Linked

Let me tell you about before this picture:

Sleepless nights with sick children, which made for a cancelled flight; praying; new flights obtained; so much packing; cleaning the house so we come home to a clean house; waking pre-dawn to get to the airport; a delay; while we waited for our plane, our son choked on a bagel and then barfed in my hands, which I was grateful for because he was breathing; rental car issues; so much talking from our kids while we try to figure out logistics, which is its own especially loud ring of hell; an exploded sunblock in a luggage that covered most of what I brought for myself; a toothbrush that fell in the toilet just as I was about to brush my teeth the first night....

All of that and more is what came before this shot that happened organically. Stuff like that (and more!) is what is always before whatever great snapshot you see almost anywhere — at least if you go back long enough in the timeline.

The mess is life. I forget that too often; do you? The mess is not a glitch, but a feature. It can’t be fixed so as never to occur again; it’ll always be there somehow. We clean and we clean, and we should; and we work and we work, and we should because we get to moments like this where it all feels right and good and unmessy. For awhile.

They linked arms of their own accord and stayed that way for long enough that I could snap this shot — a 2019 miracle in the first three days of the year. We were linked behind them. And because we were asleep when the new year came in, I’ll take this as our new year beginning. We get to decide when we want to start anew. We’re the bosses of ourselves.

The good stuff is what powers us through the mess of life in a year — the sleepless nights when a kid is wheezing for air or when one has a headache in her eye for too long, which means that no mother is going back to sleep soundly because that would be impossible.

There’s a moment coming for you if you’re not in the brilliant or even just the ok now. There’s always a next. It may only be a second, though. Nothing lasts forever. But seconds count. They make up a whole new year. Can’t blink, though. And you’ll have to look up from your phone to see it. Usually have to get off the couch to experience it, too.

Thank you for reading here. I’ve got plans for this new year and would be thankful if you’d stick around. Let’s stay linked however we can this year. It’s the best way to get through the mess of life.

Xoxo,

Annie

IMG_4881.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Hope

I paid money to have my house cleaned. I will skimp anywhere to be able to do that; it gives me that much joy. To walk in my home and have it smell like nothing: a real gift. I clean before she actually cleans, so all of the garbage is out, the toys are put away, the stuff of life is where it goes when you take a break from living in it all.

I’m lying in my warm bed and no kids are in it this morning; they’re one room over discussing the puppy they’re sure Santa is bringing them. I know that one child doesn’t fully believe anymore, though I’m keeping up the charade as we wink and nod at one another. With the littler two there, he does: Hope is contagious and I want to never become immune. I want the same for them.

It’s not sad when they get older for me — not yet anyways, if ever. I like more reasonable people. You get conversations! Discussions! Decent arguments that make me change my mind when I should, date nights with my husband and just one kid — these are all beautiful for me.

Baby believes that a puppy will arrive Christmas morning and, really, — why wouldn’t Baby believe that? He knows who he is. The most oft-repeated phrase in Baby’s life is probably: “Give it to him.”

But Baby is not getting a puppy. I promise you that as much as they currently want the puppy, they’ll be thrilled Christmas morning even still. Why do I know this?

Because I’ve been laying the groundwork for them so that they’re not devastated when there’s no puppy in our family room on Christmas morning: “Santa can’t really bring a puppy... also, we travel a lot... also, I don’t want to deal with a puppy and it’s hard for you to pick up your socks so we’re not there yet...”.

And my daughter said this, which I’m going to put in quotes, but it was a monologue and I didn’t write it down as she spoke, so I’m doing my best at paraphrasing, but I’m missing some. She said:

“I know we probably won’t get it, but could you stop saying we probably won’t? Because I don’t even care if I do, but I like to ask and think about crazy things all month. This is the fun to me. Santa always surprises me with stuff I like better than what I even asked for and that — plus the time I get to picture outrageous stuff he might bring me — is the whole fun for me.”

Honestly? All that she said — same for me. I picture scenarios where I’m reading a portion of the book I’ve written in a room full of people who are feeling it and also not related to me and where I’ve taken the trip to Italy and we’ve just finished dinner in some small Italian town and where did the kids wander off to? Oh, there they are getting gelato across the plaza. Look how grown they are. Is that Italian flirting with my daughter?

I’m here for outrageous imaginings.

Living in the moment? Brilliant, wonderful, necessary and our children can teach us how. But there’s not enough props given to living in our imaginations. Reality starts somewhere and, often, it’s in our games of pretend. I know this because I’m listening to them talk to each other and no one is fighting and, like I said, my sheets are clean and I think I dreamt this scene before. And that’s a small scenario, but our whole trip to Ireland last year started directly in Imaginary Land before I ended up with my husband, our kids, my mom, and a table full of Irish cousins at a table on the second floor of a restaurant on a narrow street in Ireland.

Everything good starts somewhere.

Santa is not bringing a puppy this year, but I am listening to them talk puppy names and whether it’ll come from a shelter or a breeder and where it’ll sleep and who will do what to care for it and this is a moment that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a little girl who knows the stuff and reminds me not to interrupt hope. Because there’s a place for that and we should make room for it forever.

These are the gifts we get as they grow.


(Want to be with me when that book I haven’t yet written comes out? Stay in touch and share with anyone who may like to read. Thank you. xoxo). 

IMG_4465.JPG
Anne Flavin Comment
🙏

If you’ve got your way to pray figured out, you’re so good, truly. This is for the rest of us, and for you, too, when you’re in a weird place again. (Also, if you’re not a pray-er: Hi, great to meet you and welcome to the club).

The fastest and best way I’ve learned how to pray is... I’ll give you an example. Like tonight, when we’ve all just gotten over one sickness, or are trying to, and kids start vomiting whack-a-mole style. One’s up, one’s down, up, down, up, up, down, down.

That should be enough to start talking to whatever god/goodness you believe in, but it’s not for me.

When I get interested in a higher power is when, with the night going as it is, my washing machine decides to surprise me on when it would like to perform its rinse cycle.

I am the best pray-er I know how to be at this moment: middle of the night, vomit-cleaning since 10pm, listening for every sound that will foretell the next stage of our night. Hail Mary.

I start repeating anything I can remember and also pleading, until it turns into a conversation with, “Sorry I haven’t been around, but I know you’re not petty so help me out: I only come when I’m really desperate because I’m not going to waste any time. Also, have I thanked you for the people who invented running water and bleach and Gatorade and buckets? Big thanks there.”

We put all of our Christmas decorations up last weekend and then a painter that I like had availability and I had been wanting to get this room painted and so all of the things in that room are disbursed into different areas of our home and it’s a mess — literally and figuratively.

But it’s quiet right now. This instant as I’m typing. I know from experience it won’t be by the time I hit publish. An ear ache that wrecked me last night is gone without me even praying or getting on antibiotics, but I’m not convinced it’ll stay away so I should add that next time I start praying, or just get into a doctor when I can... the vast majority of desperate prayers come in the middle of the night and from pain, I’d wager. Or while waiting for a doctor. Desperation can make you holy.

I was called for more blankets. Remember that cold feeling when you felt sick and how it took five blankets to get you warm? I don’t know how to pray, but when I want to believe in god, I think god is the five blankets tucking you in, not caring that she just had to shower off from when you puked on her. And she wouldn’t care if you talked rudely on the way home from school because she knows the whole of who you are: from her, you came. Of her, you are. With you, she is. Even at 2am. Parenthood is holy, too.

Fix my washer at least until the puke stops.

Amen.

//

I wrote this the other night. It was the kind of night in parenthood and in life where you find out what you’ve got, in terms of strength, in you. We’ve all had a couple, I’m sure, during sicknesses, NICU stays, labor, watching loved ones take their last breaths, finishing something that must be done by morning.

They woke after last night to clean beds from a washer that either rallied or that I set wrong to begin with.

I’m awake now, in the middle of a new night, for no reason at all with the thousands of others of you who are, too. When it’s not chaos, it’s so peaceful. And amen to that.

IMG_3735.PNG
Anne FlavinComment
Baby

Hi, meet our Baby. He’s there, blending in with the winter night sky. Everyone loves Baby; everyone loves everyone’s Baby everywhere the world over. I know this because I married a Baby.

