If you've read my posts, you know that I don’t believe in New Year's Resolutions.
I prefer to make my resolutions every night. I resolve to be a little bit better tomorrow at some parenting “thing” (where “thing” is redefined daily).
So here we are. Summer. And you have to know this: I approach every summer swearing. Not in a bad way. But, swearing just the same.
I swear that I will make this particular summer the best one yet.
I swear that I will spend more time with my daughters, because we all have more time – or, at least, they do with no school day bells to jump to, no homework assignments to be accomplished every evening, and fewer extracurricular events to race to.
And so, in my mind, I owe it to them to take advantage of their free time to create more free time in my world. (And yes, I realize that I don't work on a school bell schedule and can't just shift gears but somehow, some way, I must.)
I also swear that in these months of freedom, we will laugh more, plan less, and just hang out. Because as teens / young adults, this is what they do. We don’t need play dates and organized outings to museums and playgrounds and amusement parks any more. (Though a few of those might still be fun – if only we could arrange enough family outings to balance out one person's boredom with another's delight … )
Kids at this age need parents that will see into the future (“future” may equal the next day or the next few hours) and concoct a plan that we can all jump into. But some kids (like mine) require a plan that looks 7 days in advance – at least. It's because their busy summer days of work plus well-earned laziness requires several days notice of a “major” family event (as in “Do you want to eat dinner together and watch a movie on Thursday night next week?”). Anything sprung on them becomes subject to criminal cross examination that makes any suggestion of familial proximity automatically suspect.
So, here I am halfway through summer thinking, “I blew it again.”
My older daughter is already setting in motion all the things she needs to do before returning to college and is trying to take charge of her health (see Being a Teen is an Age, Not a Diagnosis) and her life. Her younger sister has filled her days and nights with projects as she works out her medical issues to just stay awake as best she can (see The (Latest) Ultimate Lesson My Teen Taught Me).
Me? I am busy. Crazy busy. A single mom starting a business. Translation: I work 25/9 and laugh at the very idea of getting away when someone politely asks about my summer vacation schedule. Then hours later, I realize “Oh, cripe! My un-vacationing life is my current price for my dreams. But duh. What about my girls? Have I even considered 'summer' and 'vacation' in the same breath for them, at least?”
In my efforts to create a business to support all of us, I have left them behind. I failed Summer Parenting 101 with its overarching rule: Spend more time with the kids.
Talk with them. Hang with them. Be with them. Do what they want to do, and do it with them. And, get a decent exchange rate on doing what I want to do with them.
Turn off my Tech.
Turn off my work.
Turn off my scrambling brain that tries to loudly over-think any one-on-one conversations I am having with them so that when it is my turn to reply, I come up empty and clueless and have to confess that my brain was not as present as my heart. (You know those times: when you are watching someone's lips move while you are busy planning the rest of your day, formulating a grocery list, and generally calculating shopping hours until the holidays... Those moments. ARGH.)
Not good. Never good when that happens. And those moments are always followed with an apology and never an excuse because there is rarely, if ever, anything that is more important than my daughters. I need to unscramble my brain and listen harder and be softer in the moment. I know this, even as I recognize that I have not done this as well as I know I can.
I have several weeks to repair this situation, to bring up my parenting grade.
So this is my intention & assignment (and I will report back):
- We will eat together on all nights when we are together.
- We will plan movie nights and we will take turns compromising and not complain. (At least, I won't.)
- We will occasionally play a game and admit that it was fun. (Even if I still, sorry, can't understand Apples to Apples®... but I play an exciting game of Tripoly® and Royalty®.)
- We will plan an outing that involves shopping for college that is not rushed, but rather more like bonding time as we drive and talk and, oh, yeah, pick up a few things here and there.
- We will have times where we just hang out and not make lists. (I have a list of possible dates... never mind.)
- We will go someplace (or places) that seems silly or serious (Knoebels maybe? or the Crayola Experience? the Brandywine Art Museum? or the Hagley Museum? or – get this – a playground with swings and a ball to kick around)
- We will get something to eat that is dreadfully decadent that none of us should be consuming… but we will enjoy it and laugh. (I'm thinkin' funnel cakes with powdered sugar or a large dish of ice cream ... Yeah, definitely ice cream and make mine double German chocolate ice cream with brownies and hot fudge, please ... maybe on top of the funnel cake ... )
- We will hug more often, listen more often, laugh more often. (And I will initiate this.)
- And I will make sure that when they ask if I have 30 seconds, or 1 minute, or 5 minutes, that I not only have that much but more and that I am completely committed to them in that time. Completely. Without a mental timer. Without working on my usual lists while fake-listening. If I agree to their request, then I agree to be there fully.
Summer stretches only so long and makes demands on us all.
It is my turn to make a demand on myself because I want – I need – a passing grade. This is a "once in a lifetime" time. And since I can’t extend summer, I must extend myself.
And that is my ultimate intention.
Because my toddlers turned into kids turned into preteens turned into teens. And now young adults. They did this all faster than I could have imagined, and soon the summers will belong to them alone.
It is true that our days on earth our limited. I want to be with my girls in every way that I can.
So, I am resolving not to squander another parenting moment in these long summer days.
And I am resolving to live as if all my parenting time is summer time.
Last night, my older daughter and I had a moment. And lost a moment.
