The boys have now been to camp for two full weeks, meaning that the three of us have been getting used to our new schedule for an equal amount of time. They love camp, but shifting from the school year to summertime is still an adjustment. Oliver is learning to manage longer days away, gaining stamina that will help his full school days at a new school in the fall not seem quite so dramatic. Jack, a little guy who has always thrived, and continues to do so, on structure and routine, is sorting out the kinks that come when the teachers and kids you've seen every day for nine months are no longer part of quotidien life.
Meanwhile, I've had time to think about the dynamics between each boy and myself as well as that among the three of us together. I noticed, back on that first Monday of camp, the day I felt wildly carbonated with the promise of a new degree of free time, how "on" I was when I picked them up.
I was terribly excited to see them, but my on'ness was more than that. It was almost as if I'd donned a cloak of uber-mom: she's here; she's psyched; she is now yours. And I was exhausted by the time we arrived home. We live all of 7 minutes away.
The boys are kinetic, hyper-verbal jumping beans; there's no denying that. But how was I complicit in the sense of us all being amped up and ready.to.go! ? This is not a maternal guilt issue: they've been gone all day so now I owe them X or Y to make up for that. No, I realized that by setting the bar of interaction at a towering level for all these years, in part in order to meet their energy/precociousness/whatever, I've instilled in them a sense of expectation for just how much Mom can be, will give and should of both. Hmm. This realization came with such clarity and struck me with the force of a battering ram.
And so, in addition to our summer goals of Jack being able to complete an entire bath capably, thoroughly and on his own, and both kids mastering the "do NOT wake Mom and Dad up before 6:25a" rule, I added a rejiggering of the dynamic between them (the kids) and me. Just because they go to camp each day (as they now will school for the next 20 years), does not mean that I have to cease being Emily (vs Mom) when they're home. I am totally committed to being present and engaged and on the floor and at the playground, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, but it is OK for me to also insist that they play by themselves or not ask me to look at every line of every drawing before moving on to the next line. I should be able to write a letter, cook dinner or any other activity as my main event, rather than attempting to address the envelope or quickly chop a carrot in moments stolen during their bathroom breaks or other unforseen reprieve.
They need to let me do this, but I must teach them how, because what we've been doing obviously hasn't been terribly effective in this regard.
I am not the sort of parent who will ever helicopter. That behavior seems only to lead to bad outcomes for everyone involved: weird, enmeshed parent-child relationships; kids who don't think or know that they can do things on their own, or who lack the confidence or interest to try; children who grow into adults who aren't able to be alone happily. I once had a roommate tell me that she hated to be alone because whatever would she do? To myself I was intoning: read, file your nails, see a movie, organize something, go somewhere, cook, eat, nap, write....the list was endless, and to this day, I've felt that my parents teaching my sister and me the wonderfulness of time spent alone was an enormous gift. Of course there can be lonely or dull moments in those times, but I'm talking bigger picture here.
So no helicopter but I'm definitely extremely engaged, and so each day to slowly shift the dynamic sands, I've tried not to be too over the top in my effusive pick-ups. I've tried to come home, hear all about the goods and ughs of the day, and then ask them to do their chores and/or go play. We still draw, play chess, all that jazz, but it's not constant and it comes after the stuff that are their responsibilities, not mine. Jack gave me bloody hell because I told him that the state of his room was untenable and he couldn't play until it was much(!) cleaner. He went on and on about unfairness and time, and I simply said, "Jack, I've told you this before and I really mean it. I am NOT your servant, nor do I want to be. Your mess is not my clean-up job. If you think it takes a long time, think about how long it would take me, on top of all the other things that are my jobs. Get up there and don't come down until it's nice."
Baby steps, for that room took a while with several viewings and "nope, not yets" by me, but it did get done, by him.
We never stop growing, should never stop learning, ought to seek new means if others aren't working. This week sucked in many ways, but I feel confident that the outcome of our family dynamic restructure will be good for us all. Here's to the ever-hopefulness of parenthood! And to my train coasting into Penn Station momentarily.