When you have the Baby, you know so much more than you did when you had the First. When Baby comes, it feels easy; this is part of the reason everyone loves Baby so much. The First greased the skids so Baby could just slide right in and fit. You weren’t so worried anymore so you could just let yourself brine in the love and comfort of Baby.

Baby never fell asleep on anything but a human for the first year of his life. Now, someone (like, literally anyone who is in the home at the time) rubs his arm for 5 minutes and Baby is off to dreamland— many times in someone else’s bed, but he transfers: well, he transfers if we don’t fall asleep first before moving him. Babies transfer anywhere easily.

Babies can hang. Babies are dreams.

Except, except.... Babies are every bit of extra. Babies know things babies shouldn’t know. Remember the Firsts? How nervous they were/are of doing something wrong? Of getting in trouble? Babies are brave. Babies don’t care so much. My First politely and privately ASKED ME WHAT THE F WORD WAS IN SECOND GRADE. Baby knew and properly used the f word very young (too young) while putting on his wet swimsuit this summer. “F@ck it,” he said, as he left the one stuck side of his suit to show his bum because he couldn’t pull it up. “What did you say?” I asked. “Nothing,” he answered as he ran out the door to join the others. Babies have to keep up.

While Babies want to be good, they also know that being funny is sometimes even better than being good. Laughing is fun and Babies love a laugh — even better if they made the joke that got the laugh. Babies have senses of humor the minute they’re in our arms. They have to to survive.

Babies have a twinkle in their eyes: like, all of them. Every single Baby I know has a glint of Baby in their eye and it would behoove us all to notice that glint and be ready.

So why is our Baby here raking leaves in the dark? Because Baby is responsible for the first phone call home I’ve ever had from a school. Also responsible for: first - and second and third - emergency room visits; first butterfly bandage attempt (successful); first phone call to 911 (we found him before the police came — he was hiding); and first, youngest ding-dong-ditch of our family. Babies are remarkable. And can I tell you? I’m really watching, honest to goodness I am. This is Baby when I’m doing my very best. Granted, it’s Third Baby Best, but it’s my best even still.

Yesterday, I received a call that Baby was crawling under bus seats to get to the back of the bus even when he was asked not to do so.  So, first, gross. Have you ever seen a bus floor? He’s crawling on that to get to the back of the bus and then coming home and sitting in everyone’s laps, as Babies always do, in those same clothes? Yuck. And second? You know they asked Baby to stop before they called me at home, but Babies give zero f$cks. And third: When I hung up the phone from The Call, I turned and looked, the way good mothers do, at Baby. I said nothing. And he said, “Would that have been about the bus?” with the Baby glint in his eye.

After he and I spoke, he was sent out to rake the yard. He didn’t finish, but said he would today — but even the weather knows about Babies. It snowed this morning so there’s no more raking now. Fall is gone, winter has come, and Baby’s bum better stay in his seat on the bus. What will happen if it doesn’t? I don’t know. We don’t know. We’ve never had Baby before.

But I know I’m in good company: with the Baby of my friend who would like a second ear piercing (she doesn’t even have one ear piercing currently); with the Baby of another friend who blurts out bad words randomly just for the laugh he’s sure to get from his brother’s 10-year-old friends; with the Baby I married who still pulls something Baby amongst his 8 brothers and sisters and gets the laugh.

I never thought birth order mattered very much until my kids came out like they had read every birth order book. Of course, it’s not everything. Baby will learn to keep his butt in his seat and listen to his teachers or he will be raking in the fall and shoveling in the winter. But, he’ll do it with a glint in his eye, while making jokes as he rakes. And you know what he did after he raked a tiny pile of leaves from not even half of our small yard? He jumped in them and laughed because Babies know how to have fun.

IMG_4155.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Scrappy Tennis

We know we are supposed to prepare our children for the world — roots and wings, they say. I agree. And, also, I think we should not prepare them for everything. What I mean is that I think we should teach them how to do things even when they’re unprepared. Most of life, we know this as adults, is about doing things for which we are unprepared, for which we aren’t quite ready. For example, for parents, remember when they let you go home with your first baby? What the hell was that all about? Talk about figuring it out on the fly.

