Wisdom Comes Suddenly, “The Summers” Edition

About a thousand summers ago (or 9, if you are math-y), I quit my job. It was late May, and the warm, wet Indiana summer stretching before us seemed endless, just full of possibility. I was going to molt into an amalgam of Carol Brady/Betty Crocker/Farmer Ted, rising into a superpower by fall harvest. Heck, by fall, I was certain I would own an orchard and make a fortune selling apple butter. Had I ever made apple butter? Of course not! Had I ever GROWN a tree of any kind, let alone an apple tree? No need! I was RAISED by Momma Walton AND Caroline Ingalls! I read ALL the successory-esque Fortune 100 books, and I KNEW if I wasn’t living on the edge, I wasn’t trying hard enough.  Surely anyone who could turn good into great could also turn apple into butter. If you don’t like apples, I can also offer cheese, as no one has ever moved my cheese. I’ll stop before I discover all of my strengths in this one paragraph.

By mid-morning of that first day, I realized I’d made a gigantic mistake. I was not cut-out to be a SAHM: I was lacking 80% of the motivation needed to be my own boss, 50% of the work ethic, 100% of the humility required, and 200% of the patience.

In short, by 1:30 pm, the first “I’m totally screwed” tears began to fall. There is a book for the habits of highly effective families, and I read it QUICKLY.  It’s best use was as a drink coaster, along with the library of other parenting books I read that year. You cannot read your way out of parenthood. Family life is just a lifelong blooper my friends, and Summer #1 was NOT my best performance.


The last 2 pictures were taken ON Day #1. I think my hands were shaking with fear.

But if the above math indicates anything, you’ll calculate a stubborn streak. Not the good kind that helps you stick with hard projects; the ugly kind, that convinced Napoleon to keep fighting, ending in the deaths of 916,000 of his own men. While I may not reach the level of tyrant, I also did NOT spend months scribbling pro/con lists followed by months signing scientific leave of absence papers just to QUIT summer #1. In addition, quitting would involve an admission of wrongittudeness, and admitting I’m wrong is was against my religion.

Summer #1 was beyond humbling. My pride was pummeled with waves of laundry, dishes, diapers, and tantrums. By the time Sara started preschool, I had new insight into the Brady Backstory: There’s a reason the youngest child was almost to grade school. NO ONE wants to watch a show about 6 kids in diapers. It’s like watching a car wreck where the carnage is a rainbow of bodily fluids coated with unreasonable arguments about who gets the blue cup.

Parent: WHO CARES WHO GETS THE BLUE CUP?! Can’t you see our entire house has imploded into a pile of dirty towels and ugly plastic toys?! THIS SHIP IS GOING DOWN!! DO YOU NOT SEE IT?!


Baby: AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! (Translation: Lunch is 15 minutes late and we’re already past my nap window which means NO NAP, and your day will be a hellstorm from here. JUMP SHIP!)

But every once in a while, we’d drive to the library and pass my old office and daycare. Sara would undoubtedly sing:

“We not go dere no mo. Stay home! Stay home! Yeah, yeah, home wip Momma! Noooo mo WOUD (loud)!”

I still find it humorous Sara’s lack of tolerance for all decibels save her own.

Summer #2 I regrouped and begged to care for my niece. Because if I failed to thrive at taking care of 2 toddlers, surely I’d be better at caring of THREE. If you are the math-y type mentioned in Sentence #1, you may wish to look away at this point.

I’m pretty sure this picture represents a failed attempt at “quiet” time after a failed “nap” time.

Summer #2 was WILD followed by WILDER. Every day, the wildest-ing-ness increased until it was like living in the middle of a toddler tornado. I got a sinus infection by the second day that lasted for 6 months. If I thought 2 kids were hard, there is no calculating the hard of 3. It’s 6x the noise, 10x the mess, and 100x the drama. It’s like you were playing as a back up in the minors, and suddenly you’re the starting pitcher for the Yankees the year the entire East Coast is certain they’ll take the Series. Wait, that’s every year. OK…so you’re just pitching an average year for the Yankees when half the country thinks they’re cheaters and the other half wears their hats. Basically, my point is, as Cowan Elementary’s Peanut League’s Worst Catcher In All Of History and Time Ever-Lasting, the odds were not in my favor. [They gave me a certificate to prove my utter inability at catching or throwing anything spherical, in case you want to fact-check my work.]

But the strangest thing happened on Summer Day #30,256 (kidding…I meant “the last day”): I shed a pond of tears. Tears of utter, bottomless sadness. As Kelly napped at home with Grandma, I took Sara and Avery to the Art Museum to use the pencil holders which took us ALL summer to make. And in the quiet of the marble halls, I saw it: I was IN their lives; I was shaping their stories, and they were shaping mine. It was far prettier than I had been able view through a haze of exhaustion and sticky orange juice rings. It was faint, but it was there. Best.feeling.ever.

By Summer #3 my niece got a nanny and I got cancer. Not the bad kind, but the pesky, painful kind. Even so, there was sun and birthdays and with the help of friends and family, we crawled to the finish line and got Kelly to her first day of Preschool.

So there you have it! My finish line! I had 1 in Kindergarten and 1 in preschool in the same hallway at the same school. DONE! BACK TO WORK!! We’ll figure out the commute and the sick days and the vacation days and the….

What? Sara needs Occupational Therapy?

OK. We can work that in.

And Visual Therapy?

I’d better go back to work to pay for that. But the driving to the appointments…um…??

And…Dyscalculia. Oh yes…and her bladder isn’t working. Add in the Urology team. We’re not done. Dermatology. Migraines. ADHD.

