We are two weeks into summer. No camps. No dance. No tutors. No theater. No jazz band.
A lot of free time to get splendidly bored. Call it un-schooling if you want.
For me, summer is for simplifying.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up trying to teach them anything.
The world throws a lot at kids. It’s noisy out there with a lot of competing voices. How do I get them to remember anything I tell them, especially during vacation?
David McCullough’s biography of John Adams includes a great quote: “To be good and to do good, is all we have to do.”
Be good. Do good. When the world gets noisy, that’s not bad advice to fall back on. As parents, or as kids.
Keep it simple this summer. Be good. Do good.
I woke up yesterday to gray skies and heavy rain. It was not a morning that invited or inspired a morning run. But I had no excuse not to write. A wet and soggy sunrise is practically an invitation to stay inside and dream up a warm and sunny locale.
I’m currently in the soggy middle of the new book and I’m convinced it’s pointless drivel that would be rejected for the back of a cereal box. I also know this is completely normal and happens with just about any creative work. The vision and the reality almost never co-exist.
In fact, I’ve found having a vision of what a book might look like can often be harmful. Squeaky clean artifacts that only exists in your mind can make it really hard to get started. Reality is messy. What I’ve found most helpful is practice. The phrase, just going through the motions, gets a bad rap. A lot of great things, not just creative things, get done by showing up day after day.
It might not match any vision but it will exist. I don’t know exactly where this book is going but I’m going to show up and find out.
The school work is ramping up (even if it seems like they’ve yet to have a full week) and so is the homework. This often leads to some mild paralysis and procrastinating. Which in turn leads to some frayed parental nerves. Even if I can recognize what is happening. It’s the same thing that often plagues me when I need to get my own writing or exercising done.
Too much focus on the outcome makes the gap between now and being done seem much larger than it might be.
So we’ve talked to the girls about changing their focus from the outcome (being done and that yawning gap to get there) to what they can do right now. When you shrink it down to the next five minutes, doing what you know you need to do becomes much easier.
Don’t focus on writing a thousand words. Focus on writing the first five sentences.
Don’t focus on the entire packet of math problems, focus on the first one. When they focus on doing the first exercise, getting started is easier and action becomes inevitable.
Cecilia would like to try out for districts this year and continue with the jazz band. Both of these require practice and auditions above and beyond the regular school band.
Practice and the summer… sort of oil and water. Something is better than nothing. The longer the time frame for results, the less you need intensity and the more you need consistency.
I’m trying to be more mellow about daily to-do’s whether that is my own writing or Cecilia’s trombone time and fall back on the parenting rule that if you want results from your kids the best bet is to model the behavior yourself.
Consistency isn’t simply willpower, which comes and goes. Consistency is doing it when you don’t feel like doing it. If both girls learn that lesson, they’ll be okay in whatever they choose to do.
There are certain things a parent should be expected to pass on to their kids. Team allegiances. Curiosity. Respect. Proper flash card study habits. Lawrence Welk on lazy Sunday afternoons. An irrational love of Prince. The basic underpinnings of a happy life.
Parents should be careful however, not to pass on their fears. Fear is the killer of inquisitiveness. Kids are largely innocent. For better or worse, they just don’t know. Fear colors that curiosity with something darker. I might be afraid of heights. Or small spaces. Or pre-teen Disney stars. But that’s me, not them.
Cecilia survived jazz improv camp. She even let it slip she might go next year. I played trumpet for eight years and never soloed. I might have been afraid, but she’s not.
For all my indoor cat tendencies, I do like to plant a vegetable garden each year. With summer vacation a short half day away on Tuesday, the girls will be helping me more this year.
Forget about getting a puppy or other pet to teach kids responsibility, planting a garden is a much cheaper and just as effective way to teach kids long lasting life lessons: planning, prepping, growing, waiting. Really, if I could just work in flash cards….
In the book, Outdoor Kids in an Inside World, Steve Rinella has a chapter on the lessons families can learn from gardening. Like the best advice, it doesn’t need much space:
- Through our actions, we have the power to make things thrive.
- Neglect is deadly.
Sort of applies to a bountiful garden or…being a good parent.
The girls are both old enough now where their traits, dispositions, and temperaments are more formed. As a Dad, I am less inclined to shrug it off as a phase. I also have to confront the fact that the girls will not be exactly like me. (Except for the Yankees thing. I won’t bend on that.)
They will not make the same choices or walk the same path. They might (and likely will) make decisions and do things that will baffle me. But that’s okay. Maybe that’s for the best. I was a conformist kid that looked to fit in. And I did a pretty good job. I loved my flash cards. School and tests were a natural second language. But there are certainly more ways to contribute in this world than the easiest, most obvious, and most traditional ways.
But not everyone is built that way and as a Dad, I need to protect and guard against the girls feeling any shame about that. In fact, I often look back and regret I didn’t make bolder or less expected choices. Risk and I are not on a first name basis.
Some are meant to be artists. Some are meant to be quiet, solitary geniuses. Some are meant to be extroverts or iconoclasts. Some are meant to be late bloomers.
There are so many ways to make a difference in this world. As a Dad, my job is to help them by being who they were meant to be…and nothing else.