July always comes like a rude shock to the system that summer is already about a third over. I start panicking about all that we haven’t done enough of, which is a little ironic, since all I want to do endlessly is have those sorts of lazy summer nights where you ignore bedtimes and eat outside and how can you panic about not having enough of such an unstructured thing? We have hit the splash pad lots, had picnics a plenty, splashed in creeks, and sought out AC in museums. Bedtime has become a rather fluid concept, which I’m sure will become a problem at some point, but for the moment is allowing us lots of summer evening fun and really long afternoon naps. And we have two months of it left… but it still doesn’t feel like enough. I want to squeeze in a quick beach trip, but when I started going through the calendar between now and September, there were only 2 free weekends (HOW?) and I hesitate to give them up.
This has been, is, and will be the summer of The New House. How long is it The New House, and not just Home? Henry still asks when we can go “back home” on a regular basis. Is it when I stop thinking of places where I forgot to change my address? When I know all the places where the floorboards creek? When the mailman accepts Henry’s aggressive attempts at friendship, or the house witnesses a milestone like Etta’s first steps? It took a month for the boxes to be unpacked, broken down, and given away, and now we have the long road of Settling In to walk. I agonized for weeks over a rug for the living room, one of the few big purchases we allowed ourselves after buying the house. I ordered and scrutinized and returned until I started to lose my mind and settled, feeling completely happy with the result. Nothing is decorated yet, but little by little it feels less like belongings from somewhere else just dropped in place.It’s hard to say what the best part of this home is. I love the basement, a wasteland of toys devoid of furniture or the burden of order. We let the basement stay in play mode, and I happily fold laundry on the floor beside blocks and books and toy food. I love the new ratio of toilets to potty trained residents. I love the gleaming kitchen and space around the dining table. But as it’s summer, I especially love the patio and yard. There is a garage with a freezer full of popsicles and I love how Henry offers them to his friends, hospitality at its finest. We have hosted a lot this summer, adults lounging on the patio while the kids eat on picnic blankets and catch fireflies. (RIP all ye fireflies).
This summer is also a literary flourish for me- one of the (few) New Years’ resolutions that has become a reality. I wanted pleasure reading to be a priority in 2019, and I am proud to say that I used a foolproof 2 step method to guarantee this success. Step 1: get better books. No amount of busyness will distract you from a truly good book. You will keep it in the car, carry it to meetings, take it into the bathroom, have it beside the stove, set an alarm to wake up early and finish it before the kids rise (me with the final book of the Winternight trilogy!). I started going to the library regularly in January and have devoured so many good books this year, as well as starting and abandoning three that didn’t hold my interest. Step 2: tell your kids you have to read. I read this article a while back and have thought about it so much. One day, I just started trying it. Sometimes I just announce that I have to read, the same way that I tell the kids to eat vegetables or say I have to apply sunscreen. Then I just sit and do it with an actual book, not a screen. And you know what? They respect it, mostly. Henry will usually read beside me for a few minutes and then wander off to destroy something quietly, creatively, and most importantly – independently. It has been glorious, and I also feel that it communicates an important priority to my children: books matter, reading matters. And a note about screens. Right before Etta was born, I posted about how we use screens very sparingly. In the feedback I got, I was struck (disappointed?) by how many people across various platforms and in person communicated that this was a position that was doomed to fail when we had more kids. Many people seemed to want me to have to give up a standard that mattered to my family, even if it had no bearing on their own. (Ladies- why do we so often do that with all things parenting?) I have thought a lot about screens in our home the past year, and in case you were curious, or if you are a parent on the brink of having another kid and worried about trying to stick to your screen principles- here are some thoughts. Screens have been allowed in our house the past year under 2 circumstances: temporary designated time slot, and premeditated events. The first is a time slot destined to disappear in which the screen served a very real and very finite purpose. When we sleep trained Etta last summer, Henry was allowed to watch a show for the 15 minutes it took me to rock her to sleep for her last nap of the day- that was it. When that last nap disappeared, so did his TV time. Because her nap wasn’t happening, it didn’t occur to him to ask for the TV to happen. She still takes a morning nap, but that is such a long window, that I wasn’t going to make it a default an hour of TV every day for the past year. Instead, I allow myself one of her morning naps a week where he can watch a show. I tell him when it is going to be early in the week, and we discuss what behaviors could result in it being lost. This lets him know that incessantly asking for TV will not change things, and holds me accountable for not just using TV because I want a break from parenting (I use my book for that as discussed above ; ) ). When Etta stops her morning nap too, that TV moment will also disappear. We have also used TV for selected premeditated events, usually when we had families over and the adults want to play board games, or a family movie night. When we travel and in the craziness of moving, TV standards went out the window. It helped us survive finite craziness and trips, but you know what? The post-TV binge fallout is BAD. The whining and failure to creatively play independently just is not worth it on a regular basis. Henry has turned into a total boss at independent play. We are talking longgggg chunks where he plays and imagines and leaves me entirely alone all while playing entirely alone. I credit TV not being a regular option for some of that.
I don’t say this to tout our TV minimalism- there are many who watch even less than we do. I say it to encourage any of you who have something, anything, that really matters to your family culture: you can fight for it and make it a priority, even if the exact manifestations of it change as your family does. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.
But back to this summer- it is glorious. A new home, a toddler who has suddenly blossomed into an amazing independent play-er, a happy baby no longer nursing stickily against me in the DC humidity, a beautiful city to explore, and long sunny days to do it. Life lately has been full of the very best things.