We have a series of these pictures, taken on an oversized adirondack chair, on the lawn in front of the Mayflower building on Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach. It was a night last week when we were on vacation, and it was late and we had been in the sun all day, with cousins all evening and then forged on to get some promised ice cream when everyone was already beyond the breaking point. What you don’t see, or maybe you do, is how dirty everyone is in this picture – how sweaty and sandy, and just how brittle hair can be when its shampoo has become sand and pool water.
I love summer. I thought this summer might be the exception to that rule but it hasn’t been. It has not been an easy summer. Besides the dirt in this picture, what you don’t see is the yelling beforehand, “I want a picture by myself!!!!” or “I want a picture with the just me and Ruthie!!!!” Nothing is simple. Everyone has a different opinion. Someone always has a look of consternation on their face, displeased with the scenario.
Is it girls? Is it gluten?
Even when we prayed last night, people were upset over the order of who got to pray. Shouting ensued, tears.
In my better moments, I realize that they are differentiating, testing the bounds of relationships, grappling to find individuality in a group.
In my worse moments, I send them all outside and lock the doors. YOU WILL LEARN TO LOVE EACH OTHER. Shouting ensues, tears.
I realize I wanted my children to do two things most consistently: eat their crusts and get along.This summer has humbled me in both areas.
But here’s why the sweaty season still has my heart: we’ve got the time. These long, less unstructured days allow for the conflict to resolve, sometimes with much labored, repetitive discussion and sometimes just because children more easily move on. I will not miss the constancy of the struggles but I will miss the lack of complexity. I will miss that I dragged a child into the car screaming at her sister and when we got out again ten minutes later, the same child is hugging me, having been assured that they belong, are loved, and are heard.
This will be the summer that I learned, again, that what they need, what we all need, is leaning in: listening and empathy and physical touch. Separation and isolation do not seem to teach the lessons I intend. They provide me minutes to not lose my mind, and figure out if there is a lesson I intend. But my children are incapable of rethinking relationships while seated on the cement in the corner of the parking lot in 95 degree heat.It’s only when they are brought back in and reconnected, that they are restored.
These months of sibling strife have felt extreme but have also offered a collection of unexpected sweet moments, strikingly close to the tears and apologies, when we discuss our favorite form of Cheetos and what we think God looks like. They’ve taught me with a wisdom only children can offer adults, that it feels like we are doing this conflict and restoration thing constantly, because we are – conflict, and its response, are part of the rhythm – not a failure, or “that issue we dealt with in July.”
Our kids start school September 8. SEPTEMBER 8! I went back to school in August every day of my life. So August always felt tainted. Not this crew. We have all of August before us to glory in late nights and mosquito bites. We have a month more to cram it all in, perfecting the backstroke and green pool hair. We have August and everything after to revel, not in problem solving, but in rhythm-living: to read and play and help and refuse and yell at each other and apologize and begin again.