After nearly 11 years of motherhood, I've finally stopped hating summertime parenting.
This is not because I've discovered the secret to cherishing every precious moment with my children. Nor is it because I've developed a sudden urge to create magical, Popsicle-stained memories with them all day long. (Far from it.)
It's because, at ages 10, eight, and four, my kids have finally stopped being so damn needy.
When they were younger – even as recently as last year – their neediness was constant. There was always someone who needed a diaper change. Someone who needed a snack or who needed a third breakfast. Someone who couldn't entertain themselves for very long. Someone who couldn't stop arguing with or hitting someone else.
Someone who needed something from me – and me only. Always.
And the depths of that neediness – the constancy of those interruptions – made it difficult to enjoy all the beauty, warmth, and fun that summer has to offer.
Sunscreen is a must. The kids needed sunscreen, and I needed to be vigilant about it. The summertime sun is, after all, a giant carcinogenic fireball just waiting to sear angry red burns onto our skin. But little ones aren't always so keen about their parents coming at them with palmfuls of SPF 50.
Stringent supervision at the pool is necessary, too. Lifeguards have a job, and they often do it well, but it was never enough to give me complete relief when my babies and toddlers were surrounded by a substance that could literally drown them. I was pretty much in high-anxiety mode the entire time we were in or near the water.
Carrying everything around sucks. And finally, younger kids just need so much stuff whenever we take summer excursions: swim diapers to the pool, five changes of clothes to the park, enough food to feed 20 kids (even when I was only carting around three), and yes, enough sunscreen keep their delicate skin free from sunburn.
Every summer before now, I was so dead tired from all the neediness, and so darn ready for school to begin again come August. If this all sounds like whining, please rest assured that it is. But I think I can also explain these feelings.
Like many other parents, my life is made up of a series of "ands." I love my children and I don't enjoy caring for them all day every day for weeks on end. I like doing fun activities with my family and I treasure my quiet moments, whether I'm working or rela. As a freelance writer and part-time college instructor, I love the flexibility of working from home and I sometimes wish that I could escape to a space far away from my children.
And most importantly, I admire parents who excel at staying home with their children during the summer and I know that I am not one of these parents.
At least not until this year.
Because now, my littlest child is out of diapers. (I don't need to panic if I forget the swim diapers at the pool!) All three of my kids can, to some extent, get their own snacks. The older two can walk or ride their bikes to the playground or to friends' houses, which means I'm no longer a glorified chauffeur and professional child entertainer!
When their friends come to our house, I don't feel the need to hover because I don't have to worry about 10-year-olds trying to swallow and then choking on tiny toys! Now they don't fight me when I come at them with the sunscreen – and at least two of them are proficient swimmers. We can play in the pool without my anxiety spiking every three seconds! Even better, they can mostly carry their own stuff wherever we go. Mom is not a pack mule!
And the arguing? Well, I'm not sure that the arguing ever stops entirely. But they're old enough now that they can probably figure out how to resolve most arguments on their own. Just add that to the list of things that they won't constantly need from me this summer.