For our family, today is the first day back to school. Is your summer over yet? Did you do all the things on your "must do this summer" list? What about the fun activities you had planned or the together time with your kids? Me neither. Not even close. But I did do some thing(s) on my list. (Here's one of my 6-year-old lists. Making to-do lists is one of her talents.)
Some Moms (like Janae who puts on her own summer camps or Kerri who can make a trip to the museum with 3 small children look easy) seem to do fun things every day all summer--the free family movies, friends running around the house all the time, at the pool, trips to the lake or the zoo, bike rides, splash parks, camping trips, concerts in the park. When people reminisce about the great things they did when they were younger (or last week), sometimes it reminds me that we hardly ever manage to do any of those things.
(Though I did manage to spend a lot of time at the dentist this summer--after regular checkups, I took kids back for a filling, sealants, wisdom teeth extraction, a frenectomy, a baby tooth that had to be pulled out, and the week before school started, to the orthodontist for new braces. Not to mention I had to get 3 of my own fillings replaced. Silly me, I thought those were good for life. What a fun filled summer. By the way, if you want help getting your teen to talk to you, stick around when he gets the "laughing gas"--nitrous oxide. Now back on topic.)
Last year we bought a pass to the museum, since some of my kids really wanted to go, and just one more visit paid for the pass--everything after that was essentially free! We imagined we would go several times, no pressure to stay the whole day, since it was free. One year later we found ourselves squeezing in a short trip to the museum as our membership was expiring that week and we hadn't been the second time yet. Most of the pictures on this post were taken by our middle child on that second, quick trip to the museum.
When we were driving in the car on the way to the museum, I got a phone call (from Kerri--the fun mom!) Such a call from far off Chicago didn't happen every day, and as I mentioned that our whole family was in the car, on our way to the museum, I thought of how distorted a view of our family I was giving her. Such trips are extremely rare. And we're lucky if half the kids are happy about going at all.
But, upon reflection, and after listening to my older kids reminisce on ocassion, I thought maybe my view of our family was just as distorted. The boys talked about things they "used to do" like they remembered them as common occurrences. "Remember when we lived in Chicago and we always took bike rides through that sculpture park?" I guess in the years we lived there, we did manage that bike ride a few times, but they made it sound like a weekly happening. (Of course, they also remember the one time I got them to weed the garden like they did it every week, too.) "I loved that [inflatable kiddie] pool we used to have in the backyard." At the time I thought I was letting them down not taking them to a real pool. Now we have a real pool just a few doors down they can go to all summer and they have nostalgia for a dirty wading pool!
Sometimes it is a holiday "tradition" that I've heard mentioned. I used to think traditions meant that they couldn't be skipped, or you would blow the family tradition. Didn't get a family picture taken for the Christmas card? Bad Mom. But it turns out that if you just do it sometimes, it gets credit in the family memory as a tradition and may even get used in the same sentence as the word "always." Not getting all the cookies (that you always make) baked for Christmas this year? It's okay, you did it last year. Or maybe the year before that. Good Mom.
The point is, things look different looking back than when you are in the moment. Even to kids. Or maybe especially to kids, I don't know. But I was amazed to hear my teenagers talk about their (earlier) childhood with what sounded to me like fondness. And it gave me a lot of comfort to realize that I didn't have to fill every day with memorable activities in order for their childhood to be memorable. (Whether or not you feel you need fill your days with activities for other reasons is beside the point.)
How we will view the present when it becomes the past will be from a different perspective, and it will necessarily look significantly different. I'm not in a position to make any promises, but I think it's pretty hopeful that it will look better as time passes. Separately, the ingredients of our days may be unpleasant. No one enjoys a dish of salt or basil, and though there may be a bay leaf in there, no one should be made to actually eat it. But after you let your many days' worth of memories stir and simmer for a few years, the flavors combine and may just make your family's favorite Cream of Memory Soup.