daycare pickups. A thousand water bottles filled. A thousand pieces of plain pasta cooked. A thousand soapy tubs emptied. As any parent knows these routines are critical for survival. These routines get us through the day with children on the bus, lunches packed, clothes laundered and bedtime stories read. They help us order our world.
It is impossible to see and feel all of those things for the first time, every time. If every experience brought that rush of the first experience, a single day would overwhelm and exhaust even the hardiest parent. If each day were full of firsts, my legs would crumple and my chest would heave with effort before noon.
Habits and routine are every parent’s secret weapon. I fear they are also dangerous. Habits can quickly make the extraordinary seem ordinary. If you’re not careful, you find yourself looking at the world through a dull, gray gauze. A whisper of brown hair is Ally. Flecks of aquamarine eyes is Cecilia. But did I see them? Really see them? Routine is an insatiable thing. It will consume the familiar and make the everyday seem mundane. They can blind you to the insane miracle of your children. Of being a father.
Of course, miracle is not the first word that comes to mind when I hear little feet going down the stairs at 5:45. Insane on the other hand…..time to be a Dad.
Like many, we are knee deep in end of school year activities. This week we attended Cecilia’s end of the year music and fine arts show. She was very excited. She, unlike me, quite enjoys performing on stage. The show was remarkably good for a third grade production.
The thing she is most looking forward in fourth grade is finally getting to play the trombone. That’s not a joke. And who knows, maybe she’ll love it and be great at it.
So far, we haven’t really hit on Cecilia’s “thing” yet, which is completely fine. I might not have loved Little League (I was much better at getting hit than actually hitting) but I certainly took things from it that helped me in other areas. I believe kids should try a lot of things for as long as possible (probably adults, too). The trend, especially in youth sports, to specialize and focus on one thing earlier and earlier in an effort to create mini-Tiger Woods prodigies freaks me out. And given how Mr. Woods ended up, it should freak you out, too.
So she hasn’t found her thing. No big deal. Let’s try the trombone. Lots of room in the world for a kick-ass female trombone player. But first, on to a Saturday that included triathlons, tacos and dance parties. There are always dance parties….