26 Sep 2022 My Instagram Feed Says I’m Weak
Summer is my favorite time of year. Bare feet, barely-there clothes, lazy mornings. While most moms prepare for summer by finding the perfect camp for their kids, I get ready to bunker in for a ten-week session of Camp Mami. Collaborative breakfasts, long sessions of Marco Polo, never-ending rounds of Monopoly: these are my everyday summertime thrills.
Of course, things never turn out according to plan. No matter how great the intention, there can only be one outcome when a mom and her three kids spend extended periods of time under one roof: chaos. Mom, I’m bored, my seven-year-old declares three days into summer. Boredom makes us creative! I reply, my enthusiasm wearing thin at about the one-week mark. One week: that’s how long it takes before the kids start fighting. Every day. All day. Because I hate conflict, my natural tendency is to try and put an end to every single argument.
About two weeks into summer, I’ve forgotten my blissful kumabaya intentions and become engrossed in a fierce battle against discord. My Instagram feed says I need to accept fighting as a natural part of healthy sibling rivalries. According to the wise people in the feed, it’s not the raised voices or aggressive roughhousing that make me miserable, but my unrealistic desire to establish harmony. I breathe deep and try to ignore the screaming matches. Meanwhile, every one of my cells cringes. Exhausted, I start daydreaming about sending everyone off to camp. Better yet: what if I went to camp? Forget our little nest, forget summer joy, forget 21st century parenting, all I want now is some peace and quiet.
Summer never materializes into the heavenly wonderland I always plan for. And yet, for some reason, I still look forward to it every year. Does this further solidify my Instagram feed’s opinions about my out-of-touch parenting skills? Maybe.
To my credit, this year I wasn’t anticipating summer with the same naïve, earnest spirit I usually do. Maybe it had something to do with turning forty, the reality of middle-age settling in. Maybe it was the September 15th writing project deadline that loomed in front of me. Maybe it was the fact that we were remodeling our kitchen and needed to spend six weeks in Florida – the longest we’ve ever been away from home. Or maybe, just maybe, it had to do with the weight of another project; selling and packing up our summer home.
Knowing all too well I was heading into a storm, I started looking into local day camps. In our family, the mere mention of the word camp is enough to send my kids into Armageddon mode. Camp is like jail, my then five-year-old daughter declared the first time I sent her to preschool camp. Back then, I only had the emotional stamina to endure two afternoons’ worth of whining. On day three, I gave in and let them quit, forgoing a months’ worth of paid camp fees. Now, five years later, I remembered that first camp tragedy and decided to stick to my original plan. Camp Mami would live on, despite the heightened levels of chaos being home this summer might bring.
As soon as we got to Florida, I focused on the first task at hand: selling the apartment. During our first showing, we got a cash offer at asking price. Success! Soon after, the kids started fighting. As I tried to ignore their screams while deciding which household items to sell, donate, or keep, I could feel my fears about our carefree-summer-gone-wrong boiling to the surface.
Awareness about my impending doom didn’t stop me from attempting to deliver some magical summer moments. During the only family creative writing workshop I’ll ever host, I learned that the easiest way to frustrate a seven-year-old is to force him to free write for five minutes. The newly implemented tie-dying portion of Camp Mami taught me that while it only takes about twenty minutes to multi-color every single white garment in your house, the ink will stain your hands for weeks. As the children fought in-between activities, I started to suspect that my Instagram feed might be right after all. When it came to my parenting skills, I was weak, and maybe not cut out to keep all three kids home this summer.
I decided to sign the big kids up for surf camp. In an effort to get them excited about beach jail, I took them to Walmart to buy book bags, lunch boxes, bug spray, and sunscreen. $400 later (!!), I shuffled them off to camp, hoping to recover my sanity during five mornings of peace and quiet. The week after camp, we went on a family trip to the Bahamas, where I paid my five-mornings-of-peace-and-quiet-dues when all three kids caught the flu, transforming beach paradise into vacation jail.
By the time we returned to Florida, it was already midsummer, and the month I’d taken off from work had neared its supposed idyllic end. I tried to sneak in writing spurts between Exploding Kittens card games and Monster Jam outings. Meanwhile, our toddler decided to climb out of his crib and stop napping. Refusing to give up on my dwindling writing time, I laid down next to him every afternoon and bribed him to sleep, all the while mastering the art of typing with one finger and squinting at the computer screen with the light on at its lowest setting.
A few weeks later, we turned in the keys to our apartment, sold our furniture, and donated all unnecessary toys and gadgets to Goodwill, including the $400 worth of camp stuff from Walmart. As for the remaining pillows, sheets, and unnecessary toys and gadgets we did want to keep, we stuffed those into twelve suitcases. In Barajas, the Spanish taxi driver shook his head at us, the disturbed look on his face effortlessly communicating the fact that even though we now have Spanish passports, our American need for things still lives on deep inside us.
And just like that, we were home again, the summer almost over. Soon the kids would stop screaming about how much they hated each other and start yelling about how much they hated their new school. I closed my eyes and thought about my Instagram feed, how it would soon remind me that my job as a parent is to validate my kids’ emotions, not try and fix every uncomfortable experience.
Now, as the wind picks up and the leaves threaten to crisp, the joys and pains of summer are over. During breakfast after drop-off, Carlos and I sit across from each other in our tie-dyes, remarking about how eerily still the house is. Can there really be such a thing as too much peace and quiet?
The school year has just begun, and we can’t wait to have the kids home again next summer.