Clippings: Summer can test parents’ patience

“I am so bored. I’m bored to death!” moans my 7-year-old daughter.
We are three weeks into summer vacation. For one of those weeks, she attended a day camp at Lake Dunmore. For two and a half of those weeks, her grandparents visited from California; this visit included a trip to the Six Flags Great Escape water and amusement parks, a day at Shelburne Farms, the Ilsley Library summer reading truck touch, and a strawberry picking outing. For two weeks, she took daily swimming lessons at the Middlebury Town Pool.
She has three younger sisters, a house full of books and toys, and one and a quarter acres at her disposal.
She is bored to death.
* * * * *
As a parent, the most challenging thing about summer vacation is getting on top of some sort of schedule. During the school year, I can construct a semblance of predictability: I wake at 5:45 AM, get centered, dressed, and prepare breakfast, rouse the girls at 6:30, and have the school-goers out the door by 7:45. I enforce a “rest” time for the non-school-goers from 1-3 PM, before the bus arrives at the foot of our driveway at 3:25.
It’s a delicate system, and it’s easily thrown off balance by illness or disrupted sleep or special events. But that predictable schedule keeps me sane and makes the writing of this column possible.
During the summer, all bets are off. The first week of vacation, our girls awoke at 5:30 AM. Now they’ve settled into a routine of waking around 7 — unless I get lazy and try sleeping past 6:15, at which point they’re jumping on my head and demanding breakfast.
Visitors come and go. Camps last for a week and are over. Travel, special events, and extended daylight push bedtime towards 9 PM.
I give up. “My new approach is just to roll with each day as it unfolds,” I tell a friend as we huff and puff on a hike up Chipman Hill.
An hour later I’m yelling at my daughters, half of whom are in tears for various reasons, and all of whom are late for their swimming lessons.
* * * * *
Getting children out the door is easier in summer than the rest of the year. Gone are the coats, snow boots, snow pants, gloves, hats, and scarves, replaced by a sparse wardrobe of shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.
That’s what I tell myself. Then I remember the sunscreen and bug spray.
In all honesty, I do not always remember the sunscreen and bug spray (my husband is the sunscreen/bug spray/bike helmet/car seat safety parent in our family.) But they are important components of summer, particularly if camps or water are in the plans.
Our children have two developmental stages when it comes to sunscreen and bug spray: Absolute Refusal, and “I’ll do it myself.”
Absolute Refusal, which lasts from birth to about age 4, involves screaming, tears, and physical restraint (for both parent and child.)
“I’ll do it myself” (age 4 and up) involves massive globs of sunscreen unevenly applied to both the child’s body as well as the carpeted stairs that our house’s previous owners helpfully installed in the mudroom.
Both are equally challenging in terms of getting out the door on time.
* * * * *
The girls have taken over the shed in the backyard.
It’s another example of how children are like kudzu, or poison parsnip, or any number of invasive weeds that slowly take over and choke out the competition.
As new parents, we had the idea that our children’s things would be confined neatly to their bedroom and perhaps one small corner of the common space. “This house belongs to adults,” we said. “They are merely nonpaying tenants.”
Then we looked around and realized that they outnumbered us, two to one.
To be fair, the shed was ripe for conquest. During the winter, it houses the lawn mower and deck furniture; during the summer, it’s an empty shell. So this year they turned it into a “Nature Center.”
The “Nature Center” includes a desk where one can sign up for “Nature Camp,” a play kitchen for cooking “edible plants,” a small tent, various plant samples taped to the walls, and a large number of Daddy Long Legs spiders imprisoned in the bug house.
Thus far, they’ve learned that Daddy Long Legs spiders live less than a day in captivity.
But at least they’re getting out of the house.
* * * * *
It was a good summer for strawberries. Like almost everyone in Addison County, we took a trip to Douglas Orchards. Thirty minutes of picking with two adults and four children (who were more consumers than helpers) yielded us enough strawberries to put up 9 jars of preserves and half a dozen freezer bags of whole berries.
“Why is everything strawberry?” my daughter asks on the morning that the breakfast choices include strawberry bread, strawberry muffins, and strawberry-chocolate chip pancakes.
* * * * *
Summer in Vermont is a season of plenty: plenty of green, plenty of fun, plenty of rain, plenty of berries, plenty of mosquitoes. But children can always find something to complain about.
July 4th, according to my five-year-old, was “the worst day of my life.” It began when she was “forced” to eat strawberry chocolate-chip pancakes instead of the waffles she wanted. It got worse when the bag of candy she collected from the floats at the Bristol July 4th parade did not contain a single lollipop.
The nail in the coffin was the party we attended that evening — a party that included a bouncy house, a pig roast, a photo booth, and some of my daughters’ best friends in attendance.
“Was that the best party ever?” I asked, as we drove away.
No: Her older sister was bossy, and the rain started before we could see the fireworks.
The following morning, my husband made waffles and set a note by my daughter’s plate that read: “This is the best day of your life!”
She finished her waffles and stared at her empty plate.
“I’m bored,” she said.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch. 

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