by Kimberlea Chabot
Can I be honest? I am not always in love with summer.
It rubs up against my need for solitude and structure.
Even though I know this, I fight against it every year.
I think it is because of my deep desire to be the kind of mom who truly embraces the messiness that comes from unstructured days with your own children. I have always been a bit envious of these types of moms.
I am fine with ending my relationship with the dark days of winter and the blistery cold weather. I love the freedom of not having to rush out the door, to make lunches, and to help with homework. By the end of the school year, I am always excited to throw out any schedule and breathe in the infinite possibilities found in long and uninterrupted warm weather days. It’s a time when life becomes a little less tidy, when the call of the outside world beckons me to play hooky from tasks at hand.
My favorite is the traditions that mark the start of summer. That first trip to the old barn for homemade ice cream, sitting on large wagon flats in view of the flowers and farm animals. My other favorite ‘firsts’ include gathering around the fire pit to make s’mores or the sight of the ocean with hot sand underfoot from our favorite beach spot or taking that first plunge in the cold pool. I gladly tidy up the wet towels piled on the concrete patio, I rehang the haphazard bathing suits, and clean up after sticky fingers. I remove sand from inconvenient places. I make lists for each adventure with items to buy, to pack up, and to make. I unpack and repack. I become the finder of lost items, the magician performing tricks to relieve boredom, the short-order chef, the librarian, the fun-maker and the taxi driver. I delight in these roles at first as each seems to mark the new adventures we plan and the celebration of being together as a family.
And then it begins to happen. It starts off like a slow slide. It’s like a fault in the large, flat rocks just off the shoreline.The movement is barely noticeable to the observer, but it effects everything around it. Unlimited options and possibilities don’t seem as expansive anymore, but rather overwhelming. Rallying the troops for an activity becomes an uphill battle instead of a welcome invitation. One towel too many ends on the floor, another text received that changes our plans…”but Mooommm, I have to go with them,” or one more excuse for not parting with some electronic device causes a subtle shift in my attitude towards these endless Summer days.
I can feel myself slipping into a place where summer starts to get under my skin, like getting sand stuck in your bathing suit. It’s just not pretty. I can feel my temperature rising and my voice becoming slightly higher, more shrill. I repeat my new mantra, “I am a carefree mom. I enjoy summer. I can do this. I embrace it all!” I suggest to the water puddle maker how to clean upthe kitchen floor. I request that the popsicle wrapper owner see what was left behind. The games and books and legos start to creep out from their hiding and remain sprawled across the living room floor.
Then one seemingly innocent event tips the scales. An event so minor that without any context, like “this is the 108th time I have asked you to close the door…today!”, it would seem trivial at best. I suddenly see myself as this big pasta pot filled with water about to boil. I had been slowly simmering, heating up below the surface and now there was no turning back. That one moment when everything bubbles to the top and can’t be contained any longer. My words are like the foam layer, spilling over. I become that ballistic mom (which is exactly what my son told someone, that I was a ballistic mom leader, and not a holistic one…) I rant. I rave. I get more mad at feeling this mad because this is not the person that I am or want to be. I final remember to breathe. Stress is caused when reality is different than what you think it should be. I want appreciation and gratitude but realize these are not what I have been focusing on either. I decide to put a halt to Summer.
We slowly pick up the pieces together and we talk about our family needs and plans, wants and wishes. We agree to a certain set of time when we stick to family events. We dismiss the “Summer Rules” I wrote and instead agree on a set of principles to act by, such as “showing kindness and compassion to one another by doing your part.” I agree to be more flexible about when things get done, each being able to complete their chores when they want within a certain time frame. We realize we all need more time to be alone, away from one another. I remember childhood summers filled with my own adventures, like climbing my favorite tree in my front yard and reading in the branches.
I know I need time and space to cultivate my own inner summer. Recharging for me is like receiving a pair of goggles when you are in the deep end of the pool. Suddenly everything is in focus again and I can see things I wasn’t able to before. I struggle less to see clearly. I know an early morning hike or a visit to the labyrinth by myself would help to let go of what I don't want and fill up again with contentment and gratitude. We all can shift into the summer mindset of carefree days when everyone is sharing in responsibilities and no one person is carrying the full weight.
Summer is a time to slow down and witness the world through the eyes of a child. I enjoy delighting in the efforts of a small bird landing on various long flowered stalks, sending each one towards the ground. I can join in with the laughter as we all watch this bird hop from one stalk to the next, enjoying the ride. I can delight in the joys of seeing my child’s face light up when she understands how a bright yellow flower soon becomes an edible squash or how the tall stalks of rhubarb become the sweet filling for our jars and pies.
I can savor these ordinary moments with my children again when I have taken the time to care for my needs along the way. This isn’t being selfish. This is giving myself permission to be at my best and decide that I want to thrive, not just survive this summer. I am okay with not being the “cool mom” who can relax and embrace every aspect of summer but rather I simply recognize my need for structure within our days, which at least will help me keep my cool. l am learning how to give my children the gift of boredom and I am letting go of being the only one responsible for creating lasting Summer memories.
When we arrive at the homemade ice cream farm stand, my youngest asks me to list all the ice cream flavors. I read each one slowly, often with her interjection of “what’s that?” and needing a full description. When we finally make it to the front of the line to place our order, she selects vanilla as her final choice. Usually I would persuade her to try one of the other creative concoctions, but it is easy to understand the choice of simplicity. It is something I crave myself.
Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully.