Summer's dream derailed and reclaimed (a little)

This summer has not exactly gone to plan. It started out much busier than we all would have liked, a continuation of the crazy school and sports year. And the kids got sick. Again and again. My youngest daughter is sick yet again. Because of the illness, I broke my long-standing summer rule that the kids must go outside and get exercise before any screen can be turned on. So the young ones fell into a bad habit of stumbling out of bed only to grab food to munch before one screen or another. And I fell into a bad habit of allowing it; it distracted them from their stomach virus symptoms and thus reduced whining considerably.

My eldest son reminded me of summers not so long ago, when the TV couldn't be turned on before a a certain time, when I made my kids play in the early morning sunshine after eating their breakfast at a table either within or out of doors.

He reminded me of this mainly because his younger brother adores video games, had the worst of the stomach bug and thus started playing video games at around 6 am daily. My oldest was pointing out the inequality, but it made me realize: boy, had my standards suffered!

So, after illness grew tired of toying with us, I jumped back on the better parenting bandwagon and forced all my children to play tennis and/or soccer with me in the back yard, and I got great exercise, too - was a superb role model of healthy habits, if I do say so.

We weren't quite living up to the ideal of the old, hot days. In my defense, though, there were less of them to haul outside in past summers; there was less complaining, less fussing at each other, and less resistance period.

Truly, I've tried this summer under persistently hostile circumstances that could turn Lord of the Flies at any moment!

Believe me, some days I have yearned to throw in the towel and take an eight hour nap until their father comes home, but I've done my time. I've played looooong stretches of poker with the kids during which I rejoiced with dancing, clapping and singing when my chips were finally gone. I've offered repeated games of mini pool, and then listened to my kids fight for the chance to play me first, nearly coming to blows with cue sticks and tiny, hard balls. I've read for hours and hours, and I have even forced my oldest daughter to read to me so that I could doze off and regain strength to face a few more hours of sibling warfare.

(Why don't my kids like each other? For years I made them watch all those PBS children's shows about loving your neighbor, being respectful and kind, using your creativity and helping your parents. And what did it get me? Children who fight with each other any time I force a shutdown of screens.)

Despite the initial busyness, I was grateful for my children's company after a rough first year at home with no little ones during the day. I felt like I had rediscovered my meaning in reading, playing, and laughing with them.

Then illness and infighting derailed us.


I feel sorry for my city kids. I've felt this before. Earlier in the summer I was telling them about Paca's (my dad) rules for his kids about when we could start swimming in the creek (not before May) and about when we were to get out of the water for a break (when our lips turned blue). That creek was incredibly cold, but the stretch of it that ran under the culverts of Warf Road was all ours, a little slice of gurgling paradise beneath tall, broad-leaved trees. I reminisced about the rope swing, too - I miss it all still!

My kids don't have a creek or a rope swing. They don't get to run down a long lane and climb the bluff on Mr. Spann's property, or hike between his slow-moving cows to the blackberry patch. There are no nearby woods for them to explore, in which they can build forts from dead limbs or sit silently observing wildlife.

And I feel sorry for them. They don't have what I had, and I wish they did.

I tell myself that they have other things that come with being in the city - city pools with tall, twisting slides, more visits with friends, public parks, theme parks - but in my heart I think these are poor replacements for nature.

I wonder if they would agree?

Last week I took them out to recapture summer. We went to a riparian reserve in the city and saw dozens of bunnies and dragonflies, long-legged egrets and herons, and some beautiful, overgrown trees. And there was a cooling desert breeze that blessed our presence among nature's bounty.

And I saw them dig for "dinosaur bones" in a huge shaded sandbox. Even my 13 year old joined in, pitching sand over his shoulder as he cheerfully helped the little kids with their discovery. I smiled.

This is what it's all about, I thought.

Next, I'll write about how our family took a beautiful, if sometimes exasperating, hike to a lovely creek in the Arizona wilderness.


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