Tuesday, September 4, 2012

10 Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This looks nice...
As you may recall, I decided to take some time off this summer - that is, if you define "time off" as being the round the clock wrangler of 3 small to mid-sized terror suspects. For the few months prior to my children's summer vacation, I was working 2 part-time jobs, being a full time stay at home mom, and attempting to write this blog.

As the summer approached and my husband's work schedule indicated that he would be spending large chunks of time on the road, I decided to dedicate my summer to being a stay at home mom again. I was hopeful that this would allow me to collect my shredded nerves, while making amends to my precious and fast-growing offspring for being kind of a medium bitch for the past five months.

Since one of my jobs was teaching (no school in summer!), it was comparatively easy for me to walk away from work for a few months. I would like to state for the record that I know how fortunate I am to be able to do this. Choosing time over money is the ultimate first world luxury. I know this. But I learned some stuff from this experience. Here's what it taught me:

1) The first few weeks of just being with my kids were pure and utter bliss. I appreciated the time with them and the flexibility to show up at their end of school year events more than I ever have. It was really great, even the part where I had to steam 150 hot dogs for the first grade carnival and my house smelled like a giant wiener for 3 days. Things that would have been irritating the month before were no longer a big deal. I was with my kiddos all the time and it was really, really fun. But in a few weeks in, something happened.

2) Transitions are hard for small people, even when they're supposed to be positive. At some point the children abruptly decided that the change in their schedule and mommy's sudden total availability to them was strange and unnerving. This resulted in some acting out. Some of the behavior was subconscious, and manifested itself in clinging to me in the manner of small, large-eyed monkeys. This behavior was endearing for approximately 22 hours and then all of my discs irreparably herniated*. Other reactions ranged from UFC-style sibling fist fights to "forgetting" to go to the bathroom until the pressure on a small bladder resulted in a truly unfortunate incident at Walmart.

*I'm fine now. It just felt that way.
3) When "new" becomes "normal", it stops being made of magic.  Patience is not unlimited. I think that patience is always relative to circumstances. For example; it took me less than four weeks to revert back to the stage whereby at 10:30pm you could find me with an eye twitch shrieking: "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD  - GO TO SLEEP OR THERE WILL BE A RECKONING."

4) It may be possible for me to consistently do things I never thought possible (like housework).  Cleaning is so MUCH easier to deal with when (1) you're actually at home and (2) you don't have tiny, tiny kids. With very young children, there was just no point. No matter how good I tried to be, if someone hit my living room with one of those 20/20 Dateline blacklights, my house was going to start glowing bright enough to be seen from space.

This summer (for the first time since 2003) I have met two standards for housekeeping which  - up til now - have been purely aspirational goals. Goal one was to keep the cleanliness level set to "not embarrassing". And I did it. No one cringed or got that weird "I must be polite" look when they walked in my house. I can feel you high fiving me right now, everyone.

Randy the Laundry Fairy, my lifelong enemy. You're still a douche.
Goal number two represents a major victory over an old nemesis: I have consistently gotten the laundry done. Like all the way done. For those of you who know me or who have read this blog before, you may need to sit down. Yes, it really happened. But...

It's just that when it's all done - it won't fit in the damn drawers because the drawers are all like: "What are you doing?! You know I can't fit all these underpants and socks in here. We have a system and that system is that you are horrible at laundry so it's never clean and put away at the same time. IDIOT. Go put this stuff in on the floor next to your bed the way God intended."

5) Summer is really, really expensive - especially when you are earning no money. The thing about school is - it actually saves us a lot of money. I never truly appreciated that before. All I know is, one month into summer vacation was exactly one month after I stopped getting paid. And exactly one month after I shelled out a boat load of cash for camps and classes and activities for the entire summer and DEAR GOD, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR CHECKING ACCOUNT?! Then all of a sudden, my husband started looking pale and asking me repeatedly if I'd used a coupon to pay for the toilet paper at Target. When I reminded him that I hate coupons because they are all very, very stupid, he said: "Until money falls freely from my buttocks, we have to use coupons."

6) I couldn't really put my phone away entirely. One of the problems with my crazy work schedule was that I felt checked out from my family for long stretches of time. That even when I was there, I wasn't there. I was checking emails on my iPad or sitting at my laptop and my kids started getting pissy every time I even looked at my beloved phone.

What I realized this summer was when we're all home together, we all need to check out and do our own thing for a while every day. For the boy, that was listening to Harry Potter audiobooks in his room while building Quidditch fields out of Legos. My littlest would play Polly Pockets for hours. My big girl would read or listen to music in her room. There may have also been some TV watching. Possibly.

So I found myself unapologetically reading books again, learning how to crochet, checking Facebook, chatting with friends on the phone (something I hadn't done in months), watching TV shows (Duck Dynasty, anyone?), and playing copious amounts of Temple Run on my phone. And I loved every minute of it.

