Tag Archives: Summer

Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

Summer camp. One week. Off on an adventure alone. No friends. My son was ready. The question, Was I ready? I never went to a true summer camp. Besides an emotional college good-bye, my first real adventure came when I was 21. And I don’t think my mom was ready either.

Three weeks in Europe. A friend and I were leaving after college graduation to tour major European cities. My parents and I waited at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport for my friend and her parents to arrive. She was late—really late. I called her house from a pay phone. They should be at the airport, her sister said. I quietly waited, thinking. When my plane started boarding, I stood up and told my parents good-bye.

“What? You’re going?” my mom said. I sure as hell was. I didn’t work as a cashier for five months selling cigarettes to an old man with pink fingernails and a dress for nothing. I didn’t max out my credit card and beg and borrow the rest of the money for my trip for nothing. I was going to Europe!

We hadn’t talked about or looked into another flight. Now there was no time. I was there. I was getting on that plane. I said I’d call when I arrived. I didn’t have time to think about what I’d do once I landed. I had only ever flown once before. I felt nauseous and tried desperately to sleep folded over onto the lap tray. When we landed in London, I had no idea where to go. Signs everywhere warned not to pick up unattended bags. What? Why? A crowd of people held signs with names on them. One of them was my driver. I made it to the hotel exhausted but couldn’t check into the room for two hours. I called home and I learned my friend got stuck in traffic and had caught the next flight. Relief.

We spent the next three weeks navigating centuries-old castles, picturesque gardens, bizarre hotel showers, and each other’s moods. Thankfully, she still talks to me. We found our way into an Austrian pharmacy to replenish my motion sickness medicine, using only my idiotic gesturing and Southern English to communicate. We ordered from menus with decent success, though for the life of me I could not remember to request still water and always ended up with fizz.

Though I yearned for home-cooked food and sheets not made from terry cloth, I was having the time of my life. My mom called one of the hotels looking for me, worried. On my end, there wasn’t time for phone calls.

I think as mothers, we dissect our kids’ situations. There is no big picture but little pieces. We find comfort in odd details to help us cope with those parts that really bother us. I knew my son going to camp would be hard, but he’s been away before. Baby steps. My mom found comfort in the fact that I would be with a friend, that she knew where she could reach me. I put a kink in part of that.

I filled out loads of paperwork for my son. He’ll have fun, I thought. I’ll worry. But at the end of the forms and phone numbers and descriptions of my son’s personality, a reminder: no phone calls. Panic. What if he needs me? More likely, what if I need him?

Like my mom then (and sometimes now), I just wanted to be able to hear it, one sentence even: “I’m OK.” But I take comfort in the fact that his camp is less than an hour away. In our same town. And he’ll probably have fun, even if I won’t sleep for a week.

As a mom, my experiences with struggle and independence and finding my own way are what get me through letting my kids go—even if it’s just to the other side of town.

summer camp

Ready for a week of fun…I hope!

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If This Summer Is Any Indication of My Future…

A few years ago, when I’d sit outside to watch my kids ride their bikes after school, I’d see the mom down the street from me drive by. She’d drive by again. Ten minutes later, she’d drive by again. In the course of an hour or two, I’d see her car go by many times. In summer months, her car never seemed to stop coming around the corner. I’d look up from my reading. She’d always smile and wave.

I think I know what she was smiling about. Not a neighborly smile, but a knowing smile. An “enjoy that chair and carefree afternoon” smile because your time is coming. With four kids, she was always picking them up from different schools, then taking someone to soccer or who-knows-what.

Now things have changed. Some of her kids are driving themselves to school and practices. Now I don’t need to sit and watch as my kids play outside after school. But I’ve moved on to something else.

All summer I’ve been dropping off my kids and picking them up. Basketball, gymnastics, Harry Potter, and horseback riding camps. Friends’ houses. Sewing classes. Their social schedules are wearing me out. Between these times, I manage to find an hour or two here and there to meet deadlines and make phone calls for work I actually have. I try in vain to get some writing in because my creative juices can only be bottled up for so long before they expire. Reading blogs and keeping up has gone to the wayside. When I’m on the computer, even for real work, my family says, “Mommy’s on her blog again,” but they use an annoying nasally tone and roll their eyes like being creative, having a hobby, and staying connected aren’t productive. Pshht.

