Last week was spring break for both of my kids and, honestly, I was dreading it. I never look forward to breaks from school, because they leave me with 9 uninterrupted hours of kid time to fill each day before my Smartner gets home. Hours that, when not properly filled, bring with them bickering, whining, and frustration. Because of this, breaks from school have traditionally meant major clashes between my Smartlings and me. Where I prefer unstructured down time with periodic outings, they prefer structure and remaining very busy, with periodic TV time. I’d be happy to read all day, but obviously that’s not going to happen with a 5 year old and a 7 year old. They’re still young children with a lot of energy to expend. One wants to ride bikes, the other wants to play at the park and while these are both activities that each child enjoys, they will insist that they will suffer if made to participate in the activity of their brother’s choice. They both want nonstop playdates and activities, and every morning starts with “What are we doing today?” before I’ve even had a cup of coffee. All this nonstop go-go-go and do-do-do leaves me feeling drained and testy.
This break happened to coincide with my oldest Smartling’s 7th birthday, so I decided to try to plan a full day of birthday fun for him with friends and the zoo and a picnic lunch. Then we had plans Friday to go to a local farm with buddies, and we also happened to be invited to play with good friends on Monday. This gave us 3 days of exciting plans with friends, and 2 days of down time. And I was still nervous it was all going to crash and burn. But it didn’t.
Smarties, it was a success. We had fun. Lots of it. And I was shocked.
Here’s the thing: As I admitted last week, I’m all done with fulltime parenting after 7 years. Without the 4-6 hours per week of kidless time that the Smartlings’ schools give me, I know I’m likely to lose it. My store of patience has been tapped and most of the time I’m fresh out. So, to be frank, I was expecting spring break to suck.
It didn’t suck.
Not only did it not suck… I HAD FUN. The kids had fun. We went and did and saw and played, but we also enjoyed downtime together. It was the perfect balance.
I think there were a couple reasons behind this. First, we had playdates and plans with people I love, too, so it felt like a treat for me as much as it did for the kids. Smartner was even able to take the day off to spend with us on our oldest Smartling’s birthday. Second, my kids have finally reached that magical time when I can say, “Go play,” AND THEY DO. At each of these get-togethers, the kids were off playing and enjoying each other with minimal refereeing from me and the other parents. AND, with other parents around, we shared the parenting load. YOU GUYS. IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE. Who knew?
So, the combination of these two situations meant that while the kids were playing and having a wonderful time, I had ample time to hang out and talk with my people, too. Sure, we were chasing 6 or 7 tiny humans and distributing snacks and making sure no one got lost or climbed in with the animals, but we were together. I got to catch up with friends and enjoy myself, while also providing fun, interesting activities for my kids. Everyone won.
Rubbing snorty baby piggy bellies at the farm didn’t hurt, either.
Then, on the down days, we were all feeling fulfilled from the busy fun days, so we cooked together and made art and played games and watched Star Wars, and the kids played together without much fighting and everyone was happy. I made my own pizza dough and pizza sauce, and my children actually ate it.
It was pretty perfect. The kids were happier than normal—especially my oldest birthday boy, who’s had a rough year and was visibly and wonderfully thrilled. Everybody had a little freedom while simultaneously spending time together, and we were all able to maintain this elevated, loving mood for the full week. I’m still pretty blown away by the entire experience.
But here’s what I learned—and it goes back to the self-care song that Christina and I are constantly bellowing—things can’t go well for the kids if they’re not going well for us. We can maintain for a while and we can make things work, but we’re human. And kids are human, too. They sense stress, they sense unhappiness, they sense when things are out of whack. And then they feel out of whack. So, as selfish as it might sound, taking care of yourself helps you take care of your kids. The kids were happy because they got to play with their friends and do fun things. I was happy because I got to play with my friends and do fun things. And we enjoyed each other because we weren’t right on top of each other all the livelong day. Parents have needs that have to be met, too, and martyring and sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of the children doesn’t actually benefit anyone. We need to feed ourselves—physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually—just like we need to feed our kids. And when we do, we’re all happier for it.
Now that we’re back to our regular routine, everyone’s jumped right back into their fussy little patterns. We run late in the mornings, we snip at each other over breakfast, we beg the kids to get their shoes on for the 17th time while they ignore us for the 17th time. But… the benefits of last week are still hanging on. I have more patience than normal. I’ve been able to maintain my cool in situations when I’d normally become exasperated. The kids have been easier to break out of a fit with simple words of encouragement or affection. One good week has had lasting benefits that have migrated into the next week, and it’s made this week a little better and a little easier, too.
So now I feel like I know how to make it through the summer with my sanity intact, possibly for the first time in 7 years. I know how to balance what I need with what the kids need and I think, perhaps, that we can not only make it, but enjoy it. This is the last summer we’ll have together before both kids are in school fulltime and I want it to be a good one. It might not ever be like this again.
I’m still nervous. Two months is a long time, and we’ll have nothing but free time together… and I’ll still need to find time to work without any kidless time. But, if I can model these summer months on this spring break, I really feel like we can enjoy our time together more than we have in a while. If I can plan time with my friends and theirs, time to run around outside and see things and do things and be busy, and then plan times to just be together and enjoy some restful days, we can do this.
(I’m not thinking about when I’m going to work yet… DON’T RUIN IT FOR ME.)
We’re gonna make it after all.
I should probably get a Mary Tyler Moore hat, just in case.