We Need To Discuss Your Summer Plans

“Summer plans,” or – as I like to call them – “just another group of months with the same old shit only hotter” are steadfastly approaching, and I feel like we need to discuss them.

We were at the doctor the other day, my 15 year old was having her yearly physical. The doctor asked what our summer plans are and the crickets chirped. Summer plans? The concept is lost on me.

It’s been in conversation for about two months now.

It’s a woefully tiresome topic, because – inevitably – it becomes one of those instances in which I feel like I have to explain myself to people. Twenty minutes into it, I’ve gotten nowhere. Usually this is evidenced by whomever I am talking with clearly not understanding what I’m saying, and changing the subject with something like “well there’s always room for spontaneous summer plans!”

And herein lies the first problem I have any time people ask me questions: I can never just give simple answers. Somewhere along the line, I conditioned myself to always justify what I am saying. In reality, I don’t have to explain my or my family’s reasons behind what we do, or in this case don’t do, to anyone.

We don’t have summer plans. Why not? Because we don’t want to.

Because we homeschool, we might be a little unique. My kids are around all the time during the school year, so I can’t exactly identify with the whole you-people-are-driving-Mom-crazy-for-these-two-months-every-year thing.

My kids drive me crazy all year long.

So in terms of camps or classes, or special outings: there’s really no need for it. Why would I put my children in a day camp that is the older-kid-equivalent to daycare when there is literally no need for me to do so whatsoever? It isn’t like they’re getting bored and need to be kept entertained. Or they are driving me batty and I need them out of the house. Summer for other people is our lives, every day of the year (except there’s schoolwork in there).

This is the second problem, although I wouldn’t call it a “problem,” so much as a circumstance. Our circumstance, because we homeschool, is that my kids are around all the time. I don’t need to keep them entertained, or do all kinds of extra activities because they are driving me crazy in the house. These things (the stuff we do, including the fun stuff) is peppered here and there through the entire year, because we aren’t beholden to a school district calendar.

That’s just the way it is, and yet no one (and I mean no one) can seem to grasp that concept.

The third thing worth mentioning is my husband’s work schedule. One of the reasons we homeschool is to accommodate his career in film. It’s hectic, it’s unpredictable, and it’s overnight. Anyone that’s ever worked in the film industry knows that summer and holidays are the busiest times for them, so vacations around then are not always in the cards.

If I’m being entirely honest, vacation isn’t really something we normally do at any time of the year, either. He’s just usually too busy, and when he’s not busy he’s catching up on sleep. What kind of a vacation involves Dad sleeping half the day, and keeping everyone up all night because he can’t (and shouldn’t) change his sleep schedule for the couple of days?

(And also, if we’re being REALLY HONEST… film work doesn’t exactly cover the cost of exotic cruises and trips to Hawaii for 5 + my dad.)

At a tennis match the other day, the mother of a couple kids my kids play with told me that she’s decided since her husband is working a lot this summer, she’s going to maybe just do the craziest thing ever and take the kids somewhere on her own! Can you imagine?

I take my kids places on our own all the time. If we waited for my husband to be available, we would be waiting years behind our graves.

This, I think, is a suburban thing: that families should do it all together, and if they don’t there’s something crazy or exotic or weird about it. The reality of it is that there is absolutely nothing unique about our situation at all. So many people have so many different circumstances to their jobs/homes/lives, it just is what it is.

And yet… this is the fourth thing. I waffle back and forth between wanting to live my life and let my kids live theirs; and feeling the guilting and the pressures that our culture has me conditioned to believe, which is that we should all be patiently waiting to live our own lives with our hands folded neatly in our laps for my husband to be available.

Except that he’s living his life by working in his dream career. This is literally what he dreamed about in childhood, went to college for, and has worked all these years to achieve. So we should not live while he… lives?

Why do we worry so much about summer plans anyway? Maybe this is just some weird stage of life I am in, where your plans end up largely dictated by your children’s plans, forcing everyone into these specific time frames to create family memories and – oh I don’t know – live life.

Or maybe it’s something bigger. Like a status thing. I remember a movie once where the guy says in a snooty voice: “where do you summer… I SAID WHERE do you summer?” The concept is lost on me.

My summer plans are the same as my every day plans. My kids do schoolwork. They do chores. They play tennis. The baby and I watch Story Bots and play with blocks. I cook. I clean. Sometimes we go to museums and libraries, some days we binge watch Supernatural.

And I think I’m much happier and more content than a lot of people. We don’t save life’s moments for special occasions or the summer months, when conditions are perfect. We live them every day.

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We Are Putting Too Much Responsibility On Our Kids

I have three kids.

Most of you know this, if you are new to my blog …well now you know. Two are girls, aged 15 and 11. And my one boy is 2.