7) But they still don't want me on my phone. I would love to make some statement here about how my epiphany regarding our collective need for personal space and down time led to my family to all get the peace and quiet that we require. But I mean, come on. I get the kids settled and I sit down to read a book and I hear "MOOOOM! Mommmy! Mom! Momma! MOOOOOMMM!",  until I am reluctantly forced to stop what I'm doing and take care of whatever they need.

I have to sneak my quiet time in when they aren't paying attention or are really distracted. Then 30 minutes later they stumble upon me happily crocheting the world's most ugly hat and they suspiciously start questioning me: "Wait. What are you doing? How long have you been doing this?"

8) I never seem to regret taking the time to take time. We spent a lot of our summer being with people. We made new friends and made real friends of folks who had just been friendly acquaintances. That's hard for me. Making real friends as a grown-up (especially as a mom) has been kind of a rough road. It took some honest to goodness fear-swallowing for me to put myself out there and risking people being like "No thanks. You're a crazy person and fat loser. Friend request DENIED."

We also spent a lot of time with family. It was all really, really special and wonderful and there was hardly any weirdness at all. This included a visit from my sister and her little boy.

[Note: For those of you who have wondered how my sister is doing, she is really good. Her little boy is ADORABLE and is maybe the best baby in the history of ever. He's a year old and sleeps like an angel, eats everything you put in front of him and smiles and cuddles when he's not trying to wreak havoc. She and Charlie have been married for a year and a half and they're both doing well, have jobs they like and love being parents. They're broke and feel like the oldest 22 year olds in the world, but they also see some of the antics of their friends and feel pretty good about where they're at. They take no money from anyone and support their family themselves. I'm literally BURSTING with pride.]

9) It was worth it. It was all worth it. Even if it means we didn't save any money this summer and we are now broker than I thought we could be. Even if I never get another blogging job. Even if I made 6,783 parenting mistakes this summer when I was aiming for practically perfect in every way (also known as The Full Mary Poppins). I dreamed that freeing up my time would make me so patient and kind and awesome that my children and I would forge a special closeness. That closeness would protect us from bad things and bad moments and bad choices. And from me standing by helplessly, as they grow up and away from me.

But of course, that can't happen. ((muffled sob)) I know that whether I work full time or choose to dedicate my life solely to the task of raising kind, responsible and well-adjusted children, I will probably still manage to screw it up. And they will still probably turn out OK, in spite of me.

10. It's not enough. It's never enough. We did a lot of great stuff this summer. But a lot of things I planned on getting under control are still out there - waiting to be dealt with. And that's just how its going to be. No matter how much time I give myself to get my shit together, it's not enough. No matter how much attention I give my children, they will want more. The laundry was done all summer, but it will just need doing again next week. I knew all these things. Now I know them more.

This is a good day. And that's fine.
It's relentless, being a grown-up. And I will probably always be bad at it. But the fact that I wake up trying every day means I'm not failing at it. At the beginning of the summer, that was not my impression. That things were out of control sometimes seemed like failure to me. On most days, I wake up eager to try harder and I now see that as kind of a victory.  It may not be a successful life by anyone else's definition. I may always be a pudgy, somewhat disorganized cluster.

But I can live with that.

xo, Lydia

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2012


  1. Oh Lydia. I love you and I'm so glad you're back. You always make me realize how lucky I am, and I mean that in a nice way! :)

  2. Glad you had a good summer! I also got to spend more time with my kids than usual (since I finally finished my darned dissertation). You know you've probably been depriving your children when, on the way home from an afternoon drive and picnic, one of them exclaims, "That was the best vacation ever!"

  3. Cheers to all the frustrated perfectionists in the world. May we always be a little bit pudgey, may our homes always be a little bit messy and may we always be a little bit psycho. And may we learn to love ourselves anyway, xoxoxoxoxo

  4. I will use this at random today. Jane, thanks for not getting me those TPS reports I asked for. You are being kind of a medium bitch.

  5. ohh, welcome back! we missed you - but in the nice oh-i'm-so-glad-lydia-is-having-a-real-break sort of way, not the whiny lyyyyyydiaaaaa-come-wipe-my-internet-bum sort of way.

    (and ... i'm excited to know that at the end of the tiny-people stage, there actually might be a light at the top of laundry mountain.)


  6. Welcome back!! It sounds like you've found your peace in the present :) A nice place to be! And I can sooo relate to the laundry accomplishment! Instead of overstuffed drawers I have to search the house high and low for every.single.hanger I own because the laundry has never been all done for all five people at the same time until this year!

  7. I am glad you had a great summer. And so so glad you are back. I swear we could be twins. I will always probably be a pudgy, disorganized cluster with bad friend making skills..... and a boobstain.

  8. You're back!! I never comment but I it feels like an old friend has come back so I have to say.... Woo hoo! Oh and you're awesome!!

  9. Who needs drawers...isn't that what laundry baskets are for?

  10. Perhaps it's the new baby hormones but that brought me to tears! I'm on maternity leave with my new babe and my 2 year old and I'm very aware this may be the only concentrated time I get with them in that way. So I'm working hard to do special things for the bigger girl and play with her and read with her (at the neglect of most other things in the house). All we can do is our best right?

