Glimpses of summer

Confession: I remember why I love and hate summer. This one is, as usual, an even mix of peaceful and chaotic.

My roses are blooming, their enchanted petals slick with rain and glory.

My children are home, and we have a break from all external worries like math and friendships. But someone is always talking, usually at high volume and tempo. Always.

I forget how much I need space to breathe and regroup, and how tricky it is during this season. I push my bedtime late, and later, like a beached fish straining for the oxygen he cannot access. Some days I love the chaos too: baby toys have been replaced, for the most part, by Lego, crafts, tools, library books strewn around the house. There are many appointments, and enormous evaporating stacks of groceries.

I never did get the hang of being a sacrificial-mother-who-picks-up-the-pieces-without-complaint as well as an intentional-mother-who-requires-children-to-be-reponsible-for-themselves. I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.

Together, we eat up the summer – the watermelon and sweet corn, sold cheaply in the grocery, surprisingly delicious even so early in the season – the swim sessions with a whiff of chlorine and new friendships, or the sand and sun at the lake – the ice cream, melting down our chins.

I tried to take a selfie. I think it might have failed, but I’m not sure.

Our greatest success of the summer so far has been assigning one child per meal. He or she helps me choose the menus, prepare the food, and clean up the kitchen afterward. One child gets breakfast, one lunch, one supper, and we switch every week. I prefer to manage one child at a time, or I burn everything.

Kelly says when Jenny gets older she will have to make SNACKS.

We made a schedule for daily snacks, because of all the phrases I can’t stand, the second worst is “What’s for snack?” The worst, in case you are wondering, is a tie between, “Mom, help!” [while running away from a pursing younger sibling, after having relentlessly goaded him or her into aggression] and “Mom, I’m bored.”

Some say that if your children are bored, you should intervene with chores. Some say that if your children are bored, you should not intervene, and allow the boredom to push them toward creativity. I try for the happy middle. I don’t want you to even ask what that is.

Anyway, we have been eating high on the hog: fondue suppers, kebabs, cheese wontons, maple-frosted cupcakes, gourmet omelets, and all our favorite dishes. The snack schedule works fine (Monday morning pretzels and cheese, Tuesday afternoon a popsicle) until we get to something healthy. They hate when that happens.

Summer is lovely. We soak up the sunshine and hold new kittens and go see hot air balloons and argue about the hammock I got for Mother’s Day. The kids think I am being a pig because I won’t let them jump on it or push each other out of it. “You just want to keep it all for yourself,” they accuse.

You got it, honey.

I get tired of being the bad guy though. So we plan lots of fun stuff and do it. That helps to balance out all the times I say “no,” and “that’s not what our family does” and “get in here and empty this dish drainer like I told you.” They still think I am a big old meanie, and for me that is the most wearing thing about this stage of mothering.

We have more trouble getting in sync.

“Mom, what are you doing on the computer?”

I am sitting outside typing. “Writing.”

“Well, I’m bored. And now a bunch of dandelions will grow in your flowerbed because I just threw a big bunch of seeds in there.”

{See? Untreated boredom breeds creativity.}

“Is she actually writing this down? Everything we say?”

This is the hard part, and I hate how quickly it came – they don’t think I’m god anymore, and I require things that are painful for us both, and sometimes my ideas look to them like the stuff they sneeze out of their noses on dry winter mornings. Ugh, mom.

“You’ll thank me someday” hardly cuts it.

I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark. Others’ mistakes are clearer; my own are deeply felt, but not easily corrected until it’s too late, indistinct until they appear with blinding clarity in the rearview mirror. Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.

There are good things too. Sometimes we love each other very much, especially when I say yes to a spray painting project and am, briefly, the best mommy in the whole world. Then I pass around some more cupcakes, chocolate-frosted this time.

The delightful part about this stage is always having comrades, game for adventure. I am rarely alone. I have a salad-eating buddy, a shopping helper, a joke lover, and an enthusiastic gaggle of partners in reading, picnicking, boating, exploring, pretty much anything I name that does not involve work. It’s fun. They are fun. They are starting to have thoughts of their own, and can tell a good book from a mediocre one, and spin insights that make me laugh for the intelligent feelings behind them.

“You know what people in Middle Earth the Mennonites remind me of? The Ents. Because we don’t really pride ourselves on being that much to look at, you know? And we’re slower to take opportunities and get on board with new things. But if something we love is threatened or destroyed, you have to reckon us in.”

How did we get here? I couldn’t tell you. I thought he was busy with Play-Doh just yesterday.

“Mommy, I really like how you sleep with your fists. It makes you look like a baby. It makes you look sweet.”

Okay? I don’t know how we got there either. Whatever.

This is summertime at the Zooks. What’s yours like?

And thanks for your delightful comments and confessions on marriage. I enjoyed them very much.

