Friday, August 15, 2014

Excruciating Summer Break

     It's the tail end of summer here at TheZoo. Finally! I don't remember another summer as a Mom that I have been as giddy about the school year beginning. Ever.  We educate our kids at home, so what's the difference? I'm with all these precious little angels all day long, every. single. day. What difference does it make to me when summer ends and school begins? The Zooligans have the 'misfortune' to have schoolwork over the summer. It isn't a full curriculum, it's usually something that they showed they needed extra work on during the previous school year, or something to prepare them for what's coming in the next school year. Or it's something that we just didn't finish during the typical school year schedule. These activities take about 20 minutes of their day each morning. That's it. Just 20 minutes.
     Usually summers here have some kind of structure. We aren't scheduled to the 15 minutes or anything. We just have something happening in general most days. You get up in the morning and take care of morning routines. Breakfast, chores, school work. Then, we all know what is happening for the day. Grocery shopping, heading to a cool, shady swimming hole, painting a bedroom, games and music, or a free day setting the timer to take turns between the computer or riding bicycles with neighbor friends. Maybe there is a VBS week at a local church, or a parade to watch. Something.
     Last summer was over scheduled. I actually researched and wrote down all of the summer day camp dates that I could find in our local area, and coordinated them on a calendar. The kiddos were being carted to camps every other week all summer long. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Problem was, summer nights are rather long. It is light as day round here until 10 pm most of the summer. Mr. TheZoo and I would be outside working on one project or another and realizing that we weren't going to get the troupes into bed until at least 11. Ugh. and they needed to be up, fed, and ready for camp to begin at 9 a.m. Most of the camps were only about two hours long, then they'd be exhausted and ready to eat lunch. Chores were more of a challenge than ever, and so was any schoolwork. Then it was dinner time, and outdoor project time, and we would do it all over again. I spent all summer exhausted and anxious. Gah!
     This year, I had another, equally brilliant idea. Ha! We would have a completely UNstructured summer! No vacations, no scheduled trips, only two of the biggers had any sort of camp to go to. We'd be at home all summer long, just takin' it easy livin' the good life. Yeah. That's just how it happened, too. People slept until whenever.  The kids that slept until after 10 a.m. were not the ones that I ever suspected would. Kids fixed themselves breakfast at all different times, so they were ready for lunch at all different times. I spent a large portion of each day finding kiddos to come back and do their chores, do their school work, do their chores correctly, put away their shoes, put away their pencils, put away their toys, put away their games.
     The biggest, most annoying, and hardest part of this unstructured summer, was teaching neighbor kids to resolve conflict. My own children know how I teach, and i know (for the most part) how they learn and how they respond to correction. There have been neighbor kids around here that don't seem to comprehend correction. They tattle, and not on my kids! They are tattling to me about other neighbor kids! I've witnessed that Mr. TheZoo and I are the only adults that check on the kids, that help them resolve conflict, and that assist when there is crying. Wow, talk about a punch in the gut! I spent weeks grousing about providing free daycare and snacks to ungrateful parents all over the neighborhood. How rude! Their kids are at my house eight hours a day! The only feedback I had was one mom concerned that I was being mean to one of her daughters because I told her she shouldn't be shoving her sister. What?!?!!? Then I learned things over the summer. One mom was just diagnosed with cancer and was having heart problems. Another family was back and forth over getting divorced. Another family has a parent going to school and working full time, spending many hours away from his family. Someone else was new to the neighborhood and was trying desperately to find employment.
     I became upset with myself for choosing not to give grace until I knew about these families' circumstances. Why did I wait until I felt like they deserved grace? No one deserves grace. Grace is grace because it is given when it isn't deserved.
     Now that summer is nearly at an end, you'll hear most of the kids that congregate around our house saying things like "I gave her/him wise counsel, but they aren't making a good choice!" Unfortunately, for many of the kids, it's still hoping to see someone 'get in trouble', but they are no longer rushing to me with a story about how terrible someone is being. They are also learning to say "Please don't shout, and be respectful with your words." It's difficult to be spiteful and ugly when saying that mouthful. It has diffused several disagreements, and the couple of kiddos that 'don't have to listen to you!' are now listening.
     I don't think I'm some kind of fantastic miracle come to save the neighborhood's kids and make them perfect. That's ridiculous. I am glad that I was able to be around for some kids who were desperate for someone to be there. I am glad that I learned something about grace, because I received a lot of it during those first 8 weeks of summer when I was complaining about the responsibility for these kids that aren't mine being thrust on me.
     This unstructured summer has been challenging. It's probably been the most challenging summer ever in my parenting years.  I don't expect next summer to be any less challenging. But I do expect to be prepared.  Sure, with more snacks on hand, and a few structured outdoor activities. I'm not about to set up a tent revival or a neighborhood VBS, but I think we can do some of those fun Pinterest summer things. If nothing else, I'll have some Pinterest fails to post about! I expect to begin preparing myself with prayer, preparing my heart to love someone else's kids, whether I know their circumstances or not, and prepared to give away the abundance of grace that's been given to me.


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