The kids start school tomorrow–so summer officially ends. I just now cried and hugged them on the floor. My daughter starts kindergarten (which is making me cry as I type) and she suggested that I go into her room tomorrow and find some stuffed animals to cuddle while they are in school. But then again, she also said, “Oh, it’s OK because you have so many emails to do and you need to be alone.” She’s actually right. My email inbox is jammed full…I have so many projects to finish and deadlines waiting, but I surrendered it all to summer for the last few weeks and it was good.
For a mama who works from home, runs a business alone, and also spends summer with her kiddos, summer is a wonderful cocoon-y love nest and a total clusterfuck. (Sorry for that word. Some people don’t like cussing.) But that is what summer is…a clusterfuck of trying to manage everyone’s needs and balance everything and still get emails and work done while keeping the kiddos and mama happy…or mostly happy…or at least mildly happy. Every year, it takes a few weeks for everyone to adjust to the new rhythm of summer. In June there is camp and vacation in July. But then there is the month of summer with no plans and not a lot of money for babysitters, camps, theme parks, etc. And it was over 110 degrees every day in the Arizona heat, so outside is not an option mostly…but still they played out there. And they watched tv, drew, built things, played, read, and we swam a lot.
But I had a brainstorm in June and I called it “be with me so I can.” So I tried this new way this summer. It worked. And I thought I would share it here in case it would help you…even if it is too late for summer, you can try it over breaks or next summer.
I noticed this summer that commonly my children’s malaise/acting out/ boredom/ennui/ whining/ fighting/general irascibility is usually a byproduct of disconnection. (Isn’t the same true of us adults?) My kids are somewhat independent and both enjoy playing alone or together for small bits of time…but certainly not for hours and definitely not all day-every day-all summer. We are social creatures. Kids spend nine months of the year surrounded by 22 kids and teachers plus teams and friends, etc.
So what they want is me or my husband. Period. We are their language–their currency–their bosses–their entertainment. We are the Alphas. They want us. And we want them. They want us to notice them, to witness them, to be with them, to enjoy them, and most importantly to play/read/write/draw/ride bikes with them. And for the most part, that is exactly what we do. But sometimes we must work. And we want to teach them the value of work. It is easier for my husband in some ways, because he leaves the house to work in his J. Crew duds. He dresses up, he leaves, he comes back. But I…I am working right now as I type this in my yoga clothes right next to my kids on the living room floor on my laptop while we watch a probably age-innapropriate show about teenagers on Disney Channel. My son is humming a pop song and half-staring at the screen, my daughter is rolling a bottle of warm sparkling water between her feet. And I am writing. And so when mommy “works” it is confusing because I don’t dress up in my J. Crew duds and leave. I’m just here. And I want to be here. But it confuses the boundary a bit.
And so that is how I arrived at “be with me so I can.” I was tired of my old method that went like this: I would say to them in a rushed, slightly manic but also sweet (or sometimes frustrated) voice, “Mommy is almost finished, if you guys would just clean up your rooms or play together for about 20 more minutes then we can play.” But then I might say that again after those 20 minutes were up. And it was all guilt, all the time. Mama guilt. I’m not doing enough guilt. I didn’t make dinner and it’s 6:30 guilt. I am rushing my work and neglecting my two favorite people on earth guilt. So, instead I made a new way. All they want is me. All I want is them. And so I now say to them, “Guys, come be with me so I can finish this project in the studio. You want to paint?” “Hey, you wanna draw a house plan at the counter while I make dinner?” “Do you want to clean the bathroom with me? You can Windex.” “Be with me while I sew this…can you push the foot pedal?” And sometimes they join me. And sometimes they don’t. And that is OK because I feel better about it. If they choose to empower themselves and play independently then that is awesome, but I first give them the chance to join me in the studio or wherever I am working. I don’t care if they play video games or eat sweet potato chips or make duct tape wallets. I just want to be near them, and vice versa. And they learn what work looks like. They learn what parents do.
“Be with me so I can” changed our summer. It helped me feel good about working. And I really think it helped them self-regulate, too.