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6 years ago

I think I like your blog so much because it makes motherhood seem less lonely. And I didn’t even feel lonely……but I still mean that!

6 years ago

I get this…ALL of it! I’ve even been threatened to be replaced! Our moms survived, I’m guessing we might too! Happy summer to you!

another mommy in the trenches
6 years ago

This struck a deep chord with me. It sounded so much like us.
Your picture of Jenny after you said you have more trouble getting in sync made my day. I love puns. ?
I also understood perfectly about someone always talking (loudly). Only here, there are often several someones at a time. At the supper table, especially.
Yes, there are days I feel I could pop because I love these people so much, and days I feel like pulling out my hair, or maybe theirs. ? But overall, we are enjoying summer and each other.

I do have fears about my parenting. Your potholes and weaving trajectory sound familiar. I know where my weakness lies: a big fat streak of being too relational and not enough of an authority. Glad for my husband’s wisdom and balance!

6 years ago

My oldest is seven, the other three are preschoolers. I’m still at the stage where I look forward to summer because I have an extra babysitter and we don’t have the rush in the mornings. I’m finding out there are other challenges that I hadn’t thought of though. It sounds like all moms need extra fortitude in the summer!

Marsena K Weaver
6 years ago

Thank-you! Thank-you! I went from teary eyes to audible laughter. (I love puns!) I told one of my friends that I convince myself during the school year that maybe I am not doing too bad at this Mothering thing and then Summer comes and blows my theory to pieces! It is intense, but by God’s grace I have determined to not fill my children’s memories with a Mom about to loose her cool over that bedroom that could use CAMS disaster response team. It takes a high level of determination and a great deal of apology at times, but maybe by the time they leave home I will get this mastered?!?! Thanks for your transparency. Somehow knowing we Moms are weathering this battle together fills my heart with hope and smiles! Have a great day!

Ruth Weaver
6 years ago

Yesterday was a very Monday Monday. I was glad to see it end. This morning I read this and laughed out loud and read excerpts to my children (9 of ’em). They looked sheepish and a bit chagrined to know that someone they don’t know could so accurately describe things. I can identify with pretty much everything you said! Thank you for taking the time to encourage all of us moms. This summer and time of my life is often bringing to my mind the favorite song of my great-grandmother—who raised 11 boys and 3 girls—”I Need Thee Every Hour.” That is the good part about the intensity—it either drives us to insanity or to Jesus. And I do want Jesus!

6 years ago

Strong identification here on pretty much every front.

The one thing you failed to mention was how the blitzing heat can unfortunately turn a gorgeous, giddy, sweet mama into a blistering, festering, boiling snake in mere seconds.

Honestly, this summer I can’t believe how much my own moods swing with the weather.

6 years ago

p.s. You knew I had more to say, right?? 😉

I’m very impressed with the way you’re coordinating meal helpers. I’m sure they’re loving it, especially if they get to do the planning.

Maybe next year they will be ready to take over the kitchen for the summer.

Dorcas Showalter
6 years ago

We are in the middle of winter here in Chile, but one of the things that has saved my sanity many times: our 3 children were born in 2 months less than 3 yrs, they are now 9,8,6. A wise old lady who had 10 children gave the advice when they were still babies, that every day have them rest for 1 hr after lunch. It doesn’t matter how old they are, they may read a book, they have to nap if they have been grumpy (even now). They might read, they might color, just ding around in their room but they have to be by themselves, and no talking to anyone, I tell ours an hr and a half. I look forward to those resets, and quietness

6 years ago

I laughed out loud when I read this! Actually its not the first time I did that! ? I love reading your posts, somehow you put the thoughts I think into words. I don’t enjoy writing that much. I’ve got 3 boys, none old enough to do school so this whole parenting thing can be a real stretch for me! I love to read others experiences and know I’m not alone. ☺
Keep writing, I’m reading! Ella

6 years ago

I literally laughed out loud over this: “I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.” YEEEEES!

My summer (which I dreaded with every fiber of my being) is actually going really well. I forget that my children are not so small, that each year they’re developmentally a leap ahead of the last. For our little family, the difference between the past two summers and this one is blinding. This year they’re 10, 7, 4, and 2. But just two short summers ago, my children were all developmentally at the toddler or baby stage. My “babies” have leaped to the “childhood” stage, and my (two older) foster children have leaped to their age-appropriate behaviors–for the most part. I cannot believe how far they’ve come. I thank God! I may survive. Better not get pregnant.

