For months, I have been preparing to write my next blog, mulling over ideas as I wash dishes and fold laundry. My prose would be inspired, meaningful, and poignant. It would reach right in and grab the heart of my reader. I was ready to write. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, my world was turned upside down. I was blindsided by something that completely incapacitated me. What was this horrid event, you ask? Two words: Summer Vacation.
Yep. That’s right, folks. For the last two weeks, I have listened to obsessive diatribes about all things Transformers and screaming matches over who gets which Nerf gun. I have uttered such phrases as, “This is the last time I am going to tell you to GET OFF YOUR BROTHER’s HEAD,” and “Take that placemat OFF the dog and put it back on the table. It is not a saddle and she is not a horse.” It didn’t take more than a couple of days to realize that finding a quiet space and a chunk of uninterrupted time to write was not going to happen. I also realized that if my family and I were going to survive the summer with limbs and sanity intact, I needed to come up with a plan — and FAST. This plan would require a radical shift in my thinking, my attitude and my method of parenting. Begging, pleading, bargaining and bribing were not working. I had no choice but to admit defeat and embrace change.
So that is what I am doing. As of this moment, I am making a conscious effort to accept summer vacation as a welcome visitor in my home. I am looking at the next 10 weeks as an opportunity to enrich our lives and make some great memories. (If you are thinking, “Yeah, Right lady, you just keep telling yourself that” right about now, I’m right there with you. Summer’s just starting and while I am trying, even I will be surprised if we make it through unscathed. But bear with me. Maybe we can do this together. Ready? Here we go.)
When devising my plan, I took several things into consideration. First, there are some things that just have to get done. The garden has to get planted and will need daily tending. Basic household chores like laundry, grocery shopping and cooking aren’t going to do themselves. My son with Autism is going into 2nd grade next year. We need to maintain all of the skills he has now, as well as build new ones. And what about those family memories? I had to find a way to build these into the plan. With all of this in mind, I decided that with a few modifications to my approach (which is much easier said than done), this summer may not kill me. So here’s my plan.
1. The garden. In the past, I have had a tendency to be very controlling about my garden. Working all summer only to have the entire cucumber vine ripped off at the root or the entire pea plant uprooted when little hands help harvest can throw me into a full blown panic attack. Not this year. The kids are going to be part of the gardening process from planting to harvesting and every step in between. It is going to be very hard for me to watch them step on seedlings, but instilling a love of gardening in my children is way more important than the end result. Also, by making them invested in the garden, they will be much more likely to actually eat the vegetables that come from it. Which brings me to number two.
2. Dinner and diet. I don’t know how things work at your house, but dinnertime at my house is often referred to unlovingly as “The Shitshow.” It seems like every time I try to make something new or really put thought into making truly healthy meals, the kids end up whining and crying in full protest: “MOM, (stretched into four syllables and cried in a horrible whiny tone), I didn’t order THIS,” or “This is peas. I hate peas. Why did you give me peas? They’re touching my mashed potatoes!” I often find myself making three meals and being so distraught by the end of the fiasco that I hide in the garage and have wine for dinner. Well, no more, I say! I will make a healthy, well-planned meal and they can eat it or not. Whining will land you alone in your room. I will make sure there is at least one healthy thing on the plate that each one likes. Don’t want to eat? Fine by me, but you’d better not complain. I have done such a good job over the years of getting toxins and allergens out of my kids’ diet, but I have always been unsuccessful at getting good nutrition in. That is going to change THIS SUMMER.
3. And speaking of getting good stuff in, I have a counter full of supplements I have been waiting to try when I have the kids home for a length of time so I can study the effects. Well, here’s my chance. And if the results are disastrous, no one will notice or be bothered but me.
4. Housework. I busy myself with housework because it requires no mental energy and I feel like I accomplished something at the end of the day. Unfortunately, I want it done my way, quickly, and without mess, so I rarely ask my children to participate. I am not doing them any favors by taking this attitude. Helping with chores builds life skills, gives them a sense of accomplishment, and works on motor planning/skills. I am going to work really hard to give up control, give them more responsibilities and praise them regardless of the quality of their work. They are going to be responsible for making sure their dirty clothes make it into the hamper, helping to fold their clothes and put them away, folding towels/wash cloths, and setting and clearing the table for meals. I expect initial resistance and the occasional grumble and complaint. What they don’t know is that relinquishing these duties and having to look at my towels crumpled rather than folded neatly is much harder for me — MUCH harder. Another word on housework…
5. PUT DOWN THE BROOM! The Queen is not coming for tea. No one knows or cares if my floors are clean but me. This is my goal: at least three times a day, I will sit and play with the kids. I will give them my undivided attention. I will let the phone ring and the buzzers buzz. I will be present. I have almost no memories of toys, friends or even school as a child. I do, however, remember my Mother sitting down and coloring with us, playing Candyland, and having tea parties with my Barbies. Because I am my Mother’s daughter, I know how hard this was for her. So I am taking this opportunity to say “Thank You, Mom.” They are little for such a short time. I envision them being 26 and coming home from time to time only to find a crazed Mother following them through the house with Chutes and Ladders and begging them to let me read Dr. Seuss. I need these memories too and am determined to make them.
