We are one week into summer and for the most part still enjoying the honeymoon phase. The kids have made ambitious Summer Fun lists for us and I’ve made equally ambitious Summer Chores lists for them.
Parenting during the summer is all about finding that sweet spot between freedom and structure, and while it’s never a breeze it’s getting easier as the kids get older. Partly because of the two lists mentioned above. Bored? Great..here’s some laundry to fold! Who’s turn to walk the dog?
This week the kids had no camps or activities, and we quickly found an easy groove of swimming in the morning and hibernating inside during the afternoon heat. In theory, the afternoon hours double as my work time while the kids read, play Legos or use up their screen time. Quiet is of course relative. One afternoon the TV watching turned into an American Ninja Warrior training session complete with a homemade launchpad and Mt. Midoriyama made from the nice furniture and sofa cushions. Yesterday they were busy writing a script to a movie, but that eventually turned into a contest to see who could walk like the best villain. Who knew the sound of three walking kids could shake the light fixtures? Obviously I need to clarify the rules of our afternoon: No interruptions unless your hair is on fire. No climbing doorways. No stacking large furniture. No walking like Professor Snape.
And then there was the afternoon my 6-year-old opened my office door, frowned, and said, “You’re probably going to say no, but will you play a game with me?” The big kids had refused and he was feeling lonely and dejected. Against my better judgement, I agreed.
Now, I’m a fan of games but I have no patience for ones with more than three rules. Give me Battleship, Connect Four or Uno. Even Monopoly is pushing my limits. Don’t even bother bringing Risk into the house. Of course my son pulled out Life. He’s been dying to play this, he said. Dying.
I’m dying too. Life? Worst game ever. Nothing says fun like mortgages, taxes and car payments. I’d rather play Colonoscopy than Life.
In case you haven’t played in a while, there are several points in the game where you and your little plastic car, which may or may not hold several tiny pink or blue plastic kids in the backseats, must make life choices and choose various paths along the way. All roads lead to the promise of a glorious retirement, but the smart players pick the most lucrative and efficient route.
Some of the forks required a little explaining to my son. First, you can either go to college, or you can start a job. Well, buddy...you’re going to college and that’s that. (He chose the college path.)
Next up: Change jobs or stay on the same route? Hmmm...Tough call. Personally I’ve changed jobs a lot. (He took the path of stability.)
And then, more than halfway through the game, after surviving a job loss and buying a $5,000 flat-screen TV, he was presented with this choice: The Family route or the Other route. He already had one pink plastic baby, but no spouse. He steered his car to the Other route.
“Ugh. I don’t care about more kids. I want to win! I want more MONEY!” He paused. I held my tongue because who am I to make that call for him? Sure, you might make more money if you bypass the kid route. Pick the career path and maybe you’ll be crazy rich. Maybe you’ll be able to afford a dozen tiny plastic cars and houses. Maybe you will have a fabulous and fulfilling career. Maybe you won’t be interrupted to play a board game in the middle of a deadline. But remember, there’s more to the kid route than these little squares convey. Stuff that fake paper money can’t buy. Your choice, son, just keep all this in mind.
“Mom," he said, catching my eye, "You know it’s not real life here in this game, right Mom? Even though it’s called Life on the box, it’s just a game. You know that, right?”
Yes, yes I sure do. Your move.
And with that, summer is off to a fine start.
* * *