Wow..thanks to American Promise for this information!
Well, it’s the second week of July and I can’t believe we’re half way through the summer! It’s difficult to achieve the correct balance between fun and learning during the school year since there is so little time, so I am always searching for ways to incorporate both during the summer months. Rare is the child who actually wants to learn during the summer – they feel that it’s their time “off” from school and the mere suggestion of doing anything, including getting up early for camp results in huffs and puffs and why’s and ‘why can’t we’s. And that’s when I remind them that they have off from school, but mom still has to work! Fortunately, I have some flexibility with my work schedule, so I try to sign them up for mostly afternoon camps and use the morning as time to do other activities. My daughter is artistically talented and my son is academically talented so it’s more than a challenge to find something that they both enjoy at the same time. But I love a challenge, and I pride myself in finding and creating mini-adventures that we can take during the summer, aside from the normal museums, summer festivals, parks and playgrounds. We have some fun times and I always try to end the summer with a vacation at the beach which gives them solace and serves as a huge incentive to complain less and listen more. For the past few years, I’ve found it works best if at the beginning of summer, I lay the ground rules for our summer days and I thought I’d share them with you:
- Reading Comes First – My kids know the #1 house rule is that no electronics are turned on until they’ve completed at least 30 minutes of reading. It’s not a popular rule, but it keeps their brain exercised and gives me at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet in the morning! The way I make this fun is to take them on a trip to the book store at the beginning of the summer, give them a budget and let them pick out anything they’d like. Two books have to be on their school reading list and the other two can be anything from a journal to a comic book or anything inbetween. We also visit the free library several times throughout the summer. My son loves to read so it’s not an issue with him so much; my daughter would rather have her teeth pulled. She didn’t want to feel like she was still in school, so with her I decided to take another angle. I showed her that she could log her reading time on the Media Upper Providence Free Library website and get prizes and she has been excited ever since.
- Exercise – The other rule is that they (we) have to get in at least an hour of exercise, and since we have a large trampoline in our yard it’s usually the first choice. They also have the option of riding their bikes, going to the nearby playground, gardening or playing in our yard. On rainy days I throw a big towel near the back door, put their rain boots and coats on them and let them make mud pies and search for rain puddles. The also have the option of playing Wii Sports or Just Dance, or we head to the Local YMCA to swim. If they resist I remind them that I will be happy to find them other options like washing laundry, vacuuming their room or emptying the dishwasher, which usually gets them out the door quickly!
- LImited Computer/TV Time – My fifth grade teacher used to remind us that the same shows that come on in the school year are shown as repeats during the summer…and she was right! During the school week the television is on maybe for an hour a night, so they tend to overdose during the summer. It is summer, so I will allow more staring at the tube longer than usual, but after the first hour, it’s time to take a break and do something else. The computer can sometimes be a welcome escape, but also an information overload, especially for intense personalities, so I encourage it to be used mostly for playing math games, Free Rice which helps them learn vocabulary as well as help to end world hunger and reading books on Storia or Kindle. They get to spend an hour or so at the beginning of the summer researching the internet for the best kids websites for the subjects that interest them. Hoagie’s Gifted website is a great starting point for such discovery.
- Summer Wish Jar – Last year I started a summer wish jar. I gave the kids about five pieces of paper each and gave them time to think of things that they’d like to do during the summer that we normally don’t have time to do. The wishes can range from spending the day in their PJs to a nature walk in the park, to a day at the beach. I let them know that it cannot be anything extremely expensive and we will most likely not have time for everything but it gives me a good idea of what they’d like to do before September arrives. I am always touched when I see a paper that says “movie with mom” or something similar, and those nights popping popcorn and staying home make some of the most indelible summer memories!
- Summer Journal – Every few weeks, to help them keep up with their writing skills, I encourage them to write about their summer (good or bad) thus far. I give them the choice of whether they want me to read it, or keep it private (although I usually read it anyway), and it’s a pressure-free way to keep them writing during the summer.
- Forget the Rules Days – Yes, I try to buy organic, gluten free, infuse reading, exercise and teachable moments into their summers but every once in a while, I have an impromptu, forget the rules day. They kids never know when it’s coming, but I may take a day off from work and we stay in our pjs, watch way too much television and order take out all day. Or we all put on our rainboots and I drive around the town like a flash mob looking for the largest puddles. The other night, after I came home from work and fixed a healthy, gluten-free dinner, I announced that we were going to take a quick run to the Wawa before the thunderstorm passed through and everyone could pick their favorite dessert. When we got home, I suggested we all climb up on the trampoline to eat our goodies and watch the cloud formations. My kids looked at me in disbelief but were so excited to see me climb up, lay back and gaze at the clouds. They forget that I too was a child. And the best part of being a parent is that if you let them be children, they will always help you remember and guide you back to that special place of childhood wonder.
Everyone carries memories of their childhood with them throughout their life, and although I can’t shield them from the stresses and disappointments in life, my wish is that their good memories outweigh the bad. The challenge is finding the balance between being a responsible adult/parent while allowing them to be perfectly children. And while you are doing that, you are teaching them more than reading, writing and arithmetic, you are also teaching one of life’s most valuable lessons..balance.
How do you plan to make summer learning fun for your children?
Father’s Day has been bittersweet for me these past two years, mainly because my father transitioned shortly before Mother’s Day a year ago. My dad was not everything that we needed a father to be, but he loved and protected his children, parented the best he knew how, always brought his check home, and although was not always connected to us emotionally, he kept a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and never in his entire life did he miss a birthday of his children or grandchildren. I miss him dearly, mainly because as most women, I was a daddy’s girl. I didn’t always like his choices and I knew he was not perfect but he always let me know how beautiful and special I was to him and spoiled me whenever he could. I expected for my daughter to have a similar experience, and also wished for my son to have a strong, supportive man in his father to look up to.
Unfortunately, my ex-husband has chosen this year to withdraw from his parenting role and I have no choice but to raise my children independently, which means they do not have the comfort, nurturing and stability of two parents cohabiting or even co-parenting. I am thankful for the financial support but for a Mother, the emotional support and presence are much more valuable. I choose not to label myself as a single mom because their father does make an appearance from time to time at special events like recitals and most baseball games and does contribute financially, but chooses not to co-parent. It wasn’t until I participated in a live video chat with Iyanla Vanzant on Co-Parenting that I understood the true definition of co-parenting. Iyanla says that “there is a difference between being a parent and co-parenting”. If you are co-parenting , the other parent is first and foremost willing to be involved in their children’s lives, available and willing to make agreements regarding the welfare and custody of the children and willing to negotiate any agreements that are made if its necessary for the welfare of the child(ren). It was then that I realized I was doing the job of two parents. I make all decisions regarding the kids’ health and welfare alone as well as manage the household, getting them to and from their extracurricular activities and any and all correspondence with school including parent teacher conferences. I do it all alone. Not because I want to, but because the other parent chooses not to. And it’s for that reason that I am more sad on this day than usual. I grieve not only for the recent loss of my own dad, but also for my children’s loss. It is definitely an emotional and physical strain for me, I believe selfish and unfair on his part especially since we both agreed to give life to these children. I would rather not have to be “supermom”. I practice forgiveness almost daily being extremely aware that the emotional scars of resentment are left on the children. It is for this reason that no matter how unfair it is, how angry and frustrated I become with unmet expectations, broken promises that leave me wiping away tears, I will not bash their father. I will not speak ill of him to them, I will not call him a deadbeat or any other words to degrade him or denounce him as their father. Now I’m only human and believe me when I am angry, lonely and tired and I vent to my best friends, many words I cannot even begin to write here may come out of my mouth in frustration (I’m just being honest!), but you will never see it on social media, and neither he nor his children will ever hear it come out of my mouth. Do I have the responsibilities of two parents? Yes. Could their father do a much better job of parenting? Yes. Do I sometimes do things for and with my son and sometimes my daughter that their father should be doing? Yes, but that does not make me their father. Even if I have to tell my son about the birds and the bees or take him to buy a jock strap for baseball it doesn’t make me a Father. It just means that I am a mother doing twice as much as I would be doing if there was a co-parent. I could never take the place or the name of their Father. I believe that fathers have a place in our community and our families that no one else can fill. When they are absent, the absence is felt deeply by the entire family and especially the children and if try to assume that role then I am not allowing the children the dignity of accepting their reality, processing it and healing from the loss. Healing. As much as I sometimes hate to admit it, the reality is that their father’s blood flows through them, his DNA is intertwined with theirs and you can see it in their features, attitude and emotions. To degrade or denounce or dethrone their father would be negating an integral part of their being and that in my opinion would cause irreparable harm. Even if he never embraced them as his children, I would not tell them that they “have no father” because that would not be their truth. We benefit from knowing the truth about who our parents are, good or bad, so that we can use that knowledge to understand the nature of our own choices and either embrace or change them. But that’s just my opinion.
I choose to protect my children from unsafe environments and I am honest as I can with them about how their father’s choices have caused him to distance himself, but I cannot allow the anger, disappointment , hurt and frustration to consume me or them. I always leave the door open for their father to enter their lives as long as it is safe for the children. Many women unfortunately choose to distance their children from an unsupportive father, but I believe that the choice to reject them is often a result of prioritizing the hurt feelings between parents over the needs of the children. Good or bad, they will love their father for life. I am so blessed to have three brothers who are strong, loving and supportive and many “play-brothers” and friends who step in and help provide the male role models that both my son and daughter need. Some may disagree but I believe in the village and I have learned to accept that no matter how strong and loving I am, children need a male influence in their lives and I am not a man.
Well, I did something this Father’s Day that many of my independent mom friends would have never done, but I believe that hate doesn’t solve anything, and only compassion can heal. I received an email a few weeks ago from the Franklin Institute about their new Brain exhibit (which is fascinating by the way!) and made plans for the kids to attend a hands on workshop. When I made the appointment and realized it was on Father’s Day, I added an extra person to the reservation. Did I have to include him? No. Did I want to spend father’s day with someone I don’t even like especially while still mourning my own father? No. But in that moment I put my feelings aside and thought of what would be good for the children. Normally he doesn’t make plans to spend time with them on Father’s Day but I decided for their sake I would extend the invitation. So with no consideration of if he would even respond or accept, I emailed the information and let go of the outcome. I knew that I wouldn’t tell the children so as not to set unrealistic expectations, and I knew that if he didn’t show, we would still have a fun day and that his choice would be left as an impression upon him and not me. Thankfully he showed up for the children and I was happy for them. I honestly would have rather been in the dentists’ chair (I know many of you understand!), but for the first time in over a month my daughter spent some quality time with her dad and didn’t burst into tears when he left. In those few hours she was daddy’s girl and those few hours I believe his presence provided a balm that only a father could apply to her heart. I can hug her, kiss her, wipe away her tears but I cannot give her what she needs from her father. I set aside my feelings about him for a few hours for the sake of the children and the small sacrifice was worth it.
That’s why I say thank you to friends who applaud me for doing the work of two parents and even want to acknowledge my efforts on Father’s Day, but I respectfully decline that title of “surrogate father” because it will never be mine. Our children are aware of how much I give to them and do for them and I get twice the love and hugs which is the supreme acknowledgment . I do hope that one day they will have a Step-father in their lives to be a consistent source of male support, love and encouragement in their home, and I hope for their sake that one day their father has a change of heart and becomes more involved in their daily lives. But just for today, I accept my role as an Independent Mom. Give me twice as many flowers, gifts, kisses, hugs and chocolate on Mother’s Day, but this mother does not want a Father’s Day card.
I grew up with three brothers so I admire and understand men more than many friends of mine who didn’t grow up with brothers. But as much insight I may have into them, I am not a man and cannot provide my son with all of the tools he needs to thrive in school, in the community and in social media. My son’s father is not as knowledgeable , so I search for outlets and resources for my soon to be teenager so that he can get the support he needs as he begins to navigate through this maze of hormones, peer pressure and girls!
Thank goodness I came across the Black Male Development Symposium. I believe I read about it on someone’s Facebook post and was intrigued. I visited the website and immediately got excited about all of the different workshops that they offered. For an extremely low price (and some attended for free if they were members of a community-based tutoring or development program), your son is able to attend a full day of workshops AND receive lunch! There were close to 400 young black men in attendance from middle school through college age, and extremely popular concurrent workshops for parents. The unconventional workshop subjects for the young men ranged from learning to play the drum and navigating rap music lyrics to managing social media, creating your own black superhero, creating your own comic strip and what to say and what not to say if you were stopped by the police. There were also the typical workshops geared towards college preparation and navigating the college campus as well as peer pressure and bullying in middle school.
I was so impressed with the quality of the information provided as well as the experienced workshop presenters and I am already looking forward to going next year and getting someone to take care of my daughter so that I can attend the parent workshops! My brother facilitated a workshop on Mothers raising boys, and there were other workshops to help with college applications and educating parents on the safety of the social media sites that are popular with our youth. Even if my son’s father were more involved, I would still have urged him to attend this symposium. I try to allow him to make his own decisions, since he is twelve so I showed him the website and let him have the final say (even though I had already signed him up!) He did have a baseball game and Mandarin Chinese class the same day as the Symposium, but he chose to forgo his normal Saturday activities and I supported his decision. And as one friend reminded me, “this happens only once a year.”
The organizers have posted a few pictures and videos from this year’s Symposium and plan to post more so I would visit their website www.blackmaledevelopment.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BlackMaleDevelopment to get an idea of the quantity and quality of information available. My son is still talking about it.
Hope to see you there next year!