Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it Strange That I'm This in Love With My Child?




I am severely obsessed with my child. 

There, I've put it out in the open and I admit that I'm quite on the defensive. As someone who's active in the blogging and online world, I'm keenly aware of the fact that it's far more popular to complain about one's children, write about how difficult it is to raise these young creatures and celebrate the hours they spend away from us. Believe me, I understand all that. I have written a few of those too and don't judge any parent who misses those carefree childless days. 

But I also admit that every time I see social media posts by parents or memes celebrating back to school, the fact that their kids will finally be out of the house again, or read rants portraying their children as uncontrollable, devious monsters that just suck the life out of them, I feel a little guilty because a part of me can't relate.

Sure, I honestly savor time alone when there's no one for me to fuss over and I can concentrate on chores and my writing. It's always good for any parent to have breathing spaces during the day when we can feel the relief of not having anyone else to care for or worry about in our midst. But in the grand scheme of things, I really don't mind having my son around me and to be perfectly honest, I even love it. I understand that I can only say this because I don't work outside the home and I only have one child. There is no employer to worry about when my child has to stay home due to illness or school holidays. And there is no one for him to be incessantly noisy with, no annoying and insanity-inducing fights for me to settle. These are blessings I never take for granted. 

I honestly can't say if I'd feel any less intense had my circumstances been any different. If I had more than one child. If I didn't have any fertility issues. If my child isn't deemed a miracle on top of a miracle being an IVF baby. If my child were any different from how he turned out to be. If I were employed and had the distraction of another career. Would I be any less in love, any less obsessed? Because right now, he is my world. In my eyes, he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. He has the most mesmerizing eyes I have ever looked into, the face that lights up any dark moment. His are the arms I can't resist when he pulls me close at night, refusing to let me go and accept that tucking him in doesn't mean that I stay by his side for 10 minutes or so. When he comes home from school and walks through the door, I hug him tight and tell him I missed him. And yes, I mean every word of it and feel happy to have him back in my arms and smell the sun and sweat on his hair and skin. When I kiss him goodbye in the morning, I bless him, say a prayer and kiss his head with the hope that our embrace will carry me through my day. During the day, I smile at his photos spread throughout the house as I walk past them. At night when he's fast asleep, I find myself looking at some of his photos on my phone and utter to my husband, "Isn't he just beautiful?", and then simultaneously feel joy and sadness, ambushed by a sense of panic as I realize how fast he's growing, how the moments are just slipping through my tightly clenched fingers. I know this might all sound crazy but there are countless days and nights when I really feel like my chest can burst open with the love it can't contain for this child. This boy holds my heart and I suspect it will be so forever. 

I am not blind to my son's imperfections. I'm not one of those parents who thinks their child can do no wrong. I love him immensely but I also parent him fiercely. I don't baby him, though I know he will forever be my baby. 

This is how I love. This is just how I am. When someone truly gets into my heart, they stay there forever. When someone cuts through my soul, loving in half measures ceases to make sense. I don't find fulfillment in lukewarm or halfhearted. It's just who I am, and parenthood, if nothing else, brings out the best lovers in all of us. 







Friday, September 9, 2016

Watching Grief

Photo by Francesca Borchardt


He lies quietly on his hospital bed placed in the middle of the family room. The sound from the television serves as perpetual background noise. Is he watching, understanding the show that's on? I don't know for sure. His wife, children and grandchildren are all around in different areas of the house. There is subdued chatter everywhere. Again, more background noise. 

My father-in-law's first stroke happened in 2008. Since then, he has been in and out of the hospital, in and out of therapy, up and down, a roller coaster ride. The family, of course, has also been with him on this ride. A period of panic, and then calm, complacency, perhaps even denial. This is how life has been for the past several years but this time, there seems to be something definitively different. His inability to move on his own and care for himself, his imprisonment in that hospital bed, the undeniable fragility of his thinning limbs have forced everyone around him to confront the inevitable. Nobody knows when it will happen and everyone can't seem to fully exhale. 'Have you accepted it?" seems to be the most common question from any outsider looking in, and there can only be one logical response: "I think I have, to the degree that my humanity allows". The subtext to this of course is that the mind can process what it sees and knows what needs to be done, even though the heart remains fraught with hanging questions, unfinished conversations and the heavy presence of unending grief hiding in the shadows. 

