It’s the first week of summer camp for my soon-to-be second- and fifth-graders. And my mommy guilt is in overdrive. It happens every summer. The first couple weeks of camp are always an adjustment—the schedule, the location, what friends are going to be there, are the counselors nice, do I have to eat the food in the cafeteria, can I swim with a shirt, why do I have to share a locker with boy, why are Gameboys only allowed on Friday’s, and the list goes on and on and on.
As my children adjust a bit more each day, the Stepford Wife in my head repeats her mantra “... if you didn’t work they could be home having a leisurely summer like their Stepford friends.” And I tell this bitch, who continually refuses to mind her own Stepford business, “SHUT UP!” But in true Stepford fashion, she refuses and it becomes a matter of just waiting it out. Eventually my children adjust, dare I say even begin to have a fabulously fun summer, while their friends have begun to be bored at home and have grown sick of spending twenty-four-seven with their Stepford moms. Yes, this is truly the time of year I have the hardest time living in Stepford. It’s the time of year when I’m almost swept away by the tsunami of “you’re a bad mommy because you work” messages that permeate the very air I breathe.
More than just about anything in my life, I want my children to be happy. But damn it, more than that, I want them to know HOW to be happy. And I know from my own life, that learning how to be happy is HARD. Learning how to be happy is not fun and as a matter of fact, sometimes it down right sucks. However, learning how to be happy sure beats the alternative. I can say for sure, that I am happy. This has not always been true and I don’t like everything about my life, but I choose happiness each day. And that is how is it has to be. And that is how it has to be for my children too.
Will they rise to this challenge when they are adults? I don’t know. I pray they do. I pray that by constantly restraining my instinct to shield my children from every uncomfortable situation, that they will learn that their happiness is a choice and not a matter of their circumstances. I pray that even though we live in the sanitized world of Stepford, they will learn that all the material things they are blessed with and those that they are not, do not and cannot make them happy. I pray that by talking to them about politics, war, poverty, and the inevitability of death that they will see so much more to life than cell phones, Ipods, and Wii’s. I pray that by working they will see me as more than their indentured caretaker and provider of all their heart’s desires. I pray they see a work ethic and develop one of their own. I pray they see how hard my husband and I work at being married and that marriage is not a perpetual honeymoon, but a deep commitment to another person you may not always like, but hopefully always love.
Whenever I’m tempted to slip into helicopter-mommy mode, I ask myself exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with my children. I’ve asked myself these questions every hour on the hour this week trying to talk myself off the guilt cliff to which I’m clinging. Am I trying to create the “perfect” childhood where my children never have to struggle, feel uncomfortable, sad or upset? Do I never want them to have to do something they they don’t want to do? Or do I want my children to learn as many of the hard lessons of life while they are still under my protective gaze and I have the ability to intervene and counsel and give advice? Do I want my children to face their first set backs in life AFTER they are adults ,when the consequences are so much larger and the safety net is gone? Do I want my children to be self-righteously indignant the first time they get a boss who couldn’t care less if they want to work, arrive on time and have a good attitude?
I know by the end of the week I’ll have at least one leg swung on top the guilt cliff and by the end of the month no part of me will any long be hanging over the edge. I also know my children will have settled into their new routine, enjoyed some really cool field trips, and made some new friends. Their still small bodies will be tanned and their brown hair will be highlighted gold. They will have played approximately twenty soccer games, swam in an indoor pool ten times, and eaten four ice cream cones that came off an old fashioned truck. I think its going to be an okay summer in Stepford after all.