mrsfrizzleBy Sarah Vander Schaaff

The time to underestimate your own potential is now, my fellow parents. It’s February, yes, and I hear the groundhog saw his shadow, but summer will be here before you know it. At least the week of camp you really hope to send your kid to will be filled up or canceled before you know it.

Some may adhere to a laissez faire approach to June through August, and I’m all for less hustle and more restoration of balance for the body, mind, and academic load.

But I have learned two things over the course of nine years of parenting. The first is that days off from school are not days off from meeting the curiosity of children. They don’t read the back of cereal boxes anymore, so that particular challenge begins before anyone in my house has finished a cup of coffee.

The second is that I can’t do this alone. During the academic months, our children are enriched by conversations with their peers, their teachers, and their coaches nearly every day. Take those things away and there is one person, generally, who receives the focus of their questions, complaints, snack orders and wardrobe requirements: you. That is, if you’re the one I think you are, namely the parent who stays home or who has more flexibility with the work schedule.

You can plan day trips to museums. You can plan play dates. You can set up a schedule to block off time for the kids to keep skills sharp or preserve their free time so they can read in the hammock. But what you cannot do, and I say this to you as much as to remind myself, is overestimate your potential to meet their insatiable curiosity.

Red hair notwithstanding, I am no Mrs. Frizzle.

I was reminded of my own limits just this past December. It was a tough month, the peak of Nutcracker performances for my two girls, school concerts, Christmas presents to track down—the general pre-holiday mayhem for a parent who also, by the way, had to make sure there was milk in the fridge.

One Saturday late in the month, my husband took the girls so I’d have time to catch up on things with the house. My first goal was to sort through the layers of junk mail and catalogs that had piled up near the back door. But first, I checked my email. I got this from the school gardening teacher:

“You are signed up to care for the chickens today.

Corn scratch, water, greens from the garden (lettuce) and collect eggs.”

It was cold out.

The girls were gone.

I had to wrap presents and use my “Santa-handwriting.”

The last thing I wanted to do was drive 20 minutes to the school, forage for greens, collect eggs and hang out at the chicken coop by myself. Not that I didn’t think the chickens were lovely and deserving of care.

Then I remembered a mild day in September when I scanned the school’s chicken care sign-up sheet and noticed that the weekend of December 21st was still available.

“Oh, the girls would love that,” I’d said to myself. “And even though I will be in the throes of holiday chaos and it will be freezing out, and it’s a date that’s been suspiciously left vacant by the other over-eager-chicken-care families who know better, I’ll sign right up!”

I’d been cocky about the chickens. Yes, I’d overestimated my potential.

And so, dear readers, it is now February and I have no doubt that part of you has a romantic vision for a summer and your ability to orchestrate a fantastic summer for your children, spouse, and extended family—even the chickens will be singing your praise—without needing to build in some time for yourself.

Don’t do it.

Take a good look at those weeks of June, July and August. Think about a week of rain, some arguments over screen time, a summer cold or colorful rash they picked up at a bouncy house, and then, dear reader, start looking at the calendar with that in mind.

Don’t sign-up for chicken care on July 3rd.

If you can remember that, you’ll be fine.


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