He is crying. Everyone takes notice that quiet tears are flowing down his face.

Could he be in pain? He says no. 

Could he be sad? Is his heart breaking at the thought of leaving his wife and children behind? Is he grieving for unfulfilled dreams, plans he now doesn't seem to have enough time left for? Is he thinking about regrets?

Could these be tears of joy? Is he reminiscing about the first sight of each of his six precious children? Is he suddenly feeling the ghost sensation of the very first kiss he shared with his wife when they first fell in love? Are these tears brought by all the fun family vacations and parties celebrated through the decades? Are all the beautiful memories now too much to take in all at once?

Or could this be fear? Is he uncertain of what lies beyond and feels confused about how this will all end? Is he afraid of what would happen next? Or is he more afraid of what might become of his wife and her shattered heart?

She is right beside him, holding his hand and telling him, "I will be fine. Don't worry about me". She musters all her strength until she couldn't anymore and decides to leave his side to break down in the other room. Her daughter stands with her and helps muffle her wailing by holding her tight. They both need this release. And they both know this is only one among many that will follow. 

I know this too. I have had to hold my own son as he tries to process the change that he is witnessing and sensing around him. He has broken down in the dark one night as I was tucking him in. He feels it all but can't fully understand, let alone label the sense of grief coursing through him, as if breaking open his chest. When the time comes and all the goodbyes have been said, the grief will visit him again. As his mother, I need to help him understand that it is best to make friends with this grief. It will pop by when he least expects it. He can't shut his door because it will always find its way in. If he at least makes friends with it, he will know that grief is stubborn. It respects no timelines or deadlines. It may frequent you less as years go by but it will be there. Its only request is that you respect the space you share with it. Just be in it, with it and let it move through you, or even consume you. Just believe in your heart that from the ashes you will rise again...and again. Grief is not greedy that it will want to take your life and happiness with it. Only you can make that choice. 

And so each of us in the family grieves slowly as we brace ourselves for the inevitable. My father-in-law, or Big Daddy as we call him, is with us still. And even after his fragile shell gives up, I am certain we will find comfort in him living on simply because he has touched each of our lives and loved us as best as he knew how. This love is imperfect but one can't deny the perfection it created in the form of his family's devotion. Now I realize that more than just watching grief these past few days, I've also been privileged enough to witness that grief always manifests itself with Love. I find not only comfort in this, but most of all, peace. 







Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beneath the Veins


Image: Flickr CC

When I was a little girl, I would hold my mother's arm and just stare at it. I was always fascinated with her fair skin and how it showed all the blue-greenish veins underneath. To me they looked pretty. They felt familiar, something I always just associated with Mom. There was even a point when I would refer to my Mom's scent as 'the vein smell'. I honestly thought it was those veins that gave her that signature, comforting smell. 

Now, in my 40's, I look at the back side of my own arms and see similar veins. I now understand what veins are, what they hold and how they run throughout our bodies sustaining us, 'feeding' the heart. I also now understand that even though I saw my mother's veins a lot, I never fully knew the secrets they held. 

As I look at my veins showing, I know that no one else knows what courses through them, especially not my son. He sees me and sees only his mother. He doesn't know what those veins have been through, or the intensity of the blood flowing through. He doesn't see the hidden anger or hurts, regrets, passion; nor for what or for whom those veins have throbbed in the past and why. 

They don't need to know. My son doesn't need to know. The truth is, I think for most of us, there is a resistance to confronting the full humanity of our parents especially our mother's. We see them in a certain light and it is dictated upon by necessity more than reality. The mother-child relationship is one of the most intimate relationships we would ever experience, and yet it doesn't follow that it's necessarily the most transparent. We often see our mothers as mothers, and then as a partner to our fathers. But not many of us are brave enough to peel away the surface layers to see more into who they are, where they've been, who they've loved, hated, disappointed; who have broken them, who they continue to bleed for, what they continue to hope for and what they silently cry for in their sleep. It gives us comfort to simply see our mothers as strong, with veins steady and fortified by contentment and a sense of wholeness. 