    Very touching. Your kids are lucky to have you.

  11. Welcome back!!! Mommyland has missed you so much!

  12. *sob* I'M SO HAPPY YOU'RE BACK!!!!!!!!!!

  13. I am SO glad you are back! I didn't realize how much I missed you until you showed up in my blogger feed this morning :)

    I wasn't able to take that kind of time off this summer with the boys. I kind of wish I could, but I'm also kind of glad I can't right now, because I'm pretty sure I'd have killed me some kids.

  14. Welcome back! It is so refreshing to have you back.

  15. So glad to have another "rant" to read, Lydia!! It sounds like an awesome summer, and I couldn't agree more with it all, esp #10. I never feel like enough to my little ones, but you are totally right, the key is to keep loving them, keep trying. I never seem to have enough patience to go around, my laundry is never done, and my house is never clean enough, but I keep trying. Maybe one day all those things will magically fall into place, but even if they don't, my beautiful little family is enough for me. =) Welcome back!

  16. What a great post!!! Thank you for reminding us that just because everything isnt "perfect" doesn't mean everything isn't just the way it should be!!

  17. Hey, welcome back! It sounds like your summer journey was similar to mine. I am also having problems fitting all the clothes into the kids' dressers and no one has whined about lack of clean underwear in at least two months. It's such a miracle that I can't believe it's not getting media attention. High five on kicking Randy's butt!

  18. love your list and i am happy you are back!!!

  19. It's nice to have you back! It's also nice to know that as a mommy of tiny kids for the last 7 years and the next what-feels-like-ever (considering the last one isn't even born yet--c'mon November!!), there may actually come a time when my house isn't embarrassing -yeah,right- and the laundry is all done at one time -impossible.

    Just the thought is magic and gummy bears.

  20. YAYAYAYAYAY! So glad to see you back! Wtg on the laundry! that's HARD! :D

  21. I loved this post! I went back to you letter to your sister (wasn't reading you then) and read it...and then got teary and held off the ugly cry. Because I'm an oldest sister, and though our mother is alive and well, I often feel like another mom and could relate to all of those things you said to your sister. And I loved your summer learnings...and I'm so glad you're back in the blogosphere. Cuz' you make me laugh. A lot. Good to have you back!

  22. You're back! YEA!!! So glad to hear that you had a great summer. And, you're learning to crochet. Squee! It can be very relaxing. (I crochet so I don't kill people!) Now that joined us hookers (get it? hookers?) I have one word for you: Ravelry.com Best fiber arts site on the web. Bazillions of crochet patterns (a lot of them free), forums where you can talk to other obsess...erm, devoted hookers, get help, etc. I don't work for them or get anything for suggesting them, but the site is seriously awesome. Stop by if you get a chance. My Rav name is simchasjewels

  23. So happy to have you back! And to hear that you had a pretty good summer. I *totally* relate to you, so it gives me encouragement to keep plucking away at my own cluster. Today was the third day of school and not too horrible - my Cupcake only had 1 small tantrum over something ridiculous, ie asking that she come in the house before she get a second piece of cheese bread (not like yesterday's melt-o-drama over my asking her to go wash her hands, or the future-Dexter moment a few weeks ago when I wouldn't give her another popsicle and she threatened to cut me with a jagged piece of chicken wire. I COULD NOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP PEOPLE. My 4-yo threatened to cut a b!tch, and that b!tch was me!) BTW, I'm so glad you have a Cupcake too, it's like a shot of brandy to a a victim of hypothermia. I want to hear more Cupcake antics! (They are downgraded from psychopathy to antics when there is more than one Cupcake being discussed, dontcha know).

    Well, my house is NOT respectable. I still get the Shocked/Pitying Look. One lovely friend was sweet enough to say that it's "homey" - lol! But I did work outside the home all summer, that's my excuse (never mind it would still have looked bad had I been home every day - worse, probably). But I decided years ago to measure my progress in 2-year increments - I know that this year won't be significantly better than last year, but it will be way better than 2 years ago.

    We did go camping once, went to one theme park, and went on a 2-week trip to visit my inlaws. That's pretty momentous - none of that would have been possible two years ago. And I'm even still employed and still married, two things I no longer remotely take for granted. So just maybe, two years from now I'll look back on this summer and shake my head at how much better that year is going. I'll also be in hawt shape, 20 pounds lighter and free of adult acne and chin hairs. The future is awesome!

  24. Lydia:
    So glad to see you back! Great post. We had our second child a month ago and I am frantically trying to feel some modicum of control, even if it's an OCD level of arranging piles of baby supplies and toys on the coffee table. Your list reminds me that sweating the small stuff is not what it's about but the intension of being a good mom & making it a true priority is. Thanks for that.

    Also, we happened to watch a bit of Mary Poppins yesterday when Elmo in Grouchland proved too overwhelming to my 3-yr-old and you know what? That Poppins lady may be "practically perfect in every way" but she is one jealous biach when it comes to Bert. Just saying.




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