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The Summer of Nothing

There is a time of year when the days grow long, the rules get lax and the personal time fades into oblivion. Yep, I’m talking about summer. And, as most stay-at-home moms know, this is the time of year in which we traditionally brace ourselves for the “realness” of being cooped up with our kids.

In previous years, when there was still a novelty in never-ending togetherness, summer was a season I had actually come to cherish (in a masochistic sort of way). It was a time that created the most work for me, certainly, but it was also the season in which the kids and I could run around freely, doing whatever our hearts desired (think: swimming pools, s'mores galore, and LOTS of movies). There was a trade-off between personal time and indelible memories, but it seemed worthwhile. I mean, these were precious moments that would be cherished for all of time, right?!

And, then there was also the learning. Never one to waste an opportunity to teach my kiddos something, I would prepare these “spontaneous” endeavors – sometimes months in advance – by concocting elaborate theme weeks with thoughtfully coordinated “field trips.” I would disguise enrichment among the activities and weave in all sorts of knowledge into the long, hot days. I was like a home-school mom gone haywire! By the end of it, I would be spent, but our camera rolls and memory banks would be full. And so, I felt like a good mother; good and tired.

However, this year, following all that we’ve endured over the course of the pandemic, I’m just tired. And I am calling “uncle.” This summer there is nothing going on in our house. No trips planned. No educational activities contemplated. No structure. No ideas. No fights being broken up. No boredom being busted. Not even breakfast being served. (They had candy instead of eggs the other day and I didn’t say a peep.) After all that covid life has given us - and all we’ve lost because of it - I think it’s safe to say that we are all ready to scream our “safe word” and give up on this year altogether.

So, is that it?! I mean, is it okay just to do nothing? The busy-body part of me doesn’t think so. I fight with her every day, hoping to turn a corner and come to an epiphany about how to reconnect our lost year and turn our lives around. In my head, I still tap into planning mode and its urges send phantom vibes like the sensations of a lost limb tingling despite its absence. “Maybe we can just do some morning yoga,” I think, hopefully. “Or maybe we can do a photography scavenger hunt. Or bake something…God only knows we’ve hoarded enough flour.”

But no. The fed-up part of me air punches that mouthy broad and puts her out of my mind. I am committed. No more valiant hopes and whimsical dreams. We. Are. Doing. Nothing. That’s it, end of story!

Only, it’s not that easy. It never is for moms – we are a species of walking, talking guilt trips and pity parties. By 10 am on the second day of our “break,” despite being committed to a plan-free summer, I had already crumbled under an emotional breakdown of self-flagellation for the fact that my kids were on their iPads (yes, even the toddler) for the majority of the previous day. Ten hours, if we were counting, which we absolutely were NOT!

“Just think what the pediatrician would say about all of that screen time,” I couldn’t help but think tauntingly in my internal dialogue. I mean, naturally, at their next check-up I would lie about this summer just the same as I do every time. But, this year, I would have to really lie. Like, A LOT!

Coming out of the bathroom, my eldest saw me drying my tears, wallowing in thoughts of being the worst mother ever, and asked me what was wrong. I confided that I felt bad about this summer – how it was all a mess. I told her I was sorry there wasn’t a plan or path. Sorry that there wouldn’t be any momentous trips or fun memories. I reminded her of previous years and all the things we used to do, thinking she would join me in reciting back some of our “greatest hits.”

“Remember the cool science experiments we did that one year?” I imagined her saying. “Or the fun movie nights? Or last summer, when we learned how to paint in the style of famous artists? What about all of those trips we used to take to museums to do scavenger hunts? Those were the best memories!” That’s what my mind projected onto her thoughts. And, after all of the work I put into making those epic summer adventures, I figured it was the least I should expect.

But, instead, the only thing she did aside from nod and twirl her chestnut-brown hair was say “I honestly don’t remember any of that.” Dumbfounded, I asked her “What do you mean?? You don’t remember anything we did for any of the summer adventures?!? None of it?!?” She thought a little harder and said, “No. I mean, I remember driving places and stuff, but really all I remember about summer is being with you and eating Happy Meals.”

Taken aback, I let those words sink in a little. It wasn’t what I expected. It certainly didn't feel like what I deserved. And, on the surface, it kind of made me mad. I didn’t think that all of our adventures would be totally forgotten so soon, but it did give me a glimmer of hope for the current year. If nothing was remembered, then nothing could be lost. In a weird slap-in-the-face way that only a teen can provide, I had an actual epiphany. I realized that there were no trophies in beating your brains out doing crazy, meticulously planned activities with your kids. There was only the little matter of spending time with them. It didn’t really matter how. Just being with them was what counted.

So, if that’s all it takes, maybe it really is okay to do nothing. And, in the process, maybe we will eat chocolate for breakfast and lie to the pediatrician about screentime and learn nothing more than how to irritate each other, but we will also enjoy just existing without any preconceived notions, alarm clocks or activities. We will sleep late and get bored and do whatever. And...IT. WILL. BE. OKAY. Because we're doing nothing together.


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