6. Playdates. And here is where I may lose you. I can already hear a collective, “I’m out.” but stay with me, folks. I know this one is hard — REALLY hard — but it is critically important. My children are rarely invited to anyone else’s house and I get it. I GET IT. By the time kids are in first or second grade, playdates equal a break for Mom. Moms look forward to having kids over so they can entertain each other and Mom can get something accomplished. This just isn’t a possibility when you are dealing with kids with special needs. My son is very high-functioning and loves to “play” with other kids. He is desperate to be invited over to his friends’ homes. However, he doesn’t really know how to play, at least not like they do, for a sustained period of time. He is perfectly happy to sit with his playmate’s toys for hours, not engaging his friend much at all. Not so fun for the other kid — or other kid’s Mom. Playdates have to be planned and require adult assistance. I am as guilty as his friends’ mothers of avoiding it. I know myself well enough to know that it is going to take an intense amount of work to get me to make the effort. However, I CAN call the Moms I am comfortable with and ask them to meet us at the park or bike trail. Heck, I might even make a new friend, too.
7. Water. It is critically important for our children to learn to swim. So important, in fact, that I have signed my kids up for lessons. Unfortunately, the closest pool to us is over an hour a way. I will be driving 130 miles a day, every day for two weeks to accomplish this task. Some things are just not an option and learning to swim is one of those things. What’s two weeks, right?
8. Skill maintenance. This is where things get tricky. This one is going to take some creativity. My son’s biggest obstacle in school is handwriting. Because it is so hard for him, he avoids it at all cost and the mere suggestion can incite a full-blown meltdown. I’m going to have to trick him. I am going to be asking him to make the grocery lists for me. We are also going to start writing letters to his relatives and ask that they write back. I am going to insist that he address the envelopes, purchase the stamps and learn to navigate the post office. I figure I get spelling, writing, counting money and learning about our postal system all at the same time. And the grandparents are going to love it!
9. Reading. This one is easy for me. I’m not great at imaginary play, but I love to read to my kids. I got the Judy Blume Fudge series and plan to finish all four books by the end of the summer. We will also be taking part in our local library’s summer program. It’s free and only a block away.
10. Family Time. Luckily, we live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. There are at least 15 lakes and one enormous reservoir within 30 minutes of our house. The wilderness in Montana provides countless opportunities for fishing, boating, canoeing and hiking. We are walking distance from a beautiful bike trail along the Tobacco River. In late summer, we like to go higher into the mountains to pick huckleberries. This summer, we will also attempt to go camping. My husband and I used to camp fairly regularly before we had kids. Since babies and the rigidity of Autism and bedtime routines, camping hasn’t been a possibility. This summer, WE ARE CAMPING. It’s time. We will also be spending at least one weekend at Glacier Park, my favorite place on this planet.
11. I would like to give a piece of advice that I have never taken, and know myself well enough to know that I won’t take it this time either. But for the rest of you: Find Help. Remember, middle school and high school kids are out of school as well. Use them if you can. If you need a block of time to get something done, ask the 8th grader down the street if she’d like to make a couple of bucks. If you find it impossible to get the lawn mowed, that boy around the corner comes highly recommended. Also, check with your insurance company. Most policies allot a certain number of hours per policy year for ABA. You may have amassed a chunk of hours that could be added to your summmer program that would otherwise be lost when your policy renews.
12. Lastly, I will accept defeat. I know that there will be days that ,despite my best efforts, just don’t work out. On those days, there is Chardonnay. On those days, wine-thirty may come at 3:00 instead of 5:00. On those days, it may be peanut butter and jelly for dinner. I’m going to learn to roll with it. When today is not salvageable, I will remember that I get another chance to get it right tomorrow. On the bad days, I will pour a glass, turn up the tunes, maybe call Blaze or Poppy or Mama Mac. I will let the day go, enjoy the sunset on the mountains and, like Jerry says, “Just keep truckin’ on.”
So there you have it. Mountain Mama’s Summer Survival Strategy. What part of “vacation” do you find particularly daunting? Do you have any tips or secrets for saving your sanity?