OH LAWDY. This list doesn’t need an expert. It needs a MOMMA. I’m not going ANYWHERE.

This decision put us at full speed through SAHM Summers #4-7, which in child years, is an eternity. That’s ALL the “Kid Years”, the magical-good ones. You don’t want to miss the elementary years. THOSE are sweet; those are the years you worked for.

Sometimes my niece stayed with us. Sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes I battled the pesky basal cell carcinoma. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes we roared into summer with a book of plans, and sometimes we let it greet us gently, taking it one step at a time. We tried camps, but summer after summer, “Camp Mommy” was voted everyone’s favorite activity. When you put it that way, I couldn’t go out while I was ON TOP! VOTED #1 SUMMER CAMP in a survey of 3 campers! Talk about winning friends and influencing people.


At the end of every August, I’d drop them off on the first day of school and jump for joy. I survived yet another busy season! We’d done it all! We picked the fruit, we did the math tutoring, we read the books, we swam like feeeshhies, we made all the things!!! We got bit by all the bugs! Then I got into my Superfund Site (aka “The Minivan”), and wept. How dare they go back to their “regular lives”, and leave me behind? Who is going to meltdown in the grocery store checkout line now? OH…it’s just me?! I CAN DO IT! I CAN MAKE A SCENE! But it’s just not the same without kids, and sometimes the security guys call 911. Apparently the Produce Manager at my local unnamed grocery does NOT agree they are having a “basil situation” and calling him a “no talent ass clown who doesn’t know the difference between kale and arugula” is not going to make anything “better”. They are currently going out of business, just to prove my point, and if you think an entire grocery chain can’t go down on black basil….WELL…THINK AGAIN….but I digress.

Summer can’t stay, anymore than kids can stay little. So shortly before Summer #8, I did the unthinkable: I went back to work. Just for a short-term gig, but it was time. I had done all the PTA’ing and Chaperoning one Mom can do. I simply could not clean up one more science experiment. I saw our summers morphing: They were less about “us” and more about “when can our friends sleep over?”. Maybe it was high-time I go back to “my old life”. Pre-endless-summers. Pre-perpetual-wet-towels. Pre-board-games-that-last-for-years. (Hint: If Sara challenges you to Monopoly, bring your A-game. I’ve beaten her exactly one time. After 2 hours and my ownership of 21 properties, I finally bankrupted the little miser. She is a financial wizard, which she absolutely did not inherit from me.)

Working was GOOD. It was very, very good. Outside of dressing up, discovering adults still populated the earth, and making money, I did miss out on a few things. Field trips and the school carnival. Actually, the school everything. I couldn’t keep up with even half the school emails, let alone church and sports. My entire life as I knew it just STOPPED. I found I could not quickly readjust our lives to accommodate my new schedule. Working was so super-cool, but my home life became a gigantic blur. And just as I had cried on the driveway into my wine that first summer home, I cried just as many tears that spring I tried to leave my SAHM career (if by career you mean no pay and zero benefits outside of my annual ROCKIN’ office Christmas party when I split the champagne with NO ONE. I drink work alone!).

Job that required a visit to the Governor. That was awesome.

Oh, you wanted me to MEET the Vice President of the USA? OK, I can do that too.

And I have to escort the Princess Float through the 3rd largest parade in the country? Yep, that sounds fun. You can pay me to do that.

The job requires me attending the single largest one-day sporting event in history? WELL…OKAY…I suppose if I MUST…

I loved working, but my heart could not manage the strain. MOST of my friends work, and I see them balance it. I see them soar in their careers and their kids are doing GREAT. But my spirit wasn’t built for 2 stories at once, and that’s all there is to it. When the job ended and Summer #8 appeared, I DOVE headfirst into it. I was going to smell it, eat it, swim in it, and get super sticky in that summer. I didn’t miss a single second of it. When late August rolled around, I was thrilled, and the girls were appropriately exhausted. Camp Mommy took them to the EDGE! I’m fairly certain Summer #8 will never be topped.


We are now solidly in Week #4 of Summer #9, and it’s been predictably trying. Every summer has been challenging for different reasons. In 9 years, I’ve navigated everything from cranky toddlers to pre-teen hormone spikes (which aren’t actually different challenges; the sounds they make are eerily similar, and you will equally have no idea what upset them or how to calm them down).

This morning after not-so-patiently instructing Kelly on “why I wasn’t being LITERAL when I said to throw the dishes in the dishwasher”, I turned around to find Sara swinging on the pantry door handles. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, just taking her time looking for a snack while not at all noticing she was practically ripping the handles right off the doors. The kitchen is covered in their cupcake-making session, and there are wet towels covering the newly mopped laundry room floor. We still have a math tutor. We still read books. I still let them watch way too much TV because my summer math tutor was the “Price Is Right” and my summer spelling was “The Wheel of Fortune”, and I turned out JUST FINE.

I’m still 200% short on patience. I’m still waiting for Amazon to deliver the rest of my humility, which I ordered at the same time as additional work ethic. I never turned into Carol Brady or Betty Crocker, but I probably weigh as much as the two of them put together (kidding…sort of…there are parts of mid-40’s the Universe can stick up its…). I don’t have any apple trees, but I’ve grown 8 roses and killed 6 hostas. Life is weird. So if you add that together, what did I get out of 9 summers raising these squirts (who are probably sneaking into the candy whose wrappers they’ll forget to toss, inevitably getting them busted)?

I got exactly what I bargained for: no regrets. Not a single one.

We started here a million summers ago:

And in the milli-second flash that is childhood, we landed here:

What can I say? They taught me everything I know.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly.