Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer in the Suburbs

I am one week into summer vacation and it is less a summer of love and more a summer of Sam. The boy and I had a lovely month without preschool, without his sister, and we lazed it away in a haze of books, trains, PBS, and play dates. It was not a hard life. In the morning we went to the gym or ran errands. Lunch was followed by quiet time or nap time, his preference, then some playtime until we went to pick up his sister. In the afternoons, things tended to get rowdy between the two, usually one bout of tears, a few quality minutes of sharing and kindness, then dinner, bath, books, and bed. It wasn’t too bad because they weren’t together for that many hours.

And then, summer vacation began.

My kids, like most, prefer structure. Give them an empty day and they try to fill it with murder and destruction. My son’s last question to me at night is to ask what we are going to do the next day. My daughter chooses her wardrobe based on the day’s events so prior knowledge is essential. However, the first week of vacation, I made the rookie mistake of assuming that since the week prior had been a madcap dash of parties and dance commitments, and the week ahead would be spent in a family-themed episode of Say Yes to the Stress, that a week of calm was in order. It’s not like we sat home and stared at each other. We went to the movies, we went to a birthday party, we went to play with friends, we went to the toy store, we went to a picnic, and we even went to a local pool. Do those sound like empty days?

unfortunately, they were not busy enough. They still managed to try to kill each other a dozen times per day. There were screaming matches, WWF-style throw downs, copious amounts of tears, and some actual bloodshed. If one asked for grapes, the other wanted blueberries and then fought over which one wanted which. If one stopped to read quietly, the other would stomp like a T-Rex all across the books. Using the stamp and ink pads resulted in a Smurf for a child, using scissors and paper made it look like an Origami convention gone horribly awry, and anything that required them to actually clean up after themselves ensured a Chernobyl-level explosion. In short, my kids were right bastards.

I did what any parent would do – I complained to my friends. Luckily, one gave me the fantastic suggestion of creating a fun jar. Just take regular every day fun things, like riding a bike or breaking out the Play-Doh, write them down on slips of paper, put them in a jar, and when a kid inevitably whines that he or she is bored, out comes the jar, out comes a slip and they get to do that activity. Enforced fun – what’s not to like? We divided our slips of paper into three categories: inside, outside, and special events. This gave me the ability to keep us indoors on the hottest days and help monitor the amount of money spent on crazy activities. Kids may bowl free this summer, but that’s about all that’s free. Given a choice, my kids would go out to eat every night, which I am sure has nothing to do with my cooking and everything to do with the novelty of getting both M&M’s and ice cream for dessert. So far, we are still working on the choices. I vetoed play dates as an option because I like to set them up in advance. They vetoed nap time because, really, who wants to pull that as an activity? I may keep some blank paper and palm some of the more date-specific rewards such as the dollar movies, open plays at indoor sports centers, and other random activities.

We have a crazy busy week ahead of us with incoming visits from out-of-town guests and outgoing events where we are the incoming guests, so the jar won’t go into effect until next week where I can test its effectiveness. Currently, I’m cautiously optimistic about its success. My only hope is that I don’t have to add a fourth category that includes such choices as Sam Adams, Captain Morgan, and Jack Daniels or worse, Cooper, Virtua, and CHOP.

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