My first baby is the guy in the neon orange shirt. He learned how to play tennis this summer — picked up a racquet for the first time and took lessons. It’s the only thing he hasn’t wanted to do that I asked him to do for me — well, more like the first thing he hasn’t wanted to do that I asked him to do for me; I’m betting on there being plenty more. I asked him just to learn a few things so that he could play with me on vacation someday; these are my dreams, ok? Let me live. I said he had to give it a week before he could quit. I give the option of quitting almost always if their absence won’t affect a team. They should learn when they have to go and suck it up, and they should learn when it’s ok to say, no thanks, this blows, I'm out. We should learn this, too, as grown-ups, by the way.

He loved tennis this summer. In the mornings, like the basketball practice you saw below, it was an early morning tennis workout off of our garage door. And he can play now - good enough that he can return a ball and he likes it enough to want to beat me. I adore when our kids learn to really hang in some capacity, when I can yell “Don’t choke!” if I hit something good enough that I want him to miss, the way every supportive parent does, right? 😉

Now, though, he wants more — lessons, matches, whatever. But I don’t pay for a sport until they really, really want it. I think the waiting is key to giving them ownership of themselves, their play, their autonomy, their life — and for having them respect the amount of money and time it takes you to get them there. Also, I don’t have to beg kids to go to their own damn classes then — it’s a win-win. Whatever it is is their thing then, not mine. You want to take ballet? Great. Here’s a YouTube girl from whom you can learn. Once you practice so much that I can’t deny you care, then I’ll sign you up. There is almost nothing they can’t learn in its beginning stages from the internet at this time in history - the world is their oyster if you’ve got an internet connection and a chair to use as a barre.

Instead of giving to them every experience and lesson so they can have every experience to see what they like of the world, I say let them learn how to be scrappy. Give them just a little. Make them show you that they want more before you indulge them, if you can indulge them; kids sports are no-joke expensive. We’re all trying to give them what we may not have had, to fill ourselves up through them. It may work for us, but it won’t fill them up. So take it easy. Give them endless love, always, but endless opportunity isn’t necessary or, even, beneficial.

They’ve got to learn resilience somehow. And an easy way to learn that skill, if life has been kind enough to them so far, is through having experiences that aren’t exactly a perfect fit. Resilience lets them know how to hang even when they’re unprepared.

After learning to play this summer, my son hasn’t taken any lessons. He hasn’t really played except with me here and there since August, but he’s wanted to play more and so we found one place that would let him play in a tournament even if he’s not enrolled in lessons. Most of the tennis places won’t let you do that because they like to have all of your money. But we found this place that would let him play in a tournament even though he was the only one participating who isn’t taking lessons currently.

He walked in with his regular old sneakers on to play and he had a racquet that he won this summer from the camp he was in; his racquet is great to him — much better than the hand-me-down one he started with. He had no tennis bag or any of the other accouterments the other players had. He walked onto the court like you’d walk into a bar, except with a tennis racquet in his hand. He has drive, though, and no fear. He has a love of the game, too. And stamina and excitement. He played every point hard — the ones where he was licked from the get-go and the ones where he could win just the same.

We were late to the match. I went to a different location of the building because I didn’t know. He called the place and said we were coming and I was worried he might not get to play the first match at all because tennis doesn’t mess. He felt really bad. I asked him if he was anxious because he seemed nervous and he said, “What’s anxious? I’m sad that we’re late because I don’t want to miss even one match because we paid and I want to get every match in.”

He had to collect himself before he checked in and then he learned how the draw was set and made sure he hadn’t forfeited a game because we were late. He figured it out; he handled it. It’s amazing what any of them are capable of when they want it for themselves and when we, as parents, don’t have a clue and, therefore, can’t help them.

So there he is the kid in the orange who, for now, plays tennis at the park in his sneakers and who played tennis in a tournament in those same sneakers with a racquet he won. He still has major privilege, of course — the ability to have a court that he can ride his bike to that’s nice and clean and safe, parents who are excited for him to play, etc., etc..

