June is the most nerve-wracking month of the year. A month of juggling and bungee-jumping, no less, between end of the year parties at school, end of the year parties at kindergarten, end of the year parties at the after school class and at the youth movement. The only party that really is important this time of year – the end of our sanity and energy, we parents forget to celebrate, for some reason.
There are parents who keep the “party” going for another month and pour mountains of money into summer camps and additional summer programs for the children. Did I say that there are parents? I mean most of the parents, basically all of us. July is another month for our children to enjoy a structured framework every day, usually between the walls of the same school or kindergarten they attended the rest of the year. But instead of their kindergarten teacher, it’s the aide, and instead of the teacher, it’s a nice high-school aged couselor. Oh, and instead of being free according to the Free Compulsory Education Law, it costs about a thousand shekels per kid, for three weeks. No big deal.
I didn’t learned physics in elementary school, junior high or high school. I never got around to it. But there is one law of physics that is stuck in my head, only God knows from where. It’s called the anomalous property of water. As Wikipedia explains (I will openly reveal my sources): “This is a unique phenomenon that characterizes water: its volume in a solid form (ice) is greater than when in liquid form. This is different than what is found with other liquids, which contract in their solid form.”
What this law claims is that water follows an abnormal logic which is in fact only logical for itself. From the moment that it reaches about 0 degrees, when it turns into ice – instead of continuing to shrink, it reverses the logical order and begins to expand. While every other material in nature will attempt to shrink itself as it gets colder, in order to preserve the energy of its inner heat, water begins to get excited as it gets colder, to grow and expand and take up a lot of room. Instead of cringing and disappearing, it straightens up like a skyrocketing pillar of ice.
As for me, Rivka, I try to adhere to the “law of the anomaly of summer vacation.” Until the end of June, I pretty much cringe and cower, trying to shrink myself, mostly because of the fear of what the future brings. Eight full weeks are ahead of us. An entire “Sefirat HaOmer” (the period of 7 weeks that is counted between Passover and Shavuot) plus another week! Who knows what will happen during that time, during this extended period when there is no routine. It’s hard to set boundaries for our kids as it is – for those demanding little ones. Even when we have a routine, it’s almost impossible, so when there’s no school?! Every night, we fight over the steps: telling them to get their backpacks ready for tomorrow, to go take a shower, to get into bed and go to sleep, or alternatively – peeling them out of their beds in the morning and getting them out of the house. It only gets a hundred times worse when we try to enforce all of these things when there’s no routine.
But then, at this very point, my law of physics kicks in for me. Unlike the other materials in nature, or in this case – instead of the expected parental behavior of cringing into a cocoon and praying that the vacation will finally end and that everyone will go back to their normal routines – my soul wants to expand and spread out. Specifically at the most threatening time, the first day of vacation, my mother’s heart wants to open its arms as widely and invitingly as they will go. Instead of uttering “oy,” I want to say “Hey!” Instead of whining “Why?!” I want hope to fly (and I don’t mean in the sense of “you better fly out of my face,” but rather, to spread our wings and fly). I want to dare to look at this period through the eyes of a grateful parent, as a time with amazing potential when everyone is at home, together, under the wings of their mother. It’s a time to eat lunch together (yes, we need to cook) and dinner together (omelets and salad, because we already cooked for lunch) and an infinite number of snacks in the middle (because “Mooooom, I ‘m hungryyyy” happens about every two minutes). It’s a special time for us as parents, too. Really, it is! We don’t need to get up at 6:00 AM and scrape everyone out of bed with a spackle knife. We can sleep in a little, soften our rigid lifestyles. We can put on fun music in the morning to listen to while we get up. We can jump on the beds as if we were at a hotel. Vacation!!! Let’s bring the vacation into our homes with open arms.
Either way, part of our authority seems to melt with the scorching heat outside, and we have two options. We can try to continue to fight for it, to no avail, and reach the constant feeling of frustration that “no one is listening to me!” When we choose this option, we continue to feel ourselves shrinking inside and becoming very small. Or, we can decide to be more like water. We can keep moving and flowing, but also expand and grow, as parents and as human beings. We can decide to do what isn’t expected of us – to let loose and go with the flow. We can give our children a chance to see us acting differently, being softer and easier in front of them, being less strict and more laid back – especially toward ourselves.
I am aware of the huge gap that exists between writing and dreaming of all this, and applying it in real life. As a mother of four, a freelancer working from home, I am planning to spend most of my time with my children at home, so I am trying to make this time as enjoyable for myself as possible. But there are many, many more mothers who have to add dealing with their workplace to this crazy equation. It’s very stressful. Those who are privileged to work at an office where their employers understand the situation might have a bit less stress, but this still doesn’t solve the never ending attempts to find childcare solutions in the form of grandma-grandpa-uncle-aunt-neighbors-friends-babysitters and more. Maybe during math class in high school, instead of calculating how long it will take for the hose to fill the pool up with water, they could teach us how to find good childcare solutions for our children during the summer vacation and not lose our sanity?
No, it’s not easy. It’s so not easy that it’s actually the hardest thing ever. But it’s an opportunity that we can seize with both hands. We can decide that we will dance with the Julyaugust monster and not be afraid of it. Enjoying it doesn’t necessarily involve going to the shopping mall every day and continuing to pour out our money as if it was water. In fact, it’s possible to air out our houses, to lighten up our hallways and bedrooms and bring the atmosphere of vacation into our homes. By being calmer, more patient, giving more hugs, laughing, and truly appreciating this special opportunity to be together and love each other. Even with the arguments, the nagging and all of the hard parts, we can find ways to have fun together and connect – to truly connect to our sweet, dear children. For an entire Sefirat HaOmer plus another week.
Yes, thank God, we have two boys and two girls. May God help us get through this vacation happy, healthy, and mainly, closer to one another.
I wrote this post before the atrocious murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel from Kiryat Arba, which occurred on the last day of school, right before the summer vacation started. I feel that there are no words that can describe the infinite pain. There’s just a cry, a loud and terrible cry and an empty space that will forever remain void. Suddenly, this valuable time with our children seems a million times more precious.