Perhaps the biggest lesson parenting has taught me is not to judge. I never understood parents who did the happy dance at the bus stop on the first day of school. For years I happily spent my days with my kid, homeschooling, and enjoyed the vast majority of those days. I was judgey about those bus stop happy-dancers.
But then life humbled me as it often does. When I began to parent kids with vastly different personalities than mine, it got ever so much harder and pretty dang ugly. Two years ago we found a really good school situation for my most challenging child. Which was awesome, except that holiday breaks and summer felt so hard. Last summer I managed not to pull my hair out, but not by much, and probably only because I sent them to day camp a bunch of those summer weeks.
This summer needed to be different.
I knew summer would be extra challenging this year with me having major surgery the week after school ended. With Mama out of commission, even for things like laundry, I knew everyone’s sanity would need preserving. I brainstormed and made note of things that helped on regular school-year days, and what seemed to cause us the most trouble.
I’m delighted to tell you we’ve had our best summer ever. I even managed to be FUN sometimes, doing things like building sand creatures on the beach and spontaneously suggesting an ice cream stop just because. If you’ve read here for long, you know that’s a serious victory because I’ve struggled hard since the beginning of my parenting journey with our youngest two.
How we survived (& enjoyed!) summer:
1) Tiny house rooms.
I’m all about small houses. We purposely and significantly downsized (by about half) when we moved here, and I think it’s a crazy American thing for every kid to have his/her own room. But with all that being said, our kids fought all the time and on the rare occasions they weren’t arguing or coming to actual blows, they were loud and rowdy. Adding another room onto the house was not something we had any desire to do, but something had to give.
We decided we’d build a wall right down the middle of their room and create “tiny house” rooms for each of them. We transformed the closet into a desk and bookcase area for her, and left his bed high from their previous custom Ken-built bunk beds so he has room to play on the floor underneath. It has made SUCH a difference in life in our house. There’s still paint to touch up and curtains to make, but I’ll share photos when we’re all done.
2) Physical activity.
I’m a personal trainer so of course I’m a big fan of exercise for a number of reasons, but that’s not why I got my kids moving more this summer. We did it because I’ve finally learned that my girl in particular needs to MOVE. Just like my workouts help me de-stress and deal with life, exercise helps her, too. As I learn more about the brain-body connection with trauma, I’m realizing even more how important it is. I plan to start doing yoga with her soon, too.
Since I couldn’t run for quite a while after surgery, I started going for walks and took the kids along. We go to the beach when we can because they can run around and even get sensory input because it’s a giant sandbox! I’ve been taking them with me to my SilverSneakers classes, too, and they workout alongside the adults (who adore them, by the way). As a bonus, they get to practice coordination and following directions and learning to feel how their body moves in a different way than during free play. Ken takes them for long bike rides sometimes on the weekend, and occasionally I’ll make up a workout for them here at home if we can’t get outside and it’s not a class day.
Another bonus to physical activity: they sleep better at night.
3) Books, books, books.
I started audiobooks with my boy during the school year because he loves books but his reading skills aren’t yet up to his interest level. We’ve continued them through the summer and both kids have LOVED them. The entire Henry Huggins series was a big hit, and they’ve enjoyed The Boxcar Children, too.
My girl reads well, and needs to keep her brain occupied if her body isn’t, so I’ve been selecting books from our homeschool shelves for her. It has surprised her that she’s enjoyed every book I’ve given her so far. I’m introducing her to more classics than she tends to read when she chooses for herself. Two she particularly enjoyed were Heidi, and Follow My Leader.
. . . . . . . . . .
While I do credit these as three keys to helping us all enjoy our home life this summer, it’s also due to a lot of time and work we’ve put in for the past five years. I have more to share another day about how I feel therapy this year helped us, too. It’s still not all rainbows and sunshine around here, but we don’t have tornadoes ripping through anymore, and that’s big progress.