But he didn’t win the tournament or anything, though that would be the ending you’d maybe hope to read. That would be the great story that everyone would want to share, I suppose. That’s not this story, though, and that’s not what’s important to me or, I think, to you with your kids, anyways. We just want to know: Can they hang? Can they handle the world? Can they get rattled and still rally? Collect themselves and sign in? Do they know how to be scrappy and get it done?

They can and do if we let them. But it’s like anything: we have to give them so many opportunities to practice. Only practice gets us there. Those are the skills, though, I’m convinced. Those are the ones that got us through when we had them in our arms that first night at home and it was 2am and no one was awake but us and this tiny, new human who was looking at us like, “What now?”, and we were like, “Not really sure, but I’ll just keep trying,” and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since, which is why we’re a little tired. We snuggled them in close, told them that we loved them, lied to them that we knew what we were doing, and then figured it all out on the fly. We got it done, though. Mine are old enough now where I get to see glimpses of them being able to get it done, too, when needed, and that’s a large part of our whole job with them in the end.

And that’s what I thought about at my kid’s first tennis tournament.

IMG_4154.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Their Own Boat

This is my oldest. He wakes up by his alarm clock every morning, gets dressed, brushes his teeth, comes in to my bedroom to give me a kiss, and then heads outside for his morning work out. If you ever feel like a loser as a parent, just think of how I feel in my bed, tucked under the covers, while my 4th grader goes out for a workout at 7:00 AM. Some days, if it’s raining, he asks me to go and work out so that he can shoot in the gym while I workout (read: take a steam). The work ethic he has has only been inside of my body, to his degree, I think, when he was inside of my body as a fetus.

The point of this, though, is that he hardly liked sports a year ago. He liked everything a little, but nothing that much. My husband and I just thought he wasn’t sporty, which was fine by us, but then we remembered back to when we were younger. Both of us played sports into high school and we realized — we hadn’t even touched a ball in some of the things we went on to be good at at the ages our kids are now. Everything starts younger so you, as a parent, can feel like you’re missing it all if you don’t sign your kids up for a league when they’re 7. I’m just offering an opinion that is this: If they don’t care, you shouldn’t care. There are lots of ways and times to become good at something. I think we’d do well to let them be, to let them come into their own on their own time, at their own capacity, when they’re ready, and to save our money instead of spending it on every sport activity for them. I know, I know — we’re worried that if we wait, then everyone will be better than them if they decide to come in later. And I’ll admit, everyone was better than him when he started last year. But that’s not true now. Because kids change and grow in all sorts of unimaginable ways that we can’t fathom until they’re doing it. Would he have worked as hard if he’d been forced? I don’t think so. That’s never how it works.

He doesn’t come inside until he’s done his whole workout: lay-ups, shots from around the made-up key he has in his head, which must be swooshed for them to count, and then 5 made-free-throws in a row. I watch out the window sometimes because everything our kids - especially our firsts - do is amazing. It’s so pathetic and absolutely essential for us to be somewhat enamored by them.

If you’re worried that they’re missing the boat on something that they don’t care about, maybe consider that that’s not their boat for now. I know that it feels like we have to push them in everything they try at ever-younger ages; it feels like that’s what the world wants of us and of them. Maybe, take a pass. Our job, sometimes, is to sit with them and let them wait for their boat. Who knows when it might come? Who knows what it might look like? I have one kid who thinks his boat is saying bad words, making jokes, and ding-dong ditching so I’m not saying they don’t need a little direction every now and again. I’m just saying that sometimes we, too, need it from them. We need to know when to back off and trust them. They might surprise you. I’m surprised every single morning when I look out my bathroom window.

IMG_4153.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Northern Michigan

All of the books written about adventure are of the women and men who’ve done the hard climb, who’ve kayaked the rapids, or who’ve camped in the wilderness for weeks. Where are the books from the mothers who raised those people? That’s what I’d like to read.