I stare at my own veins and marvel at them. I know what lies beneath. I know the depth of what they feel and what every drop of deep red carries with it. I know the essence of the stain they will make if you cut them open. But no other soul fully knows, especially not my child. And perhaps he doesn't need to. Perhaps it's enough for now that he is also fascinated with them and finds them comforting. It's enough he sees the blue-greenish tint and not the deep stained mysteries that flow within. Those are meant to be kept between my veins and my heart. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Parent Sanity Saver Tool


I got the idea from watching this YouTube video and after almost two weeks of using it, I can honestly say I am loving this system! Hopefully, it can save some of you in the same way it has definitely saved, and continues to save me.



It's my Parent School Binder and I honestly don't know where I've been all these years that I never thought of doing this. For an organization freak like myself, it's almost unbelievable that it took me this long to put something like this together. Unlike the system in the above YouTube video though, I can guarantee that my folder is much cheaper. Most of the materials I used are from the Dollar Tree, save for the tabs, labels and sheet protectors. I already had those on hand and didn't need to buy any more. 

So for those who are not familiar with this system, it's a binder that any parent can put together so that all school-related documents are in one easy-to-find place. In past school years, I've either had several folders filed separately somewhere in my office and I've had to go to different locations to locate whatever was needed. Now they're in one centralized location, with this bright-colored, happy lime green binder keeping them together neatly organized. 

You can absolutely tailor this according to your needs and insert additional sections for each additional child. I only have one so let me show you how I've organized mine.

First of all, I was lucky to have found a Dollar Tree pencil case in the same design as the binder. I clipped that in the front. It's convenient to include this especially if you consider bringing this binder to school for Parent Orientation or Parent-Teacher Conferences. 




Now for the main contents, I created 4 Main Sections:

CALENDAR
DOCUMENTS
STUDY MATERIALS
BLANK SHEETS

Under CALENDAR, I first inserted a monthly calendar which I also found at the Dollar Tree. It came with a hard plastic folder-like backing (also in green!) and a clear plastic front which makes it really convenient. 



Then I had a sheet protector each for the School District Calendar, as well as the Lunch Menu for the month. Finally, I included a folder and labeled it School Events for whatever flyers we may need to keep for events we're attending. 





The second main section, DOCUMENTS, has 5 tabs under it: Forms, Policies, Report Cards, Permission Slips/ Receipts and Excuse Slips



On our school's website, they have printable forms for notifying the teacher about early dismissal, absences, as well as application for out-of-town trips during the school year. Such documents will be filed under 'Forms'. 

The 'Policies' folder includes both documentation of school-wide (left side of folder, e.g. School Handbook, Illness Policy, log in information for school website, etc.), as well as homeroom-specific  rules and regulations (right side of folder, e.g. Guidelines shared by teacher during parent orientation, etc.). 




The 'Report Cards' and 'Permission Slips' folders are self-explanatory. 

However, I also included 'Receipts' with the 'Permission Slips' section. This refers to any school-related document you want to keep a copy of as proof of payment. Examples of this would be payments made for school portrait packages, receipts from school merchandise bought, or proof of payment to PTO/PTA activities.

Finally, the 'Excuse Slips' folder will contain my personal copy of doctors' notes whenever my child misses school.

The third main section, STUDY MATERIALS, includes any review materials or study guides either sent home by teachers or ones we find or create ourselves. 

+


The fourth and last main section, BLANK SHEETS, just has a few college ruled sheets of paper (150 sheets for $1 at the Dollar Tree) for whenever I may need them. 




Excluding the sheet protectors and post-it tabs that I already had, I only spent a total of $8 at the Dollar Tree for the rest of the supplies I needed to put together this Parent School Binder. The cost will of course depend on how detailed you want your folder to be, as well as the number of students you have in your family. 

To sum it up, here's an outline of the different sections of my binder: 

CALENDAR
     -monthly calendar for the year
     -school district calendar
     -lunch menu
     -school events folder

DOCUMENTS
     -forms folder 
     -policies folder
     -report cards
     -permission slips/receipts
     -excuse slips / doctors' notes

STUDY MATERIALS

BLANK SHEETS


I hope this helps! Here's to a great, more organized school year ahead!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Lies Beyond the Impatience



"So, did you work before being a stay at home mom?"

"Yes, I had an office job at an online university, but in the Philippines I actually used to teach!"