I’m tired of my van. I’m tired of going back and forth. I’m tired of jerks riding my tail and others not moving over when I’m trying to merge. I’m damn near ready to cuss someone out for that. I’m not cut out for speeding around town trying to make it to the next activity or timing one kid’s play dates with another’s camp times. There’s always some lag time for me and I end up sitting (in my van) or going to the store for the third time in a week.

My kids have had an awesome summer. They’ve experienced some great new things and kept in touch with friends. I’m worn out. And I’m scared to look down the street and see what’s ahead.

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It’s Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

Five weeks of summer have been dawdled away on quiet afternoons with books in hand, feet up, and minds lost in stories too good to interrupt. During the hectic rush of the school year, these are the days we long for: lazy summer days when there are more chapters than hours to read them.

But that hasn’t always been the case. Last summer was quite a different story. I had to beg my kids to do any summer reading. My husband and I read to our kids every night at bedtime. They love books, but they can be picky. Bookstores can be overwhelming. With a lot of patience, persistence, and the determination of a youthful heroine, I made sure this summer the kids found some hits. I’m glad because I just love happy endings.

Here are the books we haven’t been able to put down this summer, including a few simple ways I got my picky readers to try something new (in italics).

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. My son didn’t want to try anything new when he finally finished Harry Potter. He wanted to read that lengthy series again! I picked up The Lightning Thief and read the first few pages to him one night before bed. He was hooked. Riordan does a great job of getting straight to the action. We’ve had to rush to the library for the next book each time my son finishes one. Thanks, Mr. Riordan.

summer reading

A little summer reading. What series should follow Percy Jackson?

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger. While Origami Yoda knew how to solve problems, Darth Paper causes a bit of trouble at the middle school. When my son found out this author plans a book signing in our town, he couldn’t wait to finish this book and has his sights set on the next one due in August.

Just Grace series by Charise Mericle Harper. My daughter was skeptical until I enticed her with the idea that these books were a tiny bit like Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls, only because it’s broken up into really short bits like a diary and has cute child-like drawings so the narrator can show the reader what she’s talking about. But that’s where the similarities end. The books are cute, age appropriate, and well written. I love Harper’s style. Grace is a cool kid I don’t mind my daughter reading about.

Just Grace

Just Grace is a good series about a girl in a class with other Graces. She gets the nickname “Just Grace,” though she’s anything but ordinary.

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When my daughter read the American Girl series about Julie, the girl from 1974, she became interested in the Little House books because Julie was. I took advantage of the connection to another book and read them to her. We’re on the fourth book and love Laura’s antics and Pa’s wisdom. These are a great change of pace from modern life.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’ve had this book for a while and put off reading it. I wish I hadn’t. I loved it and can’t wait to read the sequels. It’s a great summer read and more girly than I expected. My son wants to read it and I questioned the violence. When I finished, I told him what it was about. He said, “You lost me when you said it was about a girl.” Problem solved.

The Messy Quest for Meaning by Stephen Martin. Martin is a good friend of mine and this book tells about his struggle to find purpose in his life, what he learned from Trappist monks, and how readers can discover their own calling in the world. What, I have purpose other than wiping rears and messes?

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson. Funny. Books that make everyone else laugh don’t usually make me laugh. Parts of this made me cry. My husband read this too and every time he laughed, I’d say, “What part are you on?”

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. I’m not very familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales. Evidently they’re pretty violent and gory. This book follows the formula. I don’t like that kind of stuff but I loved this well-written book. Clever plot twists move the story along and the characters really do deserve what they get. My son previously started this book and lost interest. When he saw me reading it, he immediately wanted to read it. But he was already into Percy Jackson, which is fine with me.

Even though we’re out of this stage, here are some summer picture books we have loved.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla FrazeeEvery now and then my son still likes to read this book about two boys who spend a week with one of boys’ grandparents doing what they want to do instead of the fun nature things the grandpa has planned. The boys in it are funny and real and in the end, they really do get the point.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne. This story tells the life of Jacques Cousteau, including his early years and his contributions to scuba diving and early marine conservation. To a kid, it’s a cool book about a boy, an ocean, and a passion.

Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root. In this heat, a day at the lake is in order. Can Poppa get the family’s rattletrap car to work long enough to make it to the lake? Maybe if the whole family pitches in. Some days I feel like this in our rattletrap van. “Son, hand me your razzleberry, dazzleberry, snazzleberry gum. I need it to fix the door.”

So tell me, what have you been reading this summer? Five weeks left. There’s plenty time for more in our house. 

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A Refreshing Sip of Summers Past

In the pitch-black of early morning, my dad would gently shake me from heavy sleep. I’d agreed to go fishing with him, but from within the comfort of my cool sheets, I’d nearly changed my mind about this 5:30 wake-up call. We’d set out for the country roads, bouncing along in his pick-up truck and stopping at a gas station on the way to pick up our lunch. Nothing would taste better on the lake than that soggy sub and a bottle of Cheerwine.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Cheerwine, years, but recently when I took a swig of the distinct Southern cherry soda, memories of summer mornings with my dad on a quiet lake came rippling back.

Cheerwine soda

Cheerwine takes me back to days on the lake fishing in Virginia with my dad. It’s a soda born and bred in North Carolina.

I remember baiting the hook with slimy worms, weaving them back and forth like ribbons. I’d lost too many from poor technique in the past. We’d cast our lines and wait. We never said much. We didn’t catch much. Often the only sound was the water gently lapping against our rented canoe. But those were some of the best times with my dad. Sure, there was that big one on my line that got away. My dad tried so hard to tell me how to reel him in, excited and patient and set on letting me do it. He still tells the story of how big that bass was. I never got a good look. It could have been a tiny catfish for all I know, but Daddy was proud whatever it was.

Looking back now, I see that as a parent I don’t need to try so hard to make memories. It’s not about always being fancy. It doesn’t need to be much. It’s just time spent one-on-one that matters, with no interruptions. Well, except to reel in a big one. That’s OK.

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The Family Vacation: Why We Do It Every Year

Every summer my family joins my sister’s family for a week at the beach. Cousins can’t wait to see one another and do exactly the same things as last year. Dads man up to see who can find the most sea glass or the coolest treasure. (The taunting started around Christmas.) Us moms just look forward to sitting and doing nothing against the backdrop of a blue sea.

Then we arrive at the beach cottage and reality sets in. The kids run free like the wild horses on one of the islands, and we kind of still have parenting to do. And four kids somehow seems unequal to four parents who desperately want to relax.

Day 1: There was no denying when our troupe of eight arrived at the beach. As my brother-in-law put it, we looked like the Griswolds with our beach paraphernalia strapped to backs and shoulders: chairs, buckets, shovels, umbrellas, coolers, boogie boards, a skim board, towels, a football, and whatever else the kids snuck in their bags. Anyone in our vicinity who wanted peace and quiet was in for a rude awakening with all the shouting, flying sand, and obnoxious laughter.

Day 2: The expensive umbrella we bought for last year’s trip didn’t last through last year’s trip. We bought a cheap one this time. We were driving down the road our second day and fwoomp!everything on the roof had blown off. My sister’s umbrella and boogie boards landed in the middle of a five-lane road. So of course at the beach that day, my umbrella kept falling apart and hers stood strong.

Crappy beach umbrella, mominthemuddle.com

This may account for some of my sunburn.

Day 3: “Red Solo cup. Let’s fill it up. Let’s have a paaar-teeee. Let’s have a paaar-teeee.” Every year, everyone thinks it’s clever to latch onto one song so it gets stuck in everyone’s head the entire week. Four kids singing (the wrong lyrics) off-key day after day became mind numbing. When I heard it on the radio today and realized it was a real song and not some silly words the kids strung together, I nearly fell off my chair.

Day 4: Riding in a van with eight people can be lots of fun. When four of them are kids, it can also not be. At times I’m certain there were eight different conversations going on. I’m not sure how that was possible since I wasn’t part of any of them. My favorite was “Let’s copy Karen” and the kids would repeat everything I said. I hate that game. Then we played the quiet game and my husband gave the winner a quarter. Kids really aren’t so good at that. I got the quarter.

steamed crabs, mominthemuddle.com

No reason to feel crabby at the beach, right?