Researching from different computers, each in our own bedroom and without having discussed it first, we both suddenly realized that we had missed our annual mother-daughter Dar concert. (That’s Dar Williams. If you don’t know her, you should.) And there would be no Tom Chapin concert this summer either.
No Dar. No Tom Chapin.
Let me tell you right here, right now: the grief in the unintentional breaking of this tradition was intense. It was as if our memories would now be taken from us as well. It was as if, there were audible “what ifs” playing “round robin” in our heads, like we had walked under a ladder with the black cat.
What does it mean to miss the Dar concert? It’s just a concert after all.
But it is so much more than that.
And, summer might as well be done because – to be clear – there is nothing that we can do together before my daughter leaves for her junior year in college that will renew that Dar - Chapin - mother - daughter bond in the same way.
Since my daughter was a toddler, we’d see Dar every summer. And we’d see Tom Chapin every year. Back then, we went as a family of four: father, mother, older daughter, younger daughter. We’d go to wherever we could see each perform, wherever it was closest to wherever we were living at that time. And yes, sometimes we’d invent reasons to travel farther and visit family if it meant that we could also sit on a picnic blanket and listen to a Dar concert under the stars or if we could dance and sing through a Tom Chapin jamboree in a large public park.
I have pictures to prove it. Those happy kid pictures that defy the other realities of our lives at the time.
Then we left the country for 4 years and my older daughter played tribute to Dar by memorizing every song from low note to high. She sang her favorites at recitals to audiences of expatriates, politely clueless until the song was over and then Dar found another fan. Dar via my daughter, that is. Close enough.
And lest we be completely without great children’s music while literally half-way around the world, we brought every Tom Chapin CD with us as well. (How any parent can travel without his music always puzzles me. His music is the sanity of every car trip, minutes to hours.) I even emailed this man and pleaded with him to come to Asia and sing concerts there. If only I was a venue manager… And believe me, I tried. (Sorry, Tom.)
Six years ago, we returned to the States. Within months of our unexpected return, I surprised my oldest with an outing to a concert at the Keswick theater, a lovely little theater in a lovely little town. Dar was the opening act; we tried, but we didn’t stay for the featured performer. Dar was our moment: she brought my daughter and me back together in those hard, hard months when we were readjusting to the States and to our new circumstances.
By that summer, my daughters and I rediscovered our Dar and Tom Chapin venues. My girls had reached an age where they actually understood Dar’s lyrics; but at this age, they were also technically too old (says who?!) for Tom Chapin’s children’s concerts. Ha! We were where we needed and wanted to be. What mattered was being together to laugh and sing out.
We were reclaiming our lives with performers we loved. Performers who outperformed themselves. Because when the music stopped, the girls would greet these cool people offstage, talking eagerly to these famous people who looked my girls in the eye and asked questions as if they remembered my daughters from one year to the next, as if they recognized them, as if they were truly glad to see them yet again, and then wished them both well. Until next year…
But, this year, summer started when we weren’t looking. We forgot to check concert schedules. On a weird whim, my daughter and I were both discovering at the same time that Dar had sung just 2 (TWO!!) nights ago, just 3 towns over, like she has forever. But this time – without us!
Oh, the mother guilt.
What happened next was an odd throwback that made sense:
My daughter, searching our past and our present, discovered that she had missed seeing Pete Seeger at her college by one year. It was a sad moment that we shared. Missing Pete not just by a year, but forever.
I reminded her that we had seen Arlo together in October 2010. Oh yeah, that was awesome, said she.
Then she remembered a folk singer from when she was 4 years old… Woody Wolfe!!, we call out in odd unison. He was awesome, too, I said as I remembered those concerts at parks and hospital lobbies in our small town.
And then we both shout out Van Wagner!! Definitely. Van. Definitely. <insert sigh> ("North of 80 it ain't the same" ... Years later, we still agree – in harmony.)
And in a very small way, I knew we would both miss Dar, be sad – very sad – to not have sung every song along with her, to not have said "hi" after. But I knew now for sure that no one was taking away the memories, despite how we felt.
Good memories. Those.
Music does that. It sings to those memories. It holds them. It keeps them safe inside. No matter that you didn’t see summer coming this year and messed up. Big time.
I wanted my girls to love the music of my childhood. And each has done that in her own way. My older daughter has brought folk music into her generation while straddling my generation and the generations before. My younger daughter studies music theory and finds meaning between the classical and classics; she's still grabbing for Tom's CDs and humming the songs I sang her to sleep with.
Every family should have their Dar and their Tom Chapin.
I can only hope that these musicians would both know the influence they had on their young (and old) admirers. I can only hope and say, “Thank you. See you as soon as we can. But know that we are still listening.”
That’s the love. The bond that my daughter and I will always, always share. The memories that we will always have.
Even as we solemnly promise not to miss another concert.
To Dar: So we were just wondering… At the Bryn Mawr Twilight Concert, did you cover the usual favorites? “Iowa”? “My Babysitter”? “As Cool as I Am”? And what about “FM Radio”? And your tribute song to Pete? We hope the little kids danced and twirled in the gazebo with you. Lucky them. We missed you.
To Tom: We continue to wait for you to return to this area. We'll be there when you come here.
To Arlo: Thank you. Just that. Thank you.
To Pete: Never forgotten. Still singing in our hearts.
And to Woody, Van, Rick, Martin, and the many folk artists who bring us music: You rock. Or rather... you folk! You are changing lives for the better. I know. And my daughters know.