My 15 year old has been gearing up to get her drivers permit this fall, and thinking she would go for the driver’s license right away upon turning 16.

But as the months have inched closer to her written permit exam, she’s made a lot of other decisions with regards to her education that ultimately made her choose to put driving on the back burner.

That’s a long winded way of saying that she’s decided to graduate early and wait on driving until closer to 17. Maybe later.

Beyond having homeschooled since she was in 1st grade (so being pretty ahead of the game all along anyway), she really needs some time between graduation and life to figure out exactly what she wants to do and how she wants to go about doing it. We don’t live in a time where kids can just go off to college and everything works out perfectly …kids have high debts and shit jobs when they graduate if they don’t have a clear path in mind. And a lot of times, they do all of that to go into a field that didn’t even need the degree (and high debt).

Doing this will give her a couple years to figure out her real plan for college and/or beyond, and she can start that next step in life (whatever it looks like) at the same time as the rest of her peers. Because she’s a minor she can take some for-credit courses at the community college for free, she can explore volunteer and internship opportunities…and after years of homeschooling with minimal breaks and no summer vacations, she can also relax (for once). It’s a win, whatever way you look at it.

So the exam to accomplish early graduation as a homeschooler in California is administered the March after she turns 16. You guys see the timing is such that it really does make sense for her to focus 100% on that.

And after all, what’s the rush on the driver’s license anyway, right?

When I started mentioning it to people as they brought up her driving in less than a year, I got a backlash from a handful of people (3, to be exact) in one of two veins.

Either 1) they assumed it was really me saying she should wait, in other words sheltering her from the big bad scary roads and growing up; or 2) her not taking responsibility for herself.

People just can’t make decisions for anything anymore without someone waiting in the wings to criticize them.

I shouldn’t even reply to the first point. I wasn’t allowed to drive until I was 17, and in fact California has many laws that restrict what and who can be in the car with teenagers at the outset because of the high incidences of teenage deaths behind the wheel. I am not the catalyst behind her decision whatsoever; but if I were, it wouldn’t be abnormal.

And anyway, my kid my rules.

But to be clear: it was her decision. Hers. Not mine. HERS. 100%.

And it was a decision I found to be rooted in maturity beyond her years. Not all kids would decide on school and studying over the thrill of getting behind the wheel.

As to the responsibility.

Even if it were for fear or not being ready for that level of responsibility, what is this idea that kids under 18 are not still… kids? That their feelings or fears or concerns are completely invalid and they should just man up and grow up?

Repeat after me: they are still children.

And beyond that, has anyone taken stock – truly – of how much responsibility falls upon our older kids, today, as a culture? The shooter drills. The intense college admissions competition. AP exams. Competitiveness in sports. Plus looks, bullying, dating, peer suicide, all-time high incidences of mental illness…

Granted some of that is eliminated because my kids homeschool. But in many ways (because my kids are still very social, have relatively large friend groups, are out in the community daily, and have many of the same goals as their peers), they experience it all to varying degrees.

And in the case of my children, you also have to consider how much responsibility my two older daughters already have and take of their own accord around the house (which, I am sure, is common in other households as well as the business world molds and changes, and local, 9-5 jobs for parents have largely ceased to exist).

My husband works overnight shifts for a marketing firm that contracts with Disney. He’s an editor, so it means long hours, unpredictable hours, and a lot of overtime. When he gets home in the morning, he goes to bed and sleeps all day until it’s time to go back and start it over again. He works weekends and holidays often, and he almost never uses his vacation time. He basically is uninvolved in our lives unless he can actually be off for Christmas or Easter (but of course then he still sleeps half the day, either catching up or just on that different schedule).

That leaves me as the sole caretaker, housekeeper, financial planner, grocery shopper, child care provider, car maintenancer, schedule manager, meal, snack and every in between preparer, launderer, problem solver, medical care provider, educator, ride-giver…and so on…

My kids, being more responsible than some adults I know, have taken it upon themselves to pitch in for the sake of my husband’s dreams and my sanity.

It’s killing me to allow, and yet sometimes I feel I have no other choice; and even other times I realize that letting your kids have responsibility around the home has been proven in study after study to raise kids more capable of managing their lives as fully formed adults.

So my daughter doesn’t want to take on the “responsibility” of studying for taking the exam for her drivers permit, and the behind the wheel test and driving so soon, on top of everything else on her plate.

She cleans up my toddler’s toys every night when I put him to bed.

She helps cook dinner when I’m giving him a bath or nursing him (because, yes, I am still nursing my 2 year old).

She and her sister clean up the poop in the bathtub when he inevitably turns it into his large, personal toilet.

