By the grace of God it is July and the children and I have survived. The eight-, seven-, five-, three-, and one-year-old are all safely tucked into their beds and I’ve got a few minutes to think about what’s helped us get this far in once piece.
- “I can’t do this.” Every morning I wake up and tell God, “I can’t do this.” I’ve found it to be a very honest and refreshing way to begin another day of my vocation as wife and mom. The days I’ve woken up with a list of things that I wanted to accomplish and abundance of confidence in my ability to get them done have usually been the ones that have ended with me laying facedown on my pregnant belly on the floor listening to my children bicker downstairs. If I simply admit the obvious—that I’m totally incapable of fulfilling with charity the tasks that must be done that day—any success is easily identifiable to me as being purely from God. That one time today when I patiently herded everyone into the car for another round of errands? Deo gratias.
- Going to daily Mass. I try to get to daily Mass at least twice a week during the school year. But now with everyone home, I’ve currently only been able to commit to once a week. But even this extra trip to Mass during the week gives me the strength to keep doing this crazy thing called motherhood and I hope reinforces to my kiddos that the Eucharist is our most precious treasure. Some families at our school have all decided to coordinate their Mass-going during the summer so that we can attend that daily Mass together and have our kids play on the playground while the parents catch up and trade notes on summer. It’s been a real lifeline, both the grace in the sacrament and the joy that’s come from keeping up with our friends during the summer.
- Finding a place where we can all safely swim. Public pools are out of the question for us at the moment. I couldn’t bring all five to the pool and expect a safe outcome. Fortunately, this summer I found a little lake with a nice beach, lifeguards, and roped-off shallow area where the kids can work on their swimming skills while the little ones play in the sand. And I spend the whole time sitting on a towel.
- Investing in paper plates. The sudden increase of dishes that summer brought really threw me for a loop. It took me a couple of weeks to figure out a better dishwashing strategy. In the meantime, I used paper plates for lunch to help me catch up, and it really did help.
- Having fun rewarding good behavior. Inspired by a mom I really admire as well as our heroic teachers, I overcame my ideological aversion to reward systems–simply expecting that everyone to do as they were told wasn’t working at my house and I had to sweeten the deal a little—and decided to use poker chips and color-coded plastic bowls to keep track of my kids’ behavior. Jobs accomplished and extra sacrifices noticed by me result in a chip; bad attitudes, poorly-done jobs, and fighting result in the loss of a chip. Five are needed by the end of the day for dessert. Any extra poker chips at the end of the day are kept track of as points on paper, and once a child has accumulated 30 points, he or she gets to go on a fun outing with Mom or Dad. The eight-year-old got her nails done at a salon down the street with her points—something we both had fun doing and something that I we probably never would have done together this summer. It was a well-deserved manicure for the several girl-hours she’d put into cleaning the house and watering our plants outside, and we both cherished the one-on-one time.
- Overcoming my fear of the library. I’d avoided the place for years, imagining my children running through the aisles with arms outstretched, knocking down hundreds of books at a time while others quietly listened to the librarian read a story. How wrong I was! I finally worked up the nerve to go this summer, and I was really relieved to see how child-friendly our library’s children’s section was. Toys, games, computers, great books, and reading nooks have made it very possible to go with everyone. I also discovered its very generous summer reading program that offers free passes to events, farms, and restaurants around town. It’s a trip we look forward to taking each week and reading together during the week has been an unexpectedly wonderful time.
- Keeping my toenails painted. Such a little thing that’s brought me real joy when the temperature’s soaring and we all feel crabby. Looking down at polished toes sometimes gives me a boost when nothing else seems to. The same goes for the cute pair of flip-flops that my mom gave me. They’re about the only things that fit me properly at the moment!
- Keeping my kitchen clean. Okay, so right now my kitchen isn’t clean. But once summer started, I realized that I had to prioritize my cleaning efforts since it was quickly clear that some area of the house was always going to be messy. I decided for my sanity that the mess simply couldn’t be in my kitchen. Even if the bedrooms are torn apart and the downstairs is strewn with toys, my blood pressure doesn’t climb quite as high if the dishes are at least done and put away. …I’m going to clean my kitchen now.
- Having work to do outside. This year we added a giant planter to our backyard, planted vegetables and fruit bushes in it, and it’s been really fun to weed, water, and watch it all grow with the kids. Caring for our new garden as well as the other plants and trees around our home gives us a good reason to get out in the sunshine and work together.
- Deciding to keep going. When we’re all home together all day long, tempers regularly flare. While this would normally be a cause of despair for me, the long days of summer have been a strange encouragement for me to keep trying to be a good mom. Did I just snap at my good-natured son for not asking for a drink of water the right way? That stinks and I was wrong to do it. But I try to keep in mind that I’ll have a million more chances to show him love that day. Instead of retreating into a shell, maybe I could take the opportunity that afternoon to play a card game that he’s been wanting to play for months. Summer’s been a beautiful opportunity to try to persevere in love despite the many times I fail.
Praying for you and your summer and that you find your own ten things that help your days go more smoothly,
P.S. Please feel free to share your list of what’s helped your summer in the comments below! I’d love to hear about what’s brightened your summer days.
Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer