Summer Break: The Dog Days of Parenting

puzzle

In parenting, “the days go slow, but the years go fast,” they say. The first time I heard that, it sent me deep into thought, and I was struck by how succinctly and profoundly it described my current situation. The second time I heard it, I smiled and nodded at how true it remained. By the third time I heard it, I was almost getting as sick of that saying as I was of the long, tedious days I was having. Now I feel like barfing every time I hear that stupid parenting cliché.

As the mother of multiples, I hear a lot of clichés. “You must have your hands full!” “At least you got it all over at once!” As the parents of children, we hear more than we can count. “Enjoy them while you can, it goes fast!” “They’re only this age once.”

Since my kids have been out of school this summer, I’ve noticed one thing: the days actually do go fast if the kids are in school. Ha! It turns out, the days only go slow and the years fast when I am home with the kids—all day.

We’re a few weeks in now, and I’m either at my parenting worst or my parenting best. That is to say, I’ve begun using a whiteboard. Normally, I have some nice stuff going on. I have some cute outfits, I’ve been able to see some indie flicks this summer, I’m reading high-brow literature and eating couscous with goat cheese. Damn if that whiteboard doesn’t erase every single bit of cool I have in my bones.

The whiteboard has the day’s activities on it. After our fourth day of summer break, I could barely take it anymore. One of the cutest things about having young children is their darling, insightful questions. One of the hardest things about having triplets is getting asked darling and insightful questions all. . .day. . ..long. You quickly realize the questions aren’t all that darling. They are monotonous, redundant, repetitive—how many words are there to describe the same question being asked over and over again?

The whiteboard is a technique I stole from their teacher. I noticed that she would put the day’s agenda on the board, go over it, and then refuse to entertain a single additional question about what the upcoming day held.

I had a brand new white board ready to go. It had been in the closet since the babies were born. We were told we would need it to record which baby had been fed and when. As it turns out, feeding babies wasn’t that hard. When three hours rolled around, the babies all needed to be fed, and they all woke up screaming. The last one still screaming, was the one that hadn’t been fed. No whiteboard necessary!

“Where’d you get that whiteboard?” I was now asked by a kid when I pulled it out from the depths of the closet in the room that had, for a brief time, been our “nursery.”

“We were going to use it to write down when a baby needed to be fed,” I responded.

“That’s stupid,” she replied, “babies can’t even read.”

And so goes my day that started with the white board. I then wrote the date, and detailed the day’s agenda. It was a slow day, and it went something like this, “Breakfast, television, computer free time, lunch, puzzle.” Although the puzzle was slotted to go from 12:30 until bedtime, I secretly figured the puzzle would be on the white board for a solid week or more. I even developed a scheme where kids could “bank” time on electronics by working on the puzzle. Puzzles develop a whole range of cognitive skills, after all, I theorized.

How did it turn out? Five hundred pieces, two hours. There I was with a white board that simply read “puzzle” alongside a fully completed puzzle. It turns out, triplets put together puzzles in a third of the time one person does.

One of the regrets I have as a parent of babies was not watching more Baby Einstein videos. My social circle of new mothers all knew the nickname for them: Baby Crack. We knew the kids weren’t really learning foreign languages or how to write like Shakespeare, but we also knew that nothing calmed a baby like putting in a Baby Einstein DVD. Because they were so effective, we figured they must be horrible for our babies’ development, so we limited their use. My own boundary was one hour in the morning and one hour during the “witching hour”—after dinner and before bedtime.

It was a constant source of frustration when my husband would put on the Baby Einstein as soon as I left the house. I felt for sure it would eliminate the DVDs’ magical powers if they were overused on the babies. Finally, he said to me, “You’re right. The Baby Einstein DVDs are so much worse than three babies screaming all day and you walking around constantly stressed out.”

I should have used more Baby Einstein videos, I think to myself, as I sit here, smugly, thinking how much better it is that I’m not resorting to sticking my kids in high-priced camps to entertain them but instead they are doing the types of things I was doing when I grew up—playing in the sprinkler, swinging and doing puzzles. Someday, maybe in the not-too-far-distant future, I will look back on this summer and wonder why I didn’t sign up for more camps. On the bright side, as one of the other moms graciously pointed out when I lamented about the 500-piece puzzle being done in two hours–if kids can do puzzles that fast, they’re probably geniuses. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their whiteboard-wielding mother.

 

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