I looked down at my son’s legs, tanner now in the summer than they had been in the spring, full of multiple mosquito bites that he had itched to scabs, a big road rash on his knee where he had fallen off of his scooter and a smattering of mystery bruises on his shins.
But his legs tell another story, too. They tell a story about the gifts of summer, sometimes wrapped in a slightly painful package. The mosquito bites come from a camping trip we took where we stayed up late and took turns looking up at a breathtaking full moon through a telescope. The road rash came as he teetered and swerved and ultimately triumphantly rode his bike. The tree climbing bruises are the battle scars of successfully grappling with the old tree in the yard–a goal many years in the making.
These legs reminded of me an excellent book called The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. In it, Dr. Mogel argues that by trying to protect our children from pain and hardship, we aren’t giving them the freedom they need to learn and grow. If I try to protect my son from mosquito bites, road rashes and bruises, I withhold the blessings of full moons, scooter riding, and tree climbing.
And so, in the spirit of encouraging growth and freedom, I’ve made a list of things I will not fix for my kids this summer:
1. Their boredom: This is the curse and the blessing of summer. Although we do our share of camps and family vacations, I strive to keep some long, unscheduled stretches of time in the summer where my kids can do what they fancy. These hours are precious and precarious. They can sometimes become full of whining and picking at each other, but they can also become full of intricate lego castles, stuffed animal hospitals or messy self-directed art projects. As their mom, I could plan fun activities for them to do to stave off boredom, or we could turn off the TV and the tablet, and suffer through the chaos to let the creativity surface.
2. Their sibling fights: The kids are hanging out a lot together this summer. This can mean a lot of petty fights and frustrations. As a mom, this is trying, and boy do I want to step in and take charge! But that would mean two things: One, the kids would spend all summer in time-out and separated. I firmly believe that a family relationship is the net sum of interactions. Sometimes interactions are bad and if I constantly separate my kids when they are fighting, I don’t give them a chance to balance those out with good interactions. Two, they wouldn’t learn how to take care of minor disagreements themselves. I’ve taught them how to say sorry and make restitution. We talk about fairness and kindness. It’s time for them to practice on the little issues that come up over and over again in the summer. We can talk about how they did afterwards, but just how riding a scooter comes with some swerving and some road rash, learning how to get along with people can be a bumpy ride.
3. Their thirst (and other physical needs): Does this happen in your house? I’m in the kitchen and one of the kids will come up to me, stand right in front of the cupboard full of cups and say, “I’m thirsty.” I know that in school, my kids have a measure of independence that they seem to forget when they come home. So I remind myself not to fix a problem that they can fix themselves and kindly point them toward the cupboard.
4. Their relationship with long-lost cousins: Another hallmark of summer for us is that we hang out with the family that we only get to see once or twice a year. The kids take awhile to warm up. But before long they are making up a complicated game with the kickball and frisbee or hunting for snails to live in the special stick house they have made or eagerly exploring the new portal their cousins has shown them on Minecraft. I could jump in and carefully facilitate the fun, but the kids need to find their own way to these memory making activities, their own private jokes and their own stories that they can tell again next year.
Summer will be over before I know it and, with it, the opportunity to take advantage of these slightly painful but ultimately delightful gifts of summer. I’ve reinforced my resolve to let their boredom or anything else be, so my children can see that just beyond these minor discomforts lies the real magic of summer.
QUESTION: What are the pains of summer you try to fix? What can you let go of?
CHALLENGE: Try not to fix any of the pains of summer. It will be over before you know it!
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/Photostock. Graphics by Anna Jenkins.
You always write such timely pieces! This was just what I needed… With the last couple weeks of summer stretching out, these were not my thoughts but I am glad to have read this to realign.. Thank you!
At the beginning of summer I asked my daughter (7 yrs.) if it was the parents’ job to make sure the kids didn’t get bored. I didn’t expect her response. “Yes,” she said immediately. “Because I don’t have very many good ideas about what to do.” I knew then that she needed plenty of opportunities for boredom so that she could dig deep and rediscover her own creativity.