May 22, 2012

Twelve Days to Summer

Eclipse shadows
Tuesday, and twelve more days of school left before our summer break.  What?  I better make good use of my last dozen days of freedom. (Blogging: good use?)

What I'm looking forward to:  days without structure.  Not sitting down at 4:30 each afternoon to oversee homework.  (We've been blessed with minimal homework this year, which is not to say there hasn't been occasional tears and drama over 4th grade math.)  Days at the park.  Days at the pool.  Our big summer vacation: we're going on a cruise!  Lazy mornings and library afternoons.

What I'm sort of dreading:  days without structure. No breaks from the kids until bedtime, which gets pushed back later & later each year.  16 hours + 2 kids = 1 tense mama.  Sibling squabbles that erupt after too togetherness.  Whining for soda, cookies, and the near-constant snack grazing of Tucker. And also, and maybe most of all, the neighborhood kid thing.
Some background.  The women in my family don't do kids all that well.  I'm talking about both of my grandmother's, who were as different as two women can be, but alike in their distaste for small people.  I'm talking about my mom.

My maternal grandmother was famous for her vehemence in not wanting to entertain or even allow other children into her home.  My mother tells stories about her mom yelling at other kids, not allowing them to cross her threshold and basically having a reputation as an impatient, angry woman who had no qualms about screaming out the back door at somebody else's kids.  Of course, this was back in the late '40s and '50s, when parents could get away with that sort of thing.  Ah, the good old days.
My mom, who grew up feeling embarrassed at her own mother's total lack of hospitality or even tolerance toward her friends, tried to be different, but without any positive role model, she wasn't all that much better.  She tried to be warm toward my friends, and granted, never disallowed me from having friends in and out of the house, especially when I was in fourth grade and lived on a street packed with sisters.  She was a willing, encouraging audience to our near-constant performances from the Grease soundtrack.  Still, it didn't come easily, and I always sensed her feeling of strain, which got worse as I got older, and my friends and I just wanted to talk and be alone.  (She always seemed to be right outside the door, hovering, listening.)  Also, she flat-out refused to drive us anywhere, which was embarrassing and hard to explain. "Can your mom take us to the mall?"  Me: "Um, no."  "Why?"  Me:  ???

So now it's my turn.  I live in a town that's famous for being family-friendly. There are kids everywhere. In the last six months, Tucker has become good friends with a pair of young brothers on our street, and is also pals with many other little boys who live near us and play at the park next to our house.  Lily has a friend on the next block, hosts play dates and runs into school friends at the park.  Inevitably, all these children seem to end up at our front door.  And I'm okay with that. Or rather, like my mother before me: I try to be okay with that.   Is it DNA, or deeply ingrained family behaviors that make me tense up and want to boot those young, smiling faces from my front porch?
This Sunday afternoon was intensely kid-centric.  Including Lily, there were five girls in the house for half the day.  Tucker was back and forth on his bike and scooter.  Snacks were demanded required by all.  I was in a good mood. I wasn't tense or angry.  Still. Doors were slammed. Doors were left wide open! Juice was spilled. Popsicles stained the driveway.  It was a preview of many, many similar days to come this summer.

I'm never going to be the neighborhood "cool mom," who orders the pizzas that appear just before the kids realize they're hungry, who gives out the easy, laid-back invitations for sleepovers on the fly.  We won't be those parents who mysteriously seem to vanish and give the kids run of the house.  But: I have pretzels, and half a bowl of grapes! I have a fridge out in the garage stocked with juice boxes and waters and sodas and I'll share my last box of Thin Mints with giggling girls without getting too cranky about it. 
My maternal grandmother is still alive, but this weekend I felt watched by her, intensely aware of her presence.  For a difficult period in junior high, we lived with my grandparents, and I have a vivid memory of my grandma yelling at and frightening me and a friend, when I made the mistake of bringing the girl into her kitchen through the back door, for a glass of water.  Check me out, I said to myself, and to her.  Check me out, Grandma.  And maybe this is simply the way the past gets healed: one juice box, one smile at a time.

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