A while ago I was at a checkup when the nurse asked me what my kids were doing this summer. "Oh, they're home with me," I said. "How nice! You must be having so much fun," she enthused, smiling brightly. There was a beat, and I realized she was waiting for me to agree.
I thought about the days since school had let out, how they seem to have accumulated at least 17 extra hours, hours in which it's incredibly difficult for me to concentrate or run errands or relax. I thought about how it's rained at least 75 percent of the time, and how the house is always a disaster zone of toys and garbage and random articles of clothing. I thought about the logistical hoops I had jumped to find childcare so I could make it to a freaking Pap smear, which, come on, I wasn't looking forward to one bit.
"Yeah," I said. "It's been great."
What, was I going to tell her the TRUTH? And watch that delighted smile slide right off her friendly, just-making-small-talk-while-she-unwraps-the-speculum face?
The thing is, being home with my kids all day every day hasn't exactly been great at all. Sure, the summery things about summer are nice (although I live in Oregon where after a gorgeous sunny spring, the clouds rolled in for like a month starting, no shit, the exact day school let out -- before flipping overnight to scorching humid temperatures). The weekends, with our camping trips and cabin visits and travels, are downright awesome. But being home with the kids day in and day out? It's been a hundred times harder than I thought it would be.
It's not like this is the first summer I've done this, but it's the first summer when my two boys have been 5 and almost-8 years old, and you guys, they are so much louder than they used to be. THEY ARE SO LOUD, EVERY MINUTE OF THE DAY, FROM THE INSTANT THEY ROLL OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING UNTIL THE BLESSED MOMENT WHEN WE TUCK THEM IN AND -- OH THANK YOU JESUS -- SHUT THEIR DOORS AT NIGHT, THAT THE ONLY WAY I CAN THINK OF TO ADEQUATELY CONVEY THE AMOUNT OF NOISE THEY CREATE IS TO WRITE THIS SENTENCE IN ALL CAPS.
The only time they aren't literally bouncing off the walls during the day is if I let them sit slackjawed in front of the television. As soon as the creeping sense of guilt gets too hard to ignore and I perform a brisk clap and say, "Okay! That's enough cartoons!" -- they're off to the races.
"Send them outside!" you're saying. Believe me, I do. We have a huge-ass yard that's perfect for hours of peaceful play. Why, I remember being a kid and how I could spend entire afternoons outside, playing and pretending and utterly lost in my own world. It was magical.
However, either I'm remembering that through the distorting filter of fond nostalgia, or my ability to mentally transform myself into the Black Stallion -- so wild and untamed! Watch how I toss my head and whicker before I charge down this uninhabited island beach where I've found myself after the steamer went down off the coast of North Africa driveway -- had something to do with me being an only child. (Or maybe it's that I was a little weird about horses?)
Anyway, I send them outside and three minutes later I have to rush out there because one kid's got out the garden shears and he's striding off in a purposeful manner and oh shit that's not good. Or someone's crying because someone got hit in the head with a soccer ball. Or someone pushed someone else into the sprinkler. Or they're scrambling up the grape trellis because the 7-year-old has talked the 5-year-old into being a pirate and walking the plank. ("What, Mom? He's FINE.")
They come inside and they're like mini King Midases, only instead of gold, everything they touch instantly gets coated with crumbs, LEGOs, and broken McDonald's toys. I tell them to clean and it turns into a fight. I send them back outside and they press their snouts against the door and whine to come in ("IT'S RAAAAAAINING" got immediately replaced by "IT'S HOOOTTTTTTT"). I reluctantly drag them to the grocery store, reminding them to behave -- and I emerge half an hour later, my hair pure white and my brain visibly pulsing from my eyesockets.
Meanwhile, I've got deadlines to meet. I hunch over my computer and try to ignore the cacophony of noise as best I can, but oh god. I didn't make any childcare or camp plans for this summer, and you guys, it was THE BIGGEST MISTAKE.
I thought I could balance it better, I really did. I thought they could watch TV in the mornings while I worked, and then we'd have the rest of the day to do summer activities together and it would be, as the nurse said, so much fun. Being home with my 5-year-old all year wasn't so bad, after all.
The problem was, I didn't factor in the result of two school-age brothers being home together. Each of my boys, when separated from the other, is charming, well-behaved, and pleasant to be around. Combined, they're napalm.
I love my kids beyond all reason, I really do. But oh my god, it's going to be a long, long, long, long, long, long summer.
Do you find summers to be ... um, "challenging"?
Image via Linda Sharps