Summer time! School holidays … for seven weeks! Most days feel like Groundhog Day but I really can’t complain because Switzerland in good summer weather is the best place to be. We have so many options – the lake, the mountains, indoor playgrounds, outdoor playgrounds, the pool and I’ve arranged some swimming, ballet, art and sport camps here and there.
The children are on holiday but I am not. This time of year is always intense and, as the French say, chargé (busy, full, hectic). I’m privileged to stay at home with my children. It is a special gift and I treasure it but the extra summer activity, my faulty thyroid and Al’s long working hours mean that every night I crash into bed like a felled oak.
My approach to the summer holidays is that we need to get out the house and at least do one thing every day. A challenge in the holidays is that Kate’s routine and opportunities to sleep go out the window. Not that I had a routine to start with, mind you. Kate tags along, catnaps in the car and withers off to sleep wherever she is whenever she’s desperate. One day I was in the kitchen preparing her food, then I turned around and …
I’ve learned that when I’m tired, it is essential to keep moving. On my sluggish days, I must stay busy because the time passes faster and I’m not tempted by a quick power kip on the couch. Once I lie down, it’s hard to get back up. Chilling horizontally is no longer possible during the day because my children think, ‘Yay! Human trampoline!’
Before I had children, I craved a run or some form of exercise every day. When I didn’t have exercise, I felt pent up and agitated. It was as if my body begged for it. Ever since Megan was born, in August 2012, I haven’t felt that racehorse-in-a-cage feeling again. It’s not as if I don’t exercise. I walk a lot. I’m always bending, running, lifting and carrying. It’s just that I haven’t felt the need to formally exercise in six years. If I did an aerobics class, I would probably collapse.
I complain about the winter paraphernalia but I realize there is a lot of that in summer too – costumes, swimming t-shirts, sun cream, hats, slops, armbands, sunglasses and let’s not forget the bloody snacks. Megan and Jessica are insatiably hungry at all times, except during formal meals. They require constant sustenance. ‘Snacks!’ they will exclaim within a few minutes of settling at any venue. ‘Where are the snacks?’ I have to prepare healthy snacks and picnics because otherwise they demand ice creams. We can’t have lollies and ice creams every day. Once they’ve claimed the snacks, they then wander around the pool eating popcorn, sit on the swing with a container of pretzels or jump from rock to rock at the lake while holding their watermelon.
Remember I said I needed to make the garden more interesting to encourage the children to play outside on their own? We now have a path of stones, a new flower bed packed with wood chips and a trampoline. It appears my theory was correct because the children now spend about an extra 12 minutes playing outside every day.
Sometimes Megan and Jessica play quietly together and that is pure magic. It’s beautiful, like heaven on earth. There is no other way to describe it. This never lasts long. When I think, ‘This is too good to be true’, it is and I usually hear a bang or a crash or slap slap and a thump, silence and then someone starts weeping and walking towards me for mediation and a cuddle.
Lately I’ve been thinking about parenting and my approach to it. My theory is that one of the reasons modern day parents find parenting so heavy-going is because we treat children like little emperors and so they start to act like them too. The message we give the children is that we exist to serve them. In the old days, kids were put to work early on. A three year old like Jessica would gather eggs, feed the chickens, clean the stables and possibly carry a pail of water up from the river. My children can’t even walk a few steps without bellowing for snacks or demanding to be carried, let alone lug a bucket of water. Back in the day, the family was a team, they helped each other and everyone pulled their weight in the household. Yesterday I asked Megan three times to simply turn off the kitchen light and she looked at me as if I crawled out of cheese. I’m convinced that parenting is not supposed to be so tiring. We must be doing it wrong.
I recognise that my disciplining technique needs work. I keep going with the patience of Job until, in one random moment, I crack and go batshit crazy, like absolutely mental. Recently Jessica sat on the leather couch in the lounge and smeared expensive, top of the range sun cream on her body so she looked white like a snowman. I lost it because I have told her repeatedly not to do that. I shouted at her in a tone that left her quivering at my feet. She still talks about ‘the day that Mommy shouted at me about the sun cream.’ She was so traumatized by me that on the Sunday after the incident, she said to Al, ‘Can we go to church and leave Mommy at home?’ That upset me. I have no clue how to get children to consistently obey instructions. I can’t do it effectively. I’ve said to Megan and Jessica, ‘How come you expect me to listen to you but you never listen to me?’ However, I’ve realized that more than I want them to listen, I don’t want to be the sort of mother that loses it, who is calm and then goes nuts and screams like a demented banshee. It’s just not worth the emotional fall out.
One of my friends has a brilliant parenting technique. She separates the person from the behaviour and teaches her children that their behaviour is something they choose and can control. So, when her children misbehave, she won’t make statements about their character such as, ‘You are a naughty boy’ and ‘Stop being disobedient’. Instead she says, ‘Why did you choose that unacceptable behaviour?’ I do this too now, and I like it. You can unconditionally love the person, but not necessarily the behaviour and it’s important to establish a clear, consistent boundary between the two.
I don’t think society does much to help us parents. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but the village is becoming toxic. First of all, the speed and accessibility of technology means we’re distracted from distraction by distraction. We are glued to our phones as if we are nuns clutching our rosary beads. We think that we have to share ourselves in order to be ourselves. An experience didn’t happen unless you took a photo of it. Relationships are about breadth, not depth. It’s no wonder the teenagers I know are all depressed and confused.
I think the biggest challenge to my children’s generation is relativism. Morality and the rules that govern it have become relative to a particular framework, such as our ethnicity, our upbringing, or the culture or historical moment into which we were born. Morality is now a personal opinion, your personal judgement or viewpoint. You believe what you want, I will believe what I want. You have your rules but I have my rules. There’s no absolute truth anymore. Everything is right and good, as long as you are happy.
Two of my friends recently posted on Facebook about the importance of gender neutral education for our children. They advocated using interchangeable gender pronouns when reading stories to kids. It freaked me out. I don’t want my children to think you can choose your gender or that gender is fluid and interchangeable. I’m profoundly disturbed by this so I discussed it with some other friends and one of them said in all seriousness, ‘But think about it Julie. Who said only women can wear dresses?’ How on earth am I supposed to keep my children sane in this crazy world?