Every time I have such a conversation with acquaintances or new friends, there's a part of me that always wants to rush through the answer so that I can further qualify. Actually, whenever I answer in that way, I always want to kick myself for not coming up with a clearer response. It's because a lot of the times when people hear the words "I used to teach", they respond with "Oh! So you must be really good with kids!" My candid response is always an uncomfortable, "Umm, no, not really. I taught in university, college kids, not little ones. I just don't have the patience for teaching young kids."

To be really honest, I feel like my son is the only child who can stand me. If we break that down, it's easy to see that that's only true because (A) he doesn't have a choice, and (B) he's had rigorous training since birth. 

I'm not exactly a tiger mom in the strictest sense but I will never deny that I have really high expectations of my son. I believe in structure, strict enforcement of rules and discipline. I am very affectionate with him, undeniably protective, but can also be quite harsh and short-tempered. There are days when I wonder if I should seriously consider attending anger-management programs. 

Just the other night, after the second day of school, I snapped. It wasn't exactly a zero to sixty situation although I can tell that it shocked my son when I blew up. I even shocked myself but he had it coming. 

We've long established that he needs to go upstairs by 8 p.m. This has been our routine for at least 5 years now. He also knows that he needs to put in at least 30 minutes of reading time before bedtime which is at 9 p.m. Between going upstairs and reading, he's expected to shower, brush his teeth and just settle down.

While eating dinner he asked if he'd have time to play on the Xbox. I said I very much doubt it and explained to him why. I went over our routine and clarified how each block of time will be spent before bedtime comes and that he needs ample sleep so he can wake up rested at 7 am and not be late for the bus. Besides, I added, he has consumed all his electronics allowance for that day. 

While having dessert he asked the same thing again. I answered and gave him the same information but this time even more thoroughly than the first time.

After dinner, at around 7:55 p.m., as we were both cleaning up in the kitchen he asked me...AGAIN...this time even saying, "Are you SURE I don't have time to play on the Xbox?". That was the final straw.

I screamed!

I don't remember word per word what I said but I remember feeling as if my head was going to explode. I remember my chest tightening until all the frustration got spewed through my mouth. I also remember the rage when I shouted, "DO YOU HONESTLY THINK THAT ASKING ME THE SAME QUESTION A HUNDRED TIMES WILL CHANGE MY ANSWER?! NO IS NO!!"

He froze in front of me, only for a short while but long enough for me to see his shock and fear. I was probably just as surprised as he was, surprised at how sudden my tone and demeanor changed just like that. It was faster than any of Bruce Banner's transformations that we've ever seen.

I hate repeating myself. If there is anything I absolutely loathe, despise, abhor with a passion, it's when I have to repeat myself because I'm not being heard. It's one thing to keep explaining to someone who simply does not have the mental capacity to fully understand, but it's another when I'm left saying the same thing over and over simply because either my response is being rejected or just not heard. 

It drives ME. COMPLETELY. INSANE.

This is a part of me I'm not proud of. Some of you might try to make me feel better by saying that perhaps I was having a bad day; or it happens even to the best parents among us. But I'll tell it like it is...

It's an adult meltdown. And there are days when I'm humble enough to admit that I'm having too much of it. 

And just like any toddler who screams, cries or throws a tantrum, it's not as simple as just being overly tired but also a deep hunger to be heard. It's my need to be validated. When I'm doing my best to explain something, searching for the most appropriate words in a language that is not even my first, not my native tongue, I expect full attention and expect to be understood. When I feel that I'm already sacrificing so much, doing my best to adapt and accommodate, the least one can do is to make me feel seen and treat me like I do matter. As it is, I feel that I speak excellent English and definitely don't speak with an accent that my American born and raised son struggles with. I don't think some people realize that sometimes I still translate in my head from Filipino to English. It's not always easy, especially when I'm tired or highly emotional. But I still do my best. I really don't have much choice if I want to be understood by others, especially by my family. I do my best with them, hence I expect the most validation from them, especially from my son. 

We associate Patience with the ability to wait. But more importantly, it speaks of having tolerance, and exhibiting self-restraint and a sense of equanimity. Patience is to have the capacity to graciously wait for others to catch up to our expectations.

Tweet: Patience is to have the capacity to graciously wait for others to catch up to our expectations.
"Patience is to have the capacity to graciously wait for others
to catch up to our expectations."



I am not the most patient person. When it comes to my parenting, I would say that I repeatedly fail at it. I just hope that more than my family simply being patient with me and my failings, they will also have the tenacity to try to see beyond the surface and hear beyond the angry cries. 













Friday, July 29, 2016

I'm Afraid and There's Really Nothing Wrong With That

Last week's post gave you tips on how an introvert like myself can survive an adventure vacation. It was written mid-week while I was enjoying a family holiday in Breckenridge, CO. Little did I know that just a few days after publishing, I would feel the need to update or re-title the piece to "How a Non-Adventurous Introvert Can Survive an Adventure Vacation Without Ending Up in the E.R."!

I wish I could say it was because of something fun and daring, like maybe smoking weed. (It's legal where I was, after all). But no, I'm sorry to disappoint. It was a biking accident. A bad one. I was on a biking trail. It was slightly downhill with a creek to my right. I felt I was going too fast. Fear took over. I lost my balance. I lost control. I swerved into the small ravine then into the creek. And I lived to tell the story.

We think it was probably anywhere between a 7- and 10-foot fall from the street.


The bottom of this frame is where I started to go downhill.


I tried to keep the bike upright for as long as I could until I hit those big rocks.


I ended up by that big bush in the middle of the creek.

Some of what happened continue to be a blur. I just remember feeling horribly afraid minutes before I actually fully lost control of the bike. I already knew it felt too much for me, too downhill, too fast. I am a novice after all and definitely not a risk-taker, not when it comes to sports or physical adventures at least. I can hear my husband screaming from behind me as he already knew what was about to happen. Then I just kept wobbling until in my mind, all I kept thinking was "Oh sh*t. I'm screwed." And then the moment of resignation. Strangely, I wasn't scared of dying. It's either that or I was convinced this wasn't my end yet. (To be honest I also would've preferred something more justified or dramatic, like maybe dying in deeper water or a bigger crash. Please...not a bike in a shallow creek!)

I hit the water and I remember feeling finally really scared because the current was stronger than I expected. I tried to extend my arms to try to grab on to something, anything, until I heard this unfamiliar voice saying "I got you, I got you!" He was trying to pull me up as I did my best to grab his torso. It was a random biker who witnessed my accident. This was my angel and his name is Dan. 

My husband was right there but he hurt himself too, trying to jump off of his bike as quickly as he could. He hit the gravel hard and scraped his knee really bad and was bleeding himself. 


Souvenir from the E.R.


I still can't fully bend my middle left finger. It's still swollen.


My horrible-looking right arm.

In the grand scheme of things, it's still not so bad and I have a lot to be thankful for. The X-ray images didn't reveal any broken bones although I was warned that some injuries can't be easily detected. I still have major pain on my right side, particularly my right ribs and still can't move or breathe painlessly. However, the pain is not to the point that narcotics aren't able to somehow address at this time. I just have to take it slow and remind myself to take deep breaths regardless of the discomfort just to avoid pneumonia.

So what is my take-away from all this? 

I won't tell you life is too short and that things can change in an instant. Nor would I remind you to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them before it's too late. You should already be doing that with or without accidents in mind.

What I would say to you is to respect Fear. 

Right after my accident, this is one of the things my husband said to me: "You know, to others, to 'normal' people, that creek is probably some nice scenery to look at and soothe you while you bike. But to you, it's something to fear".

He's absolutely right. I did not find it relaxing. In my mind, it was a risk to avoid, a danger along the way and it clearly defeated me. My mind betrayed me and defeated me because I didn't listen to it early enough. 

After only two minutes of riding along that trail, Fear started talking to me: This isn't safe. There's no railing and people can easily fall into that creek. This feels so narrow to me. I'm having a hard time...). I dismissed all of it. It's good to try out new experiences, yes. But you also have to be wise enough to know when to listen when your body is telling you to slow down, respect its limits, maybe even stop until you gain your comfort level back. 

Fear is there to keep you safe and alive. It isn't always bad. It isn't always simply the archnemesis of growth or evolution. And it's not always there just to tell you to quit. Sometimes it's just telling you to slow down, find your center, rest, reflect before proceeding again.

