Feeling a bit trans-Neptunian, myself

By Mir
August 26, 2006

Next week, school starts.

This week, the guilt started. BAD MOTHER! (shrieked my inner critic) SUMMER’S NEARLY GONE AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? I knew that we wouldn’t be going on a real vacation this summer, but I had hoped for a few mini-trips and maybe a handful of other adventures. Goal accomplished, if we’re counting the grocery store as a mini-trip and cutting the kids’ hair as an adventure (“Hold still so I don’t lop off your ear, please”).

What did we do this summer? Somehow “Journey to the bottom of Monkey’s closet” just doesn’t have the ring for which I’d hoped. (But for the record, it’s scary in there.)

I’ve been working and cleaning and organizing and the summer vanished in the blink of an eye. I’ve sat down to write about this several times this week and every time I looked over my words I felt completely disgusted with myself. My ruminations vacillated amongst the following:

2) There’s still time, take them somewhere. NOW! GO!
3) Whine much?
4) At the very least, going on vacation would’ve given me an excuse for being so far behind on laundry.
5) Seriously, SHUT UP.

Look; it’s not that they’re deprived children or they’ve been trapped inside all summer. Their dad took them on vacation to Florida—including a trip to Disneyworld—and we did some stuff around here. The kids now actually believe that it is a federal law that you have to drop everything and go out for ice cream when the thermometer tops 100 degrees, for example. But I planned poorly this year. More accurately, I didn’t plan enough and I ended up working a lot and not spending as much quality time with them as I should’ve.

I told them we’d go camping this summer. That’s not going to happen. In my defense, I don’t feel comfortable being the only adult on a camping trip, and the other family we’d been hoping to team up with just never ended up being available when we were. But it’s a promise I made that I didn’t keep. I hate that.

So while I was busy buying school supplies and stuffing backpacks and making sure everyone had new shoes, I was also loathing myself for being so unfun. I am not good at balancing, when it comes to my children. [I think that few people are, actually—that’s part of the reason why it’s a great idea to have two parents, duh. Without a partner to share the day-to-day responsibilities, my tendency to attend only to the essentials isn’t tempered by someone who knows how to actually enjoy life without fretting over whether or not everyone is wearing clean underwear and sunscreen.]

This is—as you might imagine—a vicious cycle of beating myself up and still not doing anything about it (because, honestly, once you’ve established you’re the world’s suckiest parent, is a trip to the beach going to change anything?) and therefore beating myself up. I was pretty well stuck, despite my best efforts to dislodge myself using cookies or the “school starts soon, school starts soon” mantra.

And then an old friend called to say they’d be headed out way, and did we want to try to meet up? Of course we did, and a few phone calls later we were set to visit the planetarium together today.

My friend’s has a daughter Chickadee’s age and a son Monkey’s age, which is quite handy. The children hit it off and the girls spent an inordinate amount of time inside the shuttle simulator crashing it into the runway, while the boys ran in circles around the outside of the shuttle area itself. When it was time for a show we all went inside the domed theatre and enjoyed the sights and sounds.

Well. Okay. Actually, we saw two shows. The second one was pretty cool. The first one was geared towards 4- to 8-year-olds and none of our 6- or 8-year-olds seemed too impressed. Perhaps because it featured a really annoying cartoon macaw with a Jamaican accent, who variously encounters an elephant and cobra without accents, a crocodile with a southern accent, and polar bear with a Boston accent. I have often been struck by how many polar bears there are in Boston. (Why? Because it’s wicked cold there.) (Ha!)

During the Accented Animals show (I have already forgotten what it was called), the boys fidgeted with boredom, my friend’s daughter perfected her heckling, and Chickadee’s admiration for her newfound friend caused her heart to swell three sizes. The sheer bravado demonstrated in her commentary (the guide would ask “Do you want me to show you [fill in the blank with something]?” and this child would yell “NOOOOOO!”) elevated her to worship status long before the lights came back up.

We learned about various constellations, like that Pegasus doesn’t have any hind legs. Poor Pegasus. We built “moon rover” creations that could be hooked up to remote controls for various point of locomotion (I don’t know WHAT this table of stuff was… it was sort of like Rokenbok but I think was something else) and learned how tornadoes form and that Pluto is now a trans-Neptunian object, but that because not everyone voted, it might change again.

During the second show, I watched the simulation of the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy colliding (that’s 13 billion years off, or something, but still) and wondered if the kids would be scared or worried. I needn’t have been concerned; Monkey wanted to tell me that his tummy felt funny from all the “ceiling moving” but he kept his eyes open, and Chickadee wanted to know when we could go outside in the dark and look for constellations.

I learned that it is not just Chickadee and her school chums who have this odd obsession with picking each other up off the ground, but that perhaps Chickadee just looks pick-up-able, as my friend’s daughter commenced grabbing her and lifting her up at every possible opportunity. As my friend fruitlessly tried to staunch her daughter’s enthusiasm, Chickadee giggled and tried to pretend she wasn’t having the time of her life. It wouldn’t have been cool to admit how pleased she was.

I let the kids make stamped pennies in the machine where you turn the handle yourself, and smiled to myself as they compared them on the ride home, lovingly stroking the bumps and shining them with their sleeves. They recounted the day’s adventures to me and each other while clutching their new talismans and chewing the gum their new friends had proffered.

It was a good day, and helped put my orbit back on track, as it were. (That’s a bit of planetarium humor. Apparently I was assimilated. For my next trick, I will point to a cluster of stars and declare it to be the spitting image of a goat playing an electric guitar.)

So, I’ve downgraded my status from suckiest, unfunnest parent ever to possibly redeemable, slightly stuck-in-the-mud parent.

And I happen to know that the mud can be considerably loosened with a little bit of rocking out to our “Car Tunes” CD on the highway. I’m not sure who was singing the loudest, but I think it’s safe to say that it was a good thing we had the windows up.


  1. chris

    Is summer over already? Because I still have this huge list of things that we wanted to do…

    that I planned to do…

    man, I suck.

  2. Bob

    you didn’t take them to laser floyd?

    My son is now a working man. My daughter started her sophmore year in college last week. This time in their lives seems interminable sometimes, but it is really fleeting. I miss the little versions of them, but I enjoy them now too. Especially when my daughter busts out with “SHIT” at a picnic we were at today. The poor little old lady sitting in front of us gave her such a glare.

    Nothing says that these outings have to end when school starts.

  3. Cele

    While vacations are great, it’s the little things that you do together that your children will hold dear Mir. Warning, time goes faster every year. Just ask me, I’m dizzy and it’s not the bleach.

  4. shannon

    you can always camp in your backayard…we did .

  5. TW

    My youngest is apparently complete bait for being picked up. It happens all of the time. Some slightly older/same age child will attempt to pick her up and carry her around.

  6. carolyn

    Cele is right, the years fly by faster and faster. Mine are both in middle school this year and in a mere 5 years my daughter will graduate from high school. How did this happen? And like you, Mir, the end of the summer always makes me reflect on what we did and didn’t do, and I come up lacking. I think its the curse of motherhood.

  7. Kimmie

    We soooo did nothing this summer. Luckily, the kids are very happy with the “vacation” we had with my parents at the resort here even though they ended up sleeping at home in their own beds. LOL

    As a member of a 2 parent family, I can say that even 2 parents can’t get it done. :0)

  8. Zuska

    Hey, hey, hey, in CurlyGirl’s defense, she didn’t start lifting Chickadee until the last 15 minutes or so of the day…thankfully!! I would have had to tie her up to the human sundial, otherwise! And at least she only dropped her own little brother, lol!!!

    And for the record? The THIRD show was the absoulute BEST by far. You must return at some point. Not to add to any lingering guilt or anything…

  9. Niki

    My 11 yo is the one always being picked up – it hasn’t yet ended (she’s in 6th grade), and I’m sure it’s because she’s so little. But, she’s also so cute and pick-up-able (all 60 lbs of her), that her friends just can’t help themselves. Be glad – if Chickie wasn’t a fun girl, nobody would ever consider picking her up!

    We did nothing for summer vacation either, other than sending the kids to Grandma’s for a week. Oh – and lots of camps, and oldest went to the beach TWICE with friends. It’s good to have rich friends! But all I’ve heard when anyone asks what they did this summer was, “nothing.” Poor, poor babies – they’re so deprived. Personally, I would be thrilled to have done nothing all summer!

  10. She-Ra

    I love those squashed pennies! I remember getting them as a kid so I let the kids get one for our scrapbook everywhere we went on our vacation. Of course if it was a machine with multiple choices for design, I always had the deciding vote! There’s actually a museum for those things in DC. I think we’ll go sometime in the next year or so (maybe – I can be a bit stick-in-the-mud myself!).

  11. Lesley

    I loved summer when I was a kid. I think that what I loved, however, was doing nothing! We would watch a rerun of Gilligan’s Island, then go out and make little villages out of sticks in the woods. (It was a break from walking uphill both ways to school in 4 feet of snow.) It sounds so pathetic, but it was cool to have nothing to do.

  12. Summer

    I went through this exact same guilt cycle this summer. No vacations, no fun mini-adventures, and I think we went swimming fewer times than the number of bathing suits the boy owns. The guilt was compounded because the boy was starting school for the first time, so his last summer of total freedom was a sucko wasteland.

    This would explain why I spent yesterday taking him to both the postal museum (you can climb on trucks!) and the building museum (there’s a room with legos the size of bricks!) and why I’m still completely exhausted today.

  13. InterstellarLass

    Technically, summer doesn’t end until September 22. AND this is Labor Day weekend. Perhaps camping is out of order if you don’t have another adult. BUT, a day trip to go hiking could be a good ‘make-up’ for it. National parks and state parks typically have pretty good maps and have rated trails as to ‘expertise required’.

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