I’m going to come right out and say it. This is NOT the summer I had envisioned for us. The girls were supposed to be at summer camp and preschool respectively, and I was supposed to be busy with freelance work. And possibly some house projects.
But then sickness happened, and suddenly, plans veered off course and here we are, having a completely different kind of summer altogether.
When I first realized that I would be home with the girls 24/7 while suffering debilitating pains from my freak condition, I panicked. How the hell am I going to do this?
It’s been a month now, and I think I figured it out. It’s pretty simple actually. I decided to just let summer be summer for all of us.
You know, the idyllic childhood school break that most of us remember from our past - big blue skies and the great outdoors in hot, hot heat with no big plans and no place to be, doing mostly that which is led by our whim? Yes, just like that, minus the great outdoors for my girls, because, according to them, what’s that? Unless it involves a pool.
With my limited mobility issues, I hesitate to commit to anything beyond play dates because the thought of rushing to classes and following a schedule feels exhausting, let alone having to go through with them.
The family command center
I have a family calendar that I try to fill with possible things we can do together around the city, but if something else comes up, no big deal. There’s always the next day or the next week. This laidback approach isn’t usually my style, but as part of my healing process, laidback is all I can afford, and you know what? For both my sanity and my recovery, laidback is good.
Apparently it’s the summer of discovering strange yet wonderful new behaviors for us because the female species in this house have been sleeping in. It is uncommon for the girls to wake after eight, but when they’re crawling out of bed closer to nine, sometimes after, you know this is a fantastic new era for us.
I’m usually a morning person myself, but with my ailment, I allow myself all the sleep I need because a) it’s good for healing; and b) deep in dreamland is the only time I don’t feel pain.
As someone who thrived on little sleep, operating on no more than six hours of sleep every day, this abundance of sleep - Seven to eight hours? What?! - is almost unheard of for me, yet it’s probably one of the best changes that my condition inadvertently brought me.
The strangest part is when I wake to the streaks of morning light that shine through the sheer curtains in my room, feeling fully rested, and I find the house is silent because the girls are still asleep. I then make my way to the porch to listen to the chorus of birds in my yard with that exquisite first cup of coffee in hand, just slightly unsettled by my solitude at this time of the day. No kid to interrupt my reverie, no one’s asking for more milk, more cereal...it’s like The Twilight Zone.
Not that it all goes to hell when the girls are up. In fact, they deserve credit for often starting the day quietly, each in their own way. Little Miss will be in her own fictional world with a book; Pickle either climbs in bed with me for a cuddle or sits in the craft corner, coloring and humming some nameless tune. Or she’d sing Tove Lo’s, “I’m high all the time, to get you off my mind, ooooh ooooh…” At four, she has no idea what she’s singing yet, which makes it that much funnier for those of us who do.
When we’re all awake, My Guy takes a break from his work to make us breakfast. Unlike us, he begins at 4AM or 5AM when his girls are still slumbering and the owls are making eyes at him from the trees in our yard. (No, seriously, he showed me pictures of the three owls that were flirting with him.) Sometimes he would eat with us; sometimes he’d scramble back to his office for his next conference call, which has become such a familiar soundtrack of our summer days. That and NPR from our kitchen radio, my constant companion.
Unless the girls are in the mood for Disney tunes or Katy Perry. But if I’m lucky, we’ll get on the Pandora station set to Vampire Weekend as we slowly ease into the rest of our day.
While we wake to unstructured time each day, there’s still a rhythm that involves weekly activities that the girls have learned to expect so we’re anchored by familiarity.
We go to the gym at least three times a week so they can play at the child watch center while I try to rehab myself into better mobility. Sometimes, we’d plan to meet friends at the outdoor pool there or we would randomly bump into them. Now that Pickle can swim, both girls will play in the water with their buddies until they turn into prunes while I enjoy adult conversations with fellow parents.
Sometimes we’ll invite friends and neighbors to our pool at home instead. Or the girls just jump in and spend a couple of hours in there on their own while I prepare dinner and tend the garden. In short, my water babies don’t stray too far from the pool, but with our scorching summers here, it’s a Texas thing to do.
On Mondays, we hit the library for books and attend some kind of performance held there weekly. There was a clown show once, where lucky Little Miss got picked to be his helper. The girls also watched a puppet theater and the Austin Opera perform while learning all about a genre that seems strange to their ears.
Apart from the gym and library, I would plan an excursion - a museum jaunt, the park, a movie - either with friends or with just the three of us. Sometimes there would also be a play date for Little Miss while Pickle and I spend some time together.
These outings, planned or spontaneous, break the monotony of our daily routine at home, although with summer, there really isn’t a real routine. I had envisioned a carefree summer for them, not unlike the one I had when I was a kid, but at ages six and four, sometimes this “carefree” needed some planning.
Like intentionally creating a “Busy Box” - a crate filled with coloring books, word games, mazes, etc. - so they can easily fill their own down time. It’s not like my girls don’t get to indulge in TV. They definitely get more of it this summer, although I try to hold off until later in the day to capitalize on their morning energy, when they’re more likely to try something new, explore, be creative, play together and even comply to my requests.
I am of the “let the kids be bored” camp of parenting, where I neither try to fill their every hour with activities nor do I help structure their play time, because it’s good for them. They’re expected to devise their own entertainment in between Pokemon episodes and the iPad since screen time is still not a free-for-all in our house. The funny thing is, I rarely hear complaints of boredom because eventually, with a little bit of imagination, they do figure it out.
Recently, My Guy introduced Little Miss to Minecraft, and he has since been relishing every opportunity he gets to bond with his daughter in the way gamer dads do. He’ll occasionally take a short break from work in the middle of his day to play with her for a bit or she will get to stay up a little longer in the evening while they build something in the game together. They now share a lingo that’s alien to me, and I think it’s a beautiful thing.
I guess there is a bright side to my unfortunate disease. I get to slow down, hang back, and notice the little things I otherwise might have missed. Like the connections that are happening around me.
The father-daughter minecraft connection. A secret club between sisters.
This has to be my favorite part of this summer - watching our connections morph from one that’s formed purely out of need to one that’s shaped by desire. I’d spent every summer with my girls since Pickle was born, and each time, I’d been an active participant among them because they needed to be supervised, needed to be close to me. Sometimes I would be roped in to (begrudgingly) play the part of the witch or whatever villain concocted for me because, well, if I had to be there, I might as well join in, whether I liked it or not.
This time, however, my role as mom is secondary to their role as sister to one another. They’re far more likely to go off on their own to create an elaborate scene for themselves, each playing a character of their choosing. When they hit a wall and come running to me for ideas, I do just that - I give them ideas and tell them to “run along now”, which they miraculously do. As a parent to young children, this “run along now” moment used to only happen to parents on TV but man, now that it actually works for me, I find myself getting things done in the middle of the day (like writing this blog!), or, if I so choose, sit back and relax myself, which, frankly, is rare.
I’m just not the sit-by-the-pool-with-a-book-while-the-kids-swim type of person, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I’m just not wired that way, much to My Guy’s chagrin because he’s always encouraging me to relax. I would rather use that opportunity to maximize my efficiency to stay on top of things.
However, it’s not like I don’t notice what’s happening around me even if I choose to check off my task list. The one thing I notice above all else is the blossoming of this sisterhood between my girls. Of course they squabble and fight and tattle. But they’re sisters. As an only child, I’ve been told that’s what sisters do.
But I also see an abundance of love. They’re old enough now to have real conversations, they share secrets that belong only to them, they build a world of their imagination together - even if it’s just to battle one another in a Pokemon arena. Sometimes, when one gets in trouble, the other stands up for her. They’re also starting to band together to make their case against me, but I’m secretly okay with that too.
Sisters first has always been my plan, only they don’t know it. Because, really, what an honor and privilege it is for me to see this relationship, as complex as it is beautiful, take shape right before me.
In the end, sure, it can be annoying to chalk every misfortune to “everything happens for a reason”, but I suppose this is how we, the blighted, cope. It does feel better, knowing that this pain that derailed our plans for the summer actually gave us something even better instead.
It gave us each other.