Day 5: My kids have never been taught proper beach bathroom etiquette. I grew up near a beach. If there weren’t bathrooms, you simply got up, waded into the ocean, and did your thing. My kids think this is disgusting. The same kids who lick their shoes and eat things from their nose. Seriously. Go in the water along with millions of marine wildlife.

Day 6: The kids and their cousins begged us to go go-karting. This activity provides no thrills for me. It’s not NASCAR. It’s not bumper cars. My kids fight over who has to ride with me because I always finish last. I don’t want to shell out $20 to drive my kids around a track so they can complain about it. I do that at home for free.

Day 7: Packing up, the kids got in some last games together. They told one another good-bye. And the adults were already making plans for next year’s trip.

We came home exhausted, filled with sand, and covered in peeling skin. A mountain of laundry sat as tall as the washing machine. The refrigerator held nothing for dinner. Normal life had returned.

But when we looked at the photos, we remembered: that first year when the kids were so small, songs from years past, giant sea glass, running down the dunes, and always getting soaked that first night on the beach. Every year the kids get older and bigger. So do the memories.

That’s why we do it.

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The Reality of Summer With Kids

It’s the last day of school. My last day of a quiet house. Nothing but the noise of the refrigerator running. Me sitting here writing in peace, watching mysterious white vans drive by and making note of it in my dossier. Me contemplating motherhood, life, and what I’ve mucked up recently.

The last day of school fills everyone with high hopes around here. We gear up for adventure and lazy days. Having nowhere we have to be sounds so utterly amazing, I can’t stand it.

This is how I view the summer ahead:

1. Sitting around the kitchen table doing one of the many crafts I’ve picked out, the kids and I laugh, joke, and bond as we cut, glue, and toss dashes of glitter over our magical creations. They look like something Martha Stewart made herself. Heck, they look better.

sequins ready for crafting

Who wouldn’t want to create with this rainbow of shimmering inspiration?

2. Sitting poolside, I watch my kids frolic and play while I read a book, crunch a snack, or dip my toes in for refreshment. I put my time in for many years of having the kids hang on my every limb. We can enjoy a game of catch or I can relax on a noodle and bob around.

3. Thinking a lazy day is in order, I make plans to cook a delicious snack. Cake pops sound fun. They turn out beautifully. I think we could sell them. We eat them as we lounge in our pajamas, snuggle in beanbags, and watch movies all afternoon.

4. I need to get some work done in the office. The kids quietly play so I can edit or write. When I’m done, I reward them with a trip to the park.

In reality:

1. The kids never want to make the cool crafts I suggest, the ones I’ve been clipping from magazines for years. They have “better” ideas. They don’t like my suggestions on how to embellish them. In the end, they look like something Martha Stewart’s dogs made. After the seemingly ten hours it takes me to set up, it takes my kids 3.4 minutes to slap some glue on their craft and say, “I’m done. Can we go play?” Then it takes another ten hours for me to scrape the glue off the chairs and get every speck of glitter off the floor.

sequin collage

I give him five minutes, tops. A piece of art that will never be complete.

2. The minute I sit in a lounge chair, the kids ask me every five minutes when I’m getting in the pool. The minute I get near the water, the kids still hang on my limbs. At least once a season I see a kid puke something into the pool and his mother swish it out. That kind of ruins the rest of it for me. Thanks, rule-breaking mother.

3. The recipe takes way more time than I imagine. The kids fight over whose turn it is for each step. Having the kids help makes the process go twenty times longer than it should. And when it’s all over, the kids don’t even like them. “Can we have popcorn?” “When can we start the movie?”

4. The moment I get on the computer, the kids sit in the office chair behind me and start to wrestle. Someone gets hurt. I send them upstairs. They go upstairs and continue to fight. I still haven’t gotten any work done. I send them to their rooms. Doors slam. I am mad. Tears. Yelling. I haven’t managed to get any paying work done, but I probably got a post out of it.

Summer: The reality is, I look forward to it every year and I still miss it when it’s gone.

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