It was one crazy summer. We moved. Again. From PA to MA. Again. Because we
are masochists like to keep things interesting.
Our house in Pennsylvania sold quicker than we anticipated; a good problem to have, but disorienting nonetheless. Then the closing date was pushed up a month. Then, another two weeks. This meant we had to find somewhere to live between July 17th and September 8th.
I won’t bore you with the logistics; I drank my way through most of it and forget the details. I highly recommend self-medicating your way through moving. The relevant data is 7 weeks, 3 rentals, 3 hotels, 3 grandparent visits, 4 beach weekends across two states, and 2,710.7 miles logged.
Earlier in the summer I read a great blog post by my friend Lindsey on her blog A Design So Vast. It was called “They are Not Long, the Days of Percy Jackson and Nail Art.”
Her post made me think of summer’s past, mostly the summers of my youth, and how each summer did in fact have a theme: a Rainbow Loom-esque obsession, a game we couldn’t get enough, or the one hit wonder song we played, rewound and played again until our ears bled.
I remember the summer of:
- Jelly shoes and monokinis
- Collecting the Cruisin’ Classics tapes from the Exxon gas stations
- Riding my bike to the Florham Park Pool, my towel draped around my neck
- Lip-sync talent shows with my cousins (We called ourselves “Surfer Bri and The Waves”)
- Trying to be cool and hang with my older cousins while they played Gin Rummy and listened to Eric Clapton
- Airbrushed sweatshirts from the boardwalk (Ok, that was three summers. I’m from New Jersey)
- Jenga competitions and leg wrestling
I remember my summers as a teenager with less specificity. Instead they are defined by one big moment or milestone:
- My first kiss (which I botched miserably and still wish I could do over)
- Getting my driver’s license, which lead to a summer of…
- No-destination driving with my best friend Helen, smoking Parliament Lights and listening to Natalie Merchant.
- Night swimming in my friend Priya’s pool.
- Smoking and eating Necco Wintergreen Mints in the PathMark parking lot with my friend Maureen.
- The summer of
fifteen poundsdisco fries at the Nautilus Diner. With gravy. Lots of it.
- The summer of my Uncle Bill dying.
I didn’t want my kids to remember this summer as “the summer of moving.” Which is ridiculous because, really? They were not going to notice that we began the summer in one state and ended in another? But, I have never been one to let the truth get in the way of parental delusion.
So despite the chaotic conditions, I was determined to make this the best summer ever
because I have no in-between. Moving isn’t traumatic, it’s an adventure! We are gypsies! We don’t need a house, we have each other! Home is wherever I’m with you! We don’t need camp, or a pool – we can make our own fun! We have beads and a sprinkler and sidewalk chalk!
I wanted it to be the summer of daisy chains and water balloons.
And herein lies the rub of how you want things to be and how they actually are.
This disconnect became clear to me when, moments after filling about seventy water balloons by hand, my children began pegging them at my head. Like, aggressively.
By the time we reached Phase 3 of the move (two weeks at my parents’ house in New Jersey) shit started to fall apart. People were not happy. The girls love my parents but the level of frenetic change and constant togetherness was too much; they were at each others’ throats. The dog’s hair started falling out. I blame the episodic alopecia on Fox News, which blares from the TV all day long. I am pretty sure my dog is voting for Hillary.
So I do what I always do when I feel out of control: I read self-help books. In this case, those of the parenting variety: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, The Explosive Child, The Conscious Parent...I listened on my runs, in the car, I read in bed, I took notes.
But the books only seemed to backfire. The more I tried to reflectively listen and use my Calm Earth Mother voice the worse things got. Emma called bullshit on my paltry attempts at Zen: “STOP USING THE CALM VOICE! I HATE THE CALM VOICE! I WOULD RATHER YOU SCREAM LIKE A LUNATIC THAN USE THAT ANNOYING CALM VOICE! THE CALM VOICE DRIVES ME CRAAAAZZZZYYY!!!!
Alright-y then. Noted on the calm voice.
After crying in the bathroom I called my therapist back in Philly. She listened to the trials and tribulations of my Mommy Day Camp gone wrong: the crafts no one wanted to do, the games no one wanted to play, the fighting, the backtalk, the tag-team temper tantrums. By the end of my rant, I was in tears.
“What am I doing wrong???”
She was quiet for a moment.
“Well,” she said, “I am not a parenting expert, but maybe you need to lower your expectations. Maybe this isn’t the summer of daisy chains and water balloons. Maybe this is the summer of survival. You know, if everyone is alive at the end, that’s a win.”
I laughed. “So you are telling me to lower the bar.”
“Just a bit.”
So this is the part where I tell you I dropped my expectations and there was a dramatic shift and everyone was happy and peaceful and in-tune with the present moment.
No. The summer in progress continued. The girls fought like alley cats. I yelled a lot. I dropped the F-bomb. In front of the kids. More than once. I cried in the bathroom
again. The circumstances remained the same, but my response to the circumstances shifted. My motto went from “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” to “It is what it is.”
It is what it is.
In her book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach writes:
There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.
Acceptance is a concept I struggle with, because I think I associate it with complacency. If I give up my vision of a summer spent reading the classics aloud while eating homemade coconut milk parfaits, then what? I just give up? What do we do then – watch Full House and eat Choco Tacos?
Actually, yes. That’s exactly what we did. And I have to say, those 30 minutes on the couch each night watching DJ tease her bangs for the big dance and Uncle Jessie get attacked by Kimmie Kibler’s ostrich were some of the most peaceful moments of the summer.
Maybe there is a difference between giving up and giving in. Giving up on expectation and giving in to what is. To what is needed right now. Giving in to the possibility of the moment, even when it feels like it’s all going to hell in a hand basket.
So while it wasn’t the summer of daisy chains and water balloons, it was the summer of:
A hiatus from parenting books: Early one morning I sat on the porch reading The Conscious Parent.
Emma, also an early riser, came outside and plopped into the chair next to me. She leaned over to get a peek of the title, her eyes still squinty and swollen with sleep. Then, she leaned back in her chair and said, “Why do you read these books? Can’t you just figure things out? I think you are smart enough. I just think it would be a lot more interesting if you just kinda figured things out.”
I laughed. “Is this a challenge?”
“Um, heck yes.”
So I went to the library that afternoon and got out a novel. And reading it felt positively luxurious.
Getting outside: We spent the summer in close quarters, in homes that were not our own. Things could get tight.
When it all got a little too close for comfort, it was time to go outside and go for a walk.
“Whyyyy, I don’t wanna go for a walk, my legs are so tired,” was the usual response. But once we got out there, they usually cooperated. It helps when this is the view from the street:
Bribing with ice cream also worked.
Simple Pleasures: sunrises and sunsets,
walking the dog to the lighthouse after dinner,
a ferry ride,
Phoebe sitting quietly on the sea wall,
a drive-in movie.
These were the moments of the summer when I stopped, took a breath, and said to myself: We will be ok.
We are going to make it after all.
I will remember this as the summer of radical acceptance. The summer we made room for all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly…reality and possibility.