My 11 year old isn’t without added responsibility at home as well. She takes out the trash, regularly, when my husband has been too busy to change all the cans. She also helps keep the laundry moving, does dishes without being asked, and plays with her brother or feeds him breakfast when I’m driving my 15 year old to an appointment or tennis lesson.

Once a week, my kids and I spend hours going through all the laundry that has been done and sort, organize, fold, and put it all away. When my husband sees us doing it, he says “just leave mine on the bed.”

And this is the thing that I want to impress on all of you: my kids are not unique from other kids, and the amount that is expected of them today is phenomenal.

I get it. There was a time when kids did all of this and more. But there are two parents in this home, two adults responsible for it all, and my kids are at the very least helping to carry the load for one that is largely absent. Because they are already more responsible than a lot of adults I know.

So to suggest that my daughter needs to “start taking responsibility for herself,” and that the driving thing is just a sign that she isn’t doing that is – in a word – laughable. And this is what I am largely seeing happen with a lot of her and my 11 year old’s peers: that in the face of already doing it all and more, adults are still pushing the vice down even harder and demanding more of them.

And we wonder why so many kids have mental health problems now.

I feel like we have forgotten that under 18, they are still kids. And yet, at the end of the day, so many of them seem to have it more together than a lot of us did at that age. More together than a lot of us do today.

Why Can’t I Be A Parent With A Lot Of Time On My Hands?

Dinosaurs

There are a couple of things going around the Facebook these days and I don’t like them. Not one bit.

One is about these parents of boys that make their action figure dinosaurs “get into trouble” every night in the month of November. I’ve had like five friends share it in the last day. Sometimes the dinosaurs just play with the fruit bowl. Whatever, that’s cute. Other times they get into an entire roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, or crack open a bunch of eggs.

The other is about people’s oh so clever Elf on the Shelf ideas for this Christmas. You know, you wake up and the kids find that the elf has gotten into the cookie dough and made a mess in the kitchen. Or he’s holding hands with Barbie in the dream house. Some dumb shit like that.

At that point I start to ask just what in the fuck is going on here.

First and foremost, we’re kind of deviating from the original purpose of these things, especially in the case of the Elf on the Shelf. They didn’t create and market that ugly, horrifying elf just so that people can have some mischievous character running around the house. Making a mess. Upping the ante for the rest of us mediocre parents, so to speak. They marketed it as a way to keep your kids under control in the month before Christmas.

If the elf is on the shelf, Santa is coming. If the elf is off the shelf, he’s not because you’ve been bad.

If the elf is dry humping Barbie in the dream house and porking down sausage links while raiding the liquor cabinet… well, just what in the hell does that mean?

I think we’re sort of confusing kids here.

Moreover, who with any sense of morality wastes money and food like that? When I saw the photograph of those dinosaur action figures with an entire package of destroyed eggs all around them, I thought – man, that’s like three breakfasts in our house. Sure, a dozen eggs is around $3 – or whatever – but what would a starving family living on the streets, or dying children in the third world, think if they saw that picture? I don’t mean to get all philanthropic up in here, but I’m pretty sure that being so wasteful is why (1) the world is completely falling apart, and (2) people hate Americans so much.

Lastly – and perhaps the most compelling – who the fuck with children has so much time on their hands to do this kind of shit? No seriously. Like… seriously, seriously. I barely have the time to take a shower, let alone figure out ways to make that sneaky elf get into trouble again. From the moment I get up in the morning, until the minute I pass out in a pile of messy hair, unkempt pajamas that I’ve been wearing all day, and my husband’s slobber, I’m taking care of people. I’m cooking. I’m cleaning. I’m taking periodic breaks to dick around on Pinterest or the blog – but you’d better believe I’m doing something else like cooking dinner or vacuuming at the same, exact time. Or answering homeschooling questions. Or wrapping Christmas presents.

Laundry! Don’t forget the laundry.

What I’m saying here is that there is little time for relaxation. And after kiddie bedtime, I have to … wait for it … fold the laundry and pick up the shit that didn’t get picked up during the day. And do the dishes, because I was so busy helping with math or running around from extra curricular to extra curricular.

Why can’t I be a parent with a lot of time on my hands? A parent that has the time to whip up a batch of cookie dough and then carefully and strategically make a planned mess for the elf on the shelf to be blamed for. Just to clean it up in the morning and come up with another plan for the next night. Every night in the month of December. Or to come up with ideas for my kids’ action dinosaurs or Barbie dolls to get into trouble over. Why can’t I have the time to wrap dolls in toilet paper and smash dinosaurs into a dozen eggs? And then the time to clean it all up the next day?

It sounds a little ridiculous when you put it like that, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s why I don’t have the time, or the money, or the interest really, to be one of these over-the-top parents that just can’t let go and be mediocre like the rest of us.

But is it really mediocrity? Or is it just common sense?