We came to this spot a few days ago and my first born wanted to hike down to the water, but I said no. The sign says not to do it because a rescue boat costs a lot if you can’t make it back up, but people hike down anyways. The problem is you never know what the hike back up is like. The shoreline varies, the sand avalanches, it might have rained, or a tree may have fallen and made a pocket that’s impossible to cross.

Today we woke early and went back — we’ve done it before in years past, but this year it’s a steep cliff at the bottom that doesn’t look as bad on the way down, but that was nearly impossible to get up on the way up. The sand kept giving way and the cliff kept getting steeper. It was way more than I bargained for. At one point, when I finally found a way that we could climb up, but that either of us might fall down if we weren’t careful, I said to my son, “I’m about to swear because I need you to know how serious I am. You cannot fuck around right now or you will fall or slide down this sand cliff and I cannot save you because I can barely save myself.” Thankfully, he listens as intently as his desire for adventure is.

We made it and we’ve always made it, but it’s time now for him to read the books and see the movies where the person doesn’t make it or where they have to cut off their own arm to make it. As the first of our children, he has always pushed our boundaries, but his need for physical exertion is beyond what either my husband or I has in us, I think. He said he doesn’t think that’s right, that we have the same needs and that every time he pushes us, we learn more about ourselves and what we can do. I told him that he was full of shit because we were on the hill climbing up and I had no filter left.

We drove home, he ate breakfast, and he’s out kayaking now. I’m writing this with bandaids on my knuckles from the climb while another of our kids is sitting on my lap: their abilities to chill miles from each other even though they were in the same womb at one point.

Where is Bear Grylls’ mother, anyways? I’d like to hear if she has any non-gray hairs left on her head. 

(You can see more on my Instagram stories @annieflavin, but it’s just me sweating and scared. Beautiful views, though. Also, if you like reading what I write, it would be great if you shared it with others — through social media or otherwise. If I want to write the book that I’d like to read - and hopefully you’d like to read! - I really do need a great community here. Thank you.)

IMG_4146.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Camp Drop-Off

As we turn onto the campus, my son sees the football field. The gates are open. “Can I go on it?” he asks. “Sure,” I reply, thinking that whichever marketing consultant set up the registration next to the football field knew what she was doing.

He looks huge everywhere now, but not as he runs out to touch the turf. Finally, he looks as small as he feels to me as I’m dropping him off at his first sleep-away camp.

Even if they’re old enough to figure out the camp they want and they set their own alarm on the day of registration so that they're assured a spot and they find their own roommate, it still doesn’t feel like they’re ready for it. Of course, that’s only if we’re not ready for it. I am as free range as they come — my kids are riding bikes to parks and friends’ houses all of the time — but if he wanted to turn around once I unpacked all of his things in the drawers, I would gather everything without hesitation and pack it all up and him and my heart in my car and go home, thank you very much.

He has no desire to do that; I offered. Pat shows him how to use the shower down the hall. We tell him, “Wear your shower shoes,” as if any of this will matter once we leave. He’s great — excited, with friends, completely ready. We are awkward; he’s our first, after all, and I remind him of that every time I make the first pancake a little burned. “Sorry about that. Just getting the hang of it here, you know how that goes,” I wink at him.

I remind him to drink water and to put on sun block. We find ourselves squeezing in a major talk about pedophiles on the last bridge before we turn onto campus, trying as hard as we can to dump out a lifetime’s worth of knowledge into his head while we pass over the river. My dad is at home with my mom and sister this Father’s Day, watching our other children because parenthood goes on for infinity, if you’re doing it right.

I remind my son not to eat too much junk food, that if he gets sick from that, I won’t feel bad and I won’t want to drive up to get him for that. I’m playing tough, even with tears in my eyes when I think of leaving him. He says, “Papa and Grandma already told me that if I feel uncomfortable about anything or if I don’t feel well, they’ll come and get me, so I’ll be fine.” Well, ok then. He is my first child and their first grandchild and so we are all, shall we say, uneasy about this first camp experience. On the Flavin side, he’s the 30-something-ish grandchild, the son of my husband who is the baby of 9, who tells stories about how his parents dropped him off at college: They sent him on a plane with two duffel bags taped together so it would count as one bag and a “We’ll see you at Thanksgiving!” He turned out well, too.

