Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Tai Chi of Summer

The lack of structure of Summer worried me before school was out, so I made lists and schedules and tried desperately to stick to them no matter what. Monday through Friday, breakfast at eight, followed by get dressed, make beds, math books, errands for the day.

It wasn’t all drudgery, afternoons were scheduled fun, Monday, Wednesday, Friday swimming lessons, Tuesday, library, Thursday, park. I thought I was being fair. As with all things, execution of the plan became a problem. Days kept getting crunched with dutiful things like doctor’s appointments and haircuts, grocery shopping and dry cleaning. Summer became an endless list of daily to do’s with fun scheduled and crunched around the efficiency of getting things done.

Then we had a four day weekend with my birthday sandwiched in the middle. Discovering my inner sloth, I reveled in the laziness of the whole first 48 hours. Paper plates, cake for breakfast, leftovers for meals, no laundry, it was bliss. The problem with that sort of binge is the mental hangover that follows. I got up that Saturday and considered whether I could justify one more morning breakfast of birthday cake.

“You should exercise.” My head told me. “You should start the day healthy.”
I wanted desperately to ignore it, but my brain then began an impossibly long screed of nags –do the dishes, clean the rooms, read a book, eat vegetables, run the errands, make a list, be responsible…the scroll at the bottom of the screen within my brain seemed to have no repeats, just an endless parade of no fun activities for me to finish, tackle, or do daily. Was this what my mouth sounded like to my children every day? No wonder they wanted to tune out and play Nintendo. Heck, I wanted to right now too.

Feebly muttering, “It’s my birthday week.” Didn’t hold. It kept spewing out to do items…update blog, write for Catholicmom, get your daughter to write thank you notes…I wanted to turn off my ears. “Alright! Alright!” I snapped and marched into the TV room to find an exercise DVD.

It wasn’t that my brain was wrong to say I should work out or that these tasks should be done. It was a question of balance. It was summer. It should be a time of celebration and cake and play and whimsy. I needed to strike a balance, a one-to-one ratio at least for the weekend, tasks to fun, seemed reasonable. A two-to-one ratio on week days, would allow for a good bit of kid and adult down time alike. I wanted to find the serenity of a cheesy martial arts instructor from a low grade movie, where there was serenity and order, and impulsive moves were paired with careful planning. Grabbing the DVD and feeling better for it, I thought about the rest of the day. This sort of habit would take diligence and practice on my part. “Best to start now.” My mollified superego urged.

My oldest son came into the room. “Hey son?”
“Yes?”
“Rock Paper Scissors to see who takes out the garbage?” I thought he’d be tickled at the chance.
“Mom. Taking out the garbage is nothing.” He grabbed the bag and took it out.
And I was left almost stammering. “But I wanted to play…”

The kids were watching TV. I brought out the Nintendo, and offered to play Mario Cart and place a bet. If I won, Math books for everyone for two pages. If I lost, another round of games. You know that scene in movies where all the kids stare at the adult whose suddenly done a 180 and come around to their way of thinking and it weirds everyone out? It’s really scary when it happens in real life.

“Mom?”
“Are you okay?”
“If you want us to do our math books, just say so.”
“Yeah. You don’t need to bribe us.”

The four children trooped out of the room, grabbed pencils and started in on their summer books. I was left again wondering, “What happened here?”

Sitting in the living room, waiting for my children to be free to play felt boring and even a tad pathetic. I went to the kitchen to do dishes. The baby crawled over and pulled on my leg. I began to play ball with her or try. She decided she had crawling to do and happily ambled off. I meekly finished the dishes. Didn’t anyone want to play with me?

The kids finished their math books. They had fired up the Nintendo. There wasn’t an open slot for me to play, but one of my daughters brought me my laptop. My enlightenment about summer had not changed the focus or ballance, it had just put me out of sync with my kids more than usual. I fumed silently.

“Mom? Since everything is done, why don’t you sit down and relax?” She asked, offering me my computer. My second son brought me a diet coke. I accepted the gifts, feeling both touched and sad. I went back to the kitchen to get one of the last pieces of birthday cake. Cutting it and placing it on a plate, my oldest daughter caught me serving it.

“I don’t think you should eat that. You really should exercise.” She chided. I put away the cake. “It’s good for you Mom. What did you write today?”

“Well I…”
She pointed to the computer.

Apparently, this grasshopper has much to learn.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

Have you described the I Ching of summer, the balance of opposites followed by the acceptance of inevitable change? Eastern and western philosphies be damned! There is no wrong time of day or night to eat leftover birthday cake!

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