Sometimes to be so daring is the dumb thing to do, and to have fear is smart. It all depends on knowing your self and your limits. Pay attention because those voices in your head are there for a reason, and if anything, they can definitely save you a trip to the E.R. 










Friday, July 22, 2016

Adventure Vacation Survival Guide for the Non-Adventurous Introvert

Our family pet, a betta fish, is the perfect pet for me. It loves swimming by itself and needs comfortable spaces for hiding. Typical introvert, isn't it? So you can imagine my trepidation when it was decided that we would go on a week-long family vacation in Colorado with my husband's large family. Sixteen people total, mostly active, outdoorsy people. Except for me. 

Let's talk about the destination. Is there any other place that invokes the idea of 'healthy, active lifestyle' more than Colorado does? Probably not. People here live to move. And eat kale and protein bars. I'm happy to be on a treadmill for 30 minutes while I munch on pork belly and crunchy peanut butter. I am certainly out of my element here and participating in all the adventure activities being planned by family members will surely kill me. It's either that or lack of oxygen due to the high altitude!


So how can someone like me, unadventurous with lots of aches and pains and who would rather recharge by being alone in her cave, survive this kind of vacation?

Here are a few tips I've learned along the way...

Dress appropriately. 

You can't dampen everyone's mood by simply saying you will stay home alone every time they go out. At some point, you will have to get outside and join your group. And even though you have no plans of getting bruised and broken, you need to at least dress the part. That way, you'll blend in. This also gives you some flexibility should you suddenly realize that there are some activities you can do at your destination for the day. An introvert can be a bit of a daredevil too from time to time, right? (And yes, I'm using 'daredevil' here quite loosely).


Bring a good camera or at least a phone with a good one. 

If you can, be the only one in your group with a camera! You'll be an indispensable resource and your group won't fault you for wanting to stay behind while they do all the active stuff. What kind of vacation would it be, after all, if there was no one to take all those action shots, right? You're not being a kill joy. You're merely doing everyone a huge favor and sacrifice so they can post something over on Facebook and Instagram. Win-win!


Be Shamelessly Creative

You know those signs at recreation parks identifying the activity they offer at certain areas? You know, like those that would say "Ski Adventure" or "Deadly Rollercoaster"? Yes, look for those big signs and pose as if you've just done it yourself, even though in reality you just ate ice cream or funnel cake while waiting for your crew who actually dared to risk their lives. Make sure you throw in a thumbs-up or two, as well as a happy exhausted face to make it believable. Don't worry about deceiving anyone who sees your picture online. Half of what you see on social media is a lie anyway.


See what I just did here?


Don't Say No to Everything

Though you know you're low on the scale as far as risk-taking behavior is concerned, I assure you that you can't write the entire outdoors off. There are still some activities that you can certainly choose to participate in. Go for an easy hike. There are also bike rides that are great for beginners and not-so-adventurous souls. Or simply take a stroll and enjoy the magnificent views around you. I understand that staying indoors is always a tempting idea but try to remember that you can do that anytime when you're home. You already traveled a hundred miles or so. Try to make the most out of the new scenery you find yourself in because you never know what wonders can surprise you.


Carve Out Some Me Time 
Even For Short Periods

It doesn't matter how big or small a group you're traveling with, introverts always need some alone time every single day. This helps us recharge, function and relate better. If you find yourself needing this while you're out, don't be afraid to walk ahead or walk behind. Try to find a quiet spot where you can also enjoy the sight, or at least pretend to. Excuse yourself and go to the restroom. Walk away to take photos of a good scenery, flower or rock. Whatever it is, just take a few minutes off from your group. They might not always understand but I guarantee they will appreciate how this can do wonders to your disposition in the long run. 


Whether in vacations or life in general, there are never guarantees that you'll only be traveling with like-minded people or kindred souls. But the variety in life is what makes it all fun and enriching. Wherever you find your self in, or whoever you may be with, just be present. Enjoy it and if you're truly lucky, focus on the fact that you are traveling with the ones you love. 
















Thursday, July 14, 2016

Have I Failed My Child This Summer?