No matter which number kid we’re dealing with, though, the only question we ever have as parents that makes us wonder hard: Did we give them enough? Love? Care? Experience? Knowledge? And the only answer I’m sure of is terrifying because it’s: Not really, but maybe? We do our very best and it’s still a crapshoot if they got what they needed. Whatever they have or don’t, they’re on their way.

We had settled all his things in his room and I went down to make sure his buddies all had what they needed because I was procrastinating; all was well. I came back into our son’s room and I said to Pat convincingly, “Well, his counselor seems good to me.”

And Pat said, “That’s the thing about child predators. They always seem good.”

And our son said, “I think now’s a good time for you guys to head out. I love you. Thanks.”

And our son was right and we are home now.

I woke up with Randy Newman’s song, We Belong Together, from the Toy Story movie, which I have not watched in at least two years, in my head — the last time I watched it in its entirety the boy at camp was in my lap and this is how it goes, if we’re lucky.

IMG_4147.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
Summer

Tomorrow is the last day of school for us, which, at this point, feels like a real relief. In the last two weeks, I’ve participated in, prepared for, shopped for, and attended more school-related, end-of-the-year activities than is normal for a person like me. It has been two weeks of:

“Mom, I need a special lunch for my picnic tomorrow.”

“Mom, I need to wear a Kelly green shirt for tomorrow with no writing on it.”

“Mom, it’s joke day and I need 3 really good ones.”

Thank you for having them all year and now just give me my kids already so I don’t have to prepare another thing.

It’s all over tomorrow, thanks be to god.

Summertime begins, which scares most of us with kids, even if just a little bit. Because: What the hell are we to do with them all summer long?

I feel it, but also? Summer is my thing: I know what to do in summer. In summer, it’s 1987 around here again. We go to the pool, friends are around, and we have just a few anchored plans. Summer Bucket Lists where we pack in activities? Nope. Summer Bucket Lists weren’t a thing in 1987. We had a bucket and some water balloons one day, though, and I still remember it.

What do we give them for the summer? This is now a question for many of us. I don’t know that my mom ever asked this question of herself for us. She gave us plenty, but she gave us whatever was there: mostly, cousins at a lake and friends at a pool, and it all felt so fun. I think I still love summer because of how it all went down then.

Some of us want to give experiences that we don’t have the time for in the school year. And: Sure, fine, yes, let’s do that. But let’s be clear: What they consider a great experience and what we consider a great experience can be very different. So, let’s keep everyone’s expectations in check. And low.

The only activities we have planned for this summer are some little trips with friends and a camp for each of my older two kids. My 9-year-old baby is going away to a sports camp for which I’m not prepared, but since he set his own alarm on camp sign-up day so that he could register and figured out the roommate situation on his own, I figured that I needed to exit left with my fears. He’s ready, even if I’m not. He told me that it was time; I told him that he’s never loved anything in his whole life the way I love him so cut me some slack and get in every gosh darn picture that that camp posts on social media or I will drive the three hours and jump out of my car and start snapping pictures while calling his name. It’s sure to go well.

My 7-year-old loves animals. Coming from my womb, I thought there wasn’t a chance of that (I want no harm done to any animal, but could they please not come near me ever?). She’s going to horse camp. I’ll kick her out of the car and be on my way.

The baby? He wants to go nowhere. He has thumb-downed every camp opportunity suggested so, instead, he’s going to be attending Camp We Have A Big Family, Who’d Like To Have A Baby Flavin For A Morning? He wants to ride his bike all day and end up at a pool or a lake. And then go out to lunch. I understand this one really well for now, actually. We’ll get along great.

At different points in the summer, I have plans for them — it’ll be day-camp-like experiences, which I’m calling, “Camp Don’t Be An Asshole” Days. I really should trademark that. We’re going to volunteer and learn that there are so many kinds of human experiences on this planet and each of them is worthy of its place. Our job is to help make the world spin a little more towards kindness and that means learning from new people what kindness looks like for them. They didn’t register themselves for this camp; I wouldn’t have either in 1987. No worries, though, it’ll be good.

