Summer is a time of extremes around here. The end of the school year is an intense, stressful time, with subjects that are crammed to finish, end of year tests administered, extracurricular activities like Cub Scouts and ice skating wrapping up for the year. It seems like all of May is a pressure cooker, and when we think we can’t take any more of the stress, we’re suddenly shot out into June, where everything comes to a sudden, abrupt stop.
Summer vacation is my favorite time of year. I love watching the kids play. I get to spend hours in the garden without feeling guilty for not being inside, supervising multiplication memorization, or paragraph proofreading, or listening to “This Is Our Parish” for the 50th time. None of it. Just long, sunny hours in the yard, soaking in the vitamin D, and occasionally wondering how the house gets so messy when no one’s in it all day?
Every year, the kids’ response to the extremes of summer makes me smile. I love watching them in a fury of ecstasy at school’s end. I love watching that ecstasy slowly fade to boredom, and then frustration that I really mean it when I say “no screens on sunny days.” The frustration eventually burns them out, and they sit listlessly on the low stone wall in the yard, swinging their feet and irritably slapping gnats. Then, one of them has a brainstorm, and they’re off again, to build a tree house or hypnotize a chicken or search for Bigfoot in the brushy tangle of forsythia.
Sometimes they drag out the sprinkler, a low-tech thing that slowly fans back and forth across the lawn. I watch them hover right at the edge of the water’s reach, crouched, tense, ready for that moment when the heat of the day outweighs the shock of the cold. Then with a wildman’s cry, they spring into the wall of water, whooping and jumping and laughing. This continues for about half an hour, until they are all blue-lipped and goosebumped, and make their way, chattering and shivering, to the asphalt of the driveway. The driveway is the only part of the yard that gets all day sun, and so by noon, it is a fiery thing, shimmering with heat. The kids gleefully lay themselves out, belly down, and close their eyes, blissful smiles on their faces. They stay there, motionless, for several minutes, until the heat has soaked all the way through their bodies, and they spring up, flushed and hot, and run back to the sprinkler.
All of it, the ecstasy and the boredom, the frustration and the creativity, the hot and the cold, all of it is met with varying degrees of gratitude on the part of my children. By standing back and letting them experience the extremes of boredom and heat, they are able to fully appreciate the joys of play and coolness. The life of a child with a helicopter parent, who hovers constantly to ensure no calamity befalls their offspring, strikes me as a vacuum of gratitude. What rushes in to fill its place, I wonder? I suspect entitlement.
Like so many other things my children teach me, I need to apply this to my relationship with God. How often do I irritably ask Him to remove this or that annoyance? How often do I complain that my domestic existence is boring, or that my allergies are acting up too much this year, or that the entirety of our elected officials are inept and could He please come back now so that we didn’t have to suffer fools any longer? I would turn God into a helicopter parent, justifying my ungrateful, entitled sense of self.
How much happier I would be if I did what my kids did. If I took each new thing and found the kernel of gratitude in it. If I moved from event to event, being fully present in the moment, rather than throwing my mind out into the future and losing the beauty of the now.
Because the now, like the saints have told us over and over again, is the place where God dwells.
Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.