Accepting the chasm between the imagined and actual reality is never easy. I am in constant struggle with accepting the breach when it comes to scrutinizing both my own life trajectory, as well as my parenting life. And I'm not just talking about grand ideals on how I want to parent or my dreams of how my child should blossom. No, the reality is that it's a daily struggle, a sense of guilt, if you will, when you picture what good parenting looks like in terms of day to day activities. This angst gets even more pronounced during the summer break. 

Oh the Summer, when children are out of school and when my son, in particular, gets to say to me, 'I'm bored' or 'What else can I do?' ad nauseam. This year, keeping him busy at home has been a bit more challenging than previous ones because we had to skip the camps offered by his school. Since we had to fly out of the country and threw in some out of state short breaks in the mix, fitting the camp sessions into our schedule just became impossible. But I didn't think it would be a problem. After all, I had great plans that won't only keep boredom at bay, but would also adequately prepare my son academically for the next school year. What kind of stay-at-home mom doesn't come up with creative and fun learning activities for her child, right???! There's just no excuse!

I imagined having structured days for my son during the entire summer vacation. There will be time for learning and time for play.

I imagined having him read one novel a week, or at least complete ten books by the time the new school year starts.

I imagined having him log on to math websites to review, as well as learn advanced skills. He will do this for 30 minutes per day. 

I imagined teaching him cursive. I learned it when I was in third grade and so there is no excuse for him. He has to perfect it before starting fourth grade.

I also imagined being able to arrange numerous playdates with his school friends who he has missed and will miss, as these boys will be transferring to a different school within our district. 

At the top of my list shortly before summer break started was also my plan to go through all of my son's paper work from the past school year. They've been begging to be organized, filed away or thrown out. 

And speaking of organization, I was also certain this would be the summer when I would finally get around to finishing that scrapbook documenting our Disney World trip...from 2012! He was five years old at the time with lots of baby teeth. All his front teeth are now (mostly) permanent. 

By now you all probably know me enough to know that I have an overactive and overachieving imagination. In reality, all I have to say is that real life got in the way. 

We wake up and go about our days when we want to. Isn't that what summer break is about? He finished one novel and watched a million other YouTube videos and some Netflix shows. Yes, I let him. Why? Because I feel too tired and am mostly too busy to keep getting angry and fighting. He has reasonable limits but definitely nothing too structured. He still remembers his multiplication and division but didn't really log on to the advanced math lessons I wanted him to watch. Fortunately, with three more weeks left for summer break, it's looking like we can finish the alphabet in cursive. He still forgets some letters, but I'm optimistic he learned it enough so far. Now as to whether he would remember what he learned is another story. And those playdates? We haven't had any arranged ones to date. For now it's enough that he gets to play with the other neighborhood kids. 

I can give you a hundred explanations or excuses. I was jet-lagged. I caught a bad virus and felt so drained and perpetually exhausted. My father-in-law got hospitalized. A very good friend of mine is ill. I miss my own family. I had writer's block. It's too hot outside. There was a ton of laundry to wash and fold. Ants attacked our kitchen...

This list can go on and on and all I really have to say is something I always say when I need a jolt of calm and sense of acceptance: It is what it is. 

Should I be consumed by guilt that my son could have had a more productive summer than what I was able to give him? I don't think so. I think what would have been more disturbing was if I took all the fun out of the equation and made summer break into serious business.

Do I think I'm being a bad mother? Absolutely not. Could there be others who think I am? Perhaps, and it really shouldn't and doesn't matter. Life is too short to be wasted on guilt, and frankly there are far more important things in the world to be guilty about. Having a laid back summer is definitely not on that list. 

In the end, the questions should never be in the direction of "Is my child going to be the smartest?", "Is he the most prepared?", "Is my house the most spotless, most organized?", or "Did I keep him busy enough?". Rather, they should lean towards "Does he know how to appreciate the feel of sand between his toes or the warm breeze against his skin, and all the other simple wonders that surround him?", "Does he know how to be a good friend?", "Am I teaching him about kindness and compassion?", or "Does he feel loved?" These are the things that point to character and not simply credentials. These are the things that can't just be peeled away or get easily dissolved by the changing tides as we journey through life. They point to things that build us and make us authentically stronger. 

Our summer break has been fun, lazy, hectic, unstructured and definitely full of memories. It is what it is. And in the grand scheme of things, where we are and how it is looks imperfect but feels precious and inarguably blessed.