What are your plans? Are you 1987-ing it with me? Will my feral kids run into yours on a bike with bare feet? I hope so. Let them go if you can. We get 18 summers with them — more or less. My only job for this one is that when they read a line in a book someday that describes endless summer days and pick-up games and how the lake feels on your skin in the beginning of the summer versus how it feels in August and how it is to have friends in the summer that you see no other time but then, they’ll know what that all feels like. This is the only time for all of that. Camp Don’t Be An Asshole, too.

We can do this. All of our moms and dads did it in 1987, without the internet even. When it gets hard, hand them a sucker. Tell them they can’t bite it. Or tell them to unload the dishwasher — that’ll keep them away for awhile. Remember: We’re not camp directors; we’re parents. And our best job is to love them well. Here we go.

IMG_4148.JPG
Anne FlavinComment
1987ing It

Hello,

I’m here to offer what may be an unpopular option. Nevertheless:

It’s May. May is the spring equivalent to busy December, with all of its end-of-school activities, communions, graduations, confirmations, and sporting events, which is why they put Mother’s Day right in there, too, I’m sure: there weren’t enough have-tos already on our calendars.

I’m here to nicely suggest: You needn't go to every one of your child’s games, events, meets, competitions, or whatever other activity they may partake in that allows for parent attendance.

If you have children, and you want to, you may, at this very moment, be filling up your whole life doing their activities: driving to practices, watching 3-hour baseball games, volunteering at their schools, taking them to friends’ homes to hang out — all noble, and sometimes fun, ways to spend a night or an afternoon. We delivered them and we should be there for them, right?

Right.

And...

We should have something for ourselves. We can’t have anything for ourselves if we cannot find a moment for ourselves. Also, the moment for ourselves must come after 6:30am and before 8pm once in a while.

You don’t need permission from me, but maybe you need to hear it from another mother who loves her kids so much that she, too, would do, and does, the most she can for them at so many points: I nursed each kid forever and I skip their baseball games without even a reason. I love that they love to play, but their loving to play shouldn’t have to mean that I have to love to watch every single game.

There’s much discussion about children’s sports in this era: Is it all too much too soon? Are coaches putting too much pressure? Are parents? As with most issues, I believe there are a combination of factors that can make it too intense for some.

Remember 1987? I do. If my mom was at my game (and there were plenty of times she wasn’t), she was at the park with my little sister while my little sister played there and I played on the field or court. She kind of watched, mostly talked to other people, and always came a little late. Not because she wasn’t a good mother, but because she didn’t really care about every single sport I enjoyed. And that was totally fine.

I want my kids to have activities they love to do and part of that means they need to figure out what they love to do by doing it even if I’m not watching. Remember: The goal for all of our children is as much independence as they need with a hearty side of “Don’t forget how much I did for you and come back to visit me often enough.” Oh, and who decides if it’s often enough? I do, of course.

It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend here. It’s gorgeous out right now. I know because I’m sitting in my car at a baseball field, not because any one of my kids has a game, but because their friends did and they wanted to watch, practice, and play at the park. I’m alone in my car with the windows down and we are all winning right now.

Tomorrow is soccer Saturday. I can’t wait to go to watch that one tomorrow because it’s a first this season for our youngest; I’ll hit a baseball game, too, so long as it stays beautiful. And then that’ll do for a while. And they'll be ok. This won’t be the thing that makes them turn to drugs in high school, I don’t think. Also, those same people who raised us and didn’t really care what we were doing all of the time are now grandparents, and - craziest thing - now that they’re regularly sleeping through the night, they like to go to so many of these events for their grandkids. And they can cheer while we’re not there. Also, other parents who send pictures of whatever your kid did well while you’re MIA? That’s real teamwork. We all know it takes a village. Let’s set them up well in one and remember that we will never make it as the whole village for them, as much as we may wish for it to be so.

Want to join me? Take a break. Find a few minutes to have a little life other than their activities. Have them tell you all about how they played when they get home. They might exaggerate a little about how they did, but don’t we all deserve the chance to pretend we were better than we actually were? I think so.

 

IMG_3734.PNG
Anne FlavinComment