Maybe it’s the fact that I woke up with a headache, maybe it’s the pounding rain outside or maybe it’s the realisation that the summer, that long awaited haven, has only a few weeks left to run before the back to school buzz of September, but I’m feeling a little underwhelmed right now. Anyone else?
Summer is one of those times we really look forward to isn’t it, along with Christmas and birthdays. We have an emotional attachment to the summers we enjoyed as a child where the sun was always on our backs, our heads were always in the clouds and our feet paddling in the sea. The warm, playful days seamless slipped into clear bright evenings where the starts felt close enough to touch and it appeared that the magic of summer had no bounds.
But is that how it really was? And, looking back from a different perspective, is that how it was for my mother? Or was summer an even greater struggle than the usual juggle she managed with six children, a menagerie of pets and a demanding job?
Sitting here now, as the working mother of two children and the owner of an energetic dog, I suspect it was the latter. A great deal has been made of the juggle that is being a working parent, not that all parents aren’t working in some way or another, but there is a perception perhaps that once the summer reports have been received, the sports day races run and the school prizes given out, we can all put the balls down and breathe a sigh of relief.
Because life doesn’t stop, does it? For holidays packing needs to be done, washing piles up endlessly, the house becomes untidy more quickly than usual, meals have to be prepared, dogs still require walking and the children are either needing to be prised away from the ever present computer screens or are whining about having nothing to do.
Let them be bored, say others, that will make them creative. Yes, if creativity means watching endless re-runs of Power Rangers or working out how to hack your Netflix account for the latest series of Stranger Things. Which I suppose is a form of creativity.
But then comes the guilt. Summers are for being outside, playing with your friends, making wonderful memories of a halcyon childhood. And so, out of guilt, and a need for time to work, I send them off to tennis and cricket camps, not always so great when there is this rain, but then at least it isn’t me leaving them in front of a television screen.
So what is the answer? How do we cross the divide between the relaxing, calm and laughter filled summer days we dream of and the slightly harried, routine-less, meandering weeks we actually find ourselves living.
As you may have figured out I don’t have all the answers. But something I have done this year is let things be a little more, let myself be. As usual I started off with intentions of working less but then some things came up I wanted to do so I took the opportunities. Beside, I love my work and don’t really want to take the whole summer off being creative, that wouldn’t be taking care of myself.
And maybe that is part of it. With children at home, and pets to consider, there is more of a call on us to look after them more actively than usual, which can lead us to self-sacrifice as we work to make their summer wonderful while ours becomes an exercise in martyrdom.
But who asks us to do that? Really? Martyrdom and motherhood seem to have a slightly elevated status in our society. Mothers are meant to give all of themselves to their children, sacrificing who they are and everything they want for themselves for the good of their offspring. But does it have to be that way?
Don’t get me wrong I would gladly lay down my life for my children, give them a kidney or a piece of my liver if they needed it, but do I really have to sacrifice who I am? When they are not at school do I have to sit, attentively, waiting like an Edwardian maid, for what they need next?
Or can we muddle along, messily admittedly, with me asserting who I am, what I need, while also being more available for them than usual?
Which gives them the more realistic view of how to operate in a world where our wants and needs are not necessarily aligned with those of others and we have to learn negotiation, influence and a bit of reciprocity?
So I am not sacrificing my self for my children. I am asserting my self for their benefit. My son and my daughter may one day find themselves with a family and children and will need to work out how to negotiate the needs of disparate individuals to form a, mostly, harmonious family unit.
That doesn’t come without butting up against conflicting needs, wants and desires. It doesn’t come without learning what really matters to you, what you will willingly relinquish and what forms an essential part of who you are.
For me I can put up with muddy footprints, I can walk by the piles of washing, I can allow the lie ins and the slightly chaotic schedule. I will happily have other children over for play or give my daughter some money to meet her friends in town. But only because I keep me.
And I like to have some time to journal, to meditate and read so I can get up early. I like to work on creating something, audiobooks can wrap around a wonky routine, and I like to keep my body moving. I also want time to spend with my friends, sharing the challenges we are all facing as we grow to meet the demands of our families and our selves.
So this summer I have chosen to slow down my schedule, a bit. I go to bed and wake up a little later. I haven’t written so much. I have been a little less visible on social media. But I am recording audiobooks, I am working on something special for the Autumn and I am taking care of me. And while I am OK I can lean into the love I have for my family and recognise, as the sun sets at the end of a crazy summer day, that there is joy in this juggle.
I would love to hear how you are getting on with your Summer Juggle?
Thanks also go to Natalya Chagrin for the photograph.