It’s the start of the first official week of summer and we are getting ready to go to the big park across the street from our house. My daughter flits around, making mess after mess with glue and markers and things she’s pulling out of a drawer in the kitchen, instead of putting on her shoes. My toddler son is busy taking condiments out of the fridge and finding opportunities to throw himself on the floor in a fit of rage. The dog is chasing me around the house — he’s been wearing his leash, ready to go for over an hour.
But despite plea after plea, no one else is even remotely ready to leave and the house is looking more torn apart by the second. Briefly, I wonder what happened to that feeling of summer magic, where everything is slow and simple. The one I’d been waiting for at the end of the school year. But my son chucks a full glass of milk across the room, and I remember. Somehow, it’s the first week of summer and I’m already struggling to keep my anger in check.
Finally, we’re out the door and for a moment, I’m hopeful. But before I can breathe a sigh of relief, my baby is crying again. The dog has taken a monstrous poop and he’s dying to pick it up. It’s a strange little personality quirk, but this one, I can’t really indulge. Even with a plastic bag wrapped around his chubby hand, I know it’s much too dangerous. He cries because he’s not allowed to pick up the poop. He throws himself onto the sidewalk. Passersby look on in horror and it’s all I can do to stop myself from yelling out “MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!” or “WHAT!? Haven’t you ever seen a toddler with a dog poop fixation before? BEAT IT!” Instead I breathe deep, but not too deep, because, well, the poop. I pick it up and grind my teeth and drag everyone onward, wondering why I was so damn determined to get them out of the house today. The house is great! I think. Let’s never leave it again.
We keep walking and my daughter begins whining about the heat. It is pretty hot, I’ll give her that. But it’s not unbearable. “Carry!” my son demands, reaching for me and slapping my thighs when I ask him to please, please walk. Finally, I relent, I saddle him onto my hip, dragging the dog along at the same time and trying my very best to ignore my daughter’s complaints. By the time we make it to the park, my body hurts from dragging everyone there and my anxiety is overflowing. The kids play for a few minutes, but everyone is hot and sticky and fully of grievances. It’s all I can do to plop down with the dog and watch them play. I don’t even think about playing with them, like the other parents are doing. I just sit and stare and I tell myself, I’ll run and jump and climb another day. Screw the summer magic. Today, I’m just getting through.
As I’m resting in the grass, I think back to a few nights ago: It was the evening after the last day of school and I was so excited about summer. We were sitting out in our backyard, like we often do on warm nights and my son and daughter noticed the fireflies. It’s one of those things they must’ve just missed in previous years, or it didn’t appeal to them, but on this night, I’d never seen them so excited about their existence. My son was shrieking and squealing, yet they flocked to him. He had them all over his hands and my daughter rolled on the ground laughing at how they seemed to love him.
My husband and I exchanged a look — we had caught them in a moment of summer magic.
It’s getting close to lunchtime and I realize we have to go home. We executed this plan all wrong today, but dammit, if we’d just gotten out of the house a little earlier we would’ve beaten the heat and the lunch-time crankies. We stay maybe 20 minutes and begin trekking back home, which is equally, if not more unpleasant than the walk there. My left arm is killing me from carrying my son by the time we make it through our gate. In fact, my right arm is, too, from pulling the dog this way and that. One-hundred more battles ensue until nap time, which is why, at the moment, my daughter is watching TV and my son is upstairs, throwing his body against the rails of his crib, refusing to take a nap.
Part of me wants to go to him, but I need to catch my breath first. I’ve given up trying to comfort him for the time being. He’s clawed and punched me, head-butted and bit me. I rocked and held him and sang anyway. I read him three books before gently placing him in his crib. I’ve given him every ounce of my patience today and the day is not even close to being half-over. Summer has just begun and I’m wondering how I’ll survive it. Forget the summer magic I was looking forward to — how will I make it through the next two-and-a-half months? It sounds awful, to admit how hard it is, but it doesn’t make it less true: Being with my kids all day, every day is so damn hard. In fact, it’s probably harder for me, their mother, than anyone.
I’m not the babysitter or the grandma. I’m not the teacher or the daycare mom. And I’m not the best friend. I’m their mother and I love them, but they give me the absolute worst of them. They cry and kick and complain. They fight and pummel one another into the ground relentlessly. They are perfect angels, or so I’m told, for everyone else on the planet, and in a way, I’m tired of hearing it.
“They were good as gold,” my mother says when I pick them up from her house after a sleepover. “Really?” I want to inquire, except I know that it’s true. When my mother says “no” to my son, the worst he does is quiver his bottom lip at her. I’ve rarely been so lucky. He is so in love with me that sometimes it makes him hate me. He never wants me to not be holding him, or giving him what he wants, and sometimes, I’d do anything to give him what I want, to make the crying stop, and I just can’t figure out what it is. And right now, a summer of nonstop conflict feels almost impossible.
In all honestly though, I knew these months would have their challenges. I knew I’d be putting my work on the back-burner, for the most part. I knew that some days would be long and the house would be a mess. But just last week, I was zen about it. I couldn’t wait to stop the daily grind. I was anxious for everything to be over — school and ballet rehearsals, and to slow down with work. I was ready to stop dragging everyone out of bed at the crack of dawn. I bought a ton of new art supplies for the kids and couldn’t wait to start our magical summer. We signed up for the pool again, imagining day after relaxing day lounging and swimming, swimming and lounging. Now, after our first trip, I’d be happy to make it there once a week. The first day at the pool my son waded out into the baby-pool and face-planted in seconds and couldn’t get back up. It happened in a split second, while I was laying out our towels. I sprinted in and lifted him up, but it left me with a minor dose of PTSD and an air of worry about how quickly he moves and how little fear he has about water, or anything dangerous for that matter.
Maybe it was just wishful thinking, the dreaming of all those magic summer moments with my kids. Or maybe, not every day can be made of it, through and through. Some days, I can’t give them the most perfect vision of summer — the slow, simple, endlessly happy times. The vision wasn’t even theirs anyway; it was mine. Some days, I’m just going to have to do the best I can do and hope the magic finds them. And some days, there won’t be any at all. But mixed in, somewhere in between, like when I’m helping them catch fireflies in a jar and they just can’t seem to stop laughing, I know it’s there. So I’ll do my best to bask in the summer sun while it lasts and breathe in a little magic.More On