6 years ago

I think the reason I love reading your blog and I keep being drawn back to your posts is because you are so so honest and real…you put into words so graciously what the rest of us are feeling and yet don’t or can’t express it. Sometimes it’s too deep it just doesn’t come out or there’s not enough energy to get it there. Either way…you are a breath of fresh air to my heart many times. Thank you…

It sounds like your house needs a boredom buster jar like I created for my children this summer. 🙂 I compiled over 270 ideas for them to do when they’re bored. It might be a chore, having fun with food, a craft project, playing a game or doing something outside. Adult assistance is supposed to be minimal. 🙂 Most ideas are free or use things that you would commonly find in a household. Maybe I should just give you a complimentary copy for blessing me. 🙂 But you’d have to contact me because I have no idea what your address is. Haha! 🙂

6 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

I’m serious…I’d love to share with you. We can discuss details later. I’ll be waiting…:)

6 years ago

“Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.” Amen!! Absolutely. And I wonder why in the world God let me be a mother? I have not one iota of an idea on how to do this! I mean I never even had a brother and now I’m supposed to know how to be a mom to 5 boys?!?!?

Judith Showalter
6 years ago

Oh Shari! i just looove these kinds of posts! I can’t wait to have Evan read it and say, “See! These things happen in other homes!!” 🙂

I know that you know what it’s like to have twins in your house and mine aren’t even running around yet. But they sure can make noise and take up lots of time and cause quite a chaos… along with the other 5 siblings. I told someone recently that it would all be worth it if I just knew they would turn out right. Yet I know that wouldn’t be a good thing either.

We do have our wonderful times…. Who can stay in a bad mood when there are 2 babies who think you are THE BEST! When they sigh with relief because, “I’m in MOM’S arms again!” Or when they look at each and the smiles light their faces and they start talking! Yes, life is good! ……Just don’t ask me when I’m way too tired and the dishes are still there and the bathroom stinks and…………there is no one to help me.

God’s grace is sufficient!

Keep writing! I feel so encouraged:)

Linette, I’m interested in your boredom buster jar:)

Tina Z.
6 years ago

I’m interested too! 🙂

6 years ago

I’m extremely interested in this magic jar as well!!! I’d be happy to compensate the compiler for her time and efforts and willingness to share!! Seriously!

6 years ago

Come visit me and I’d be happy to give you one! 😉 Hint, hint. And congratulations on the twins!

6 years ago

That’s funny; I always assumed we were the hobbits. Unassuming, good tilled earth, strong aversion to adventures, quiet of the land. Oh, and we like to eat (potlucks, anybody?).

6 years ago
Reply to  The Boss

and second breakfast, of course.

6 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

I’m with your son. (Furry feet?!?)

LuAnn Peters
6 years ago

Our summers are usually mostly fun things since my husband is a school teacher. We are on our way to NM on a camping trip with my family for a few days. But, yes, one word I hear a lot is “mom” my 5 year old has many things to talk about?

6 years ago

For this homeschool mom, summer is a piece of cake. I love it and wish it would last twice as long! I can actually feel a little bit sane for a change.

6 years ago

The first week of summer vacation I was sure this summer would be the end of me. I was used to quiet days with one little boy who entertained himself endlessly. The switch to five children constantly in my space needing redirection and supervision was a shocker (you would think I would know by now what summer is like!) Several weeks in, my fifteen year old was suddenly needed every day at the tire shop where my husband works. I guess the Lord knew he still needed me sane; the difference with him being busy and happy is amazing!! And actually leaves me feeling kinda sad to see this man-child coming home from work all tired and dirty at night… Can’t please some of us.

I’ve concluded my girls just don’t get bored as easily. They are constantly coming up with projects and ideas and keeping themselves occupied. I’m actually enjoying summer; especially the cool, quiet mornings before everyone is up and running (Still need that space to breathe! ?)

Irene Stutzman
6 years ago

“…I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark…”

I am not quite in the stage of mothering as you are. (Sometimes I wish I were there already.) 🙁 But I feel like you are putting into words a lot of my own heart. It’s so good to be reminded that I am not alone. Thank you.

Natalia Showalter
6 years ago

I was reminded of our firstborn’s first grade teacher. She and her students compiled a list of ‘100 Things To Do This Summer’. We posted it on our fridge and highlighted the things we did. The children loved it! Maybe because they helped create it.
Go to the library
Catch lightning bugs
Pull weeds
Roast marshmallows
Clean the cellar
Climb Mt. Everest
Ride a pig
Plant a sunflower house
Clean your room
Make banana splits…………
Obviously some children have big ideas! A huge dirt pile became ‘Mt. Everest’ and we didn’t worry about crossing everything off the list. We used the idea in later summers; I would stick in one -time chores as they got older and they didn’t forget to list their favorites..

6 years ago

Legos–my mom taught us to play with them on a sheet. At the end of playing, we picked up the edges of the sheet and poured them back into the 5-gallon bucket with a lid.

Sometimes we used a dustpan to scoop them into the bucket.

Hope it helps. I am delaying the onset of Legos as loooong as possible for my son who is 7.

By the way, my daughter who is 3 adores the ladybug potty we’re borrowing this summer.

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