What are we doing today Mama?


It’s that time of the year when I panic. School’s out and along with it, the steadfast rhythm of a pleasant waking up, dropping kids off, having an entire day to myself, and then just-enough-time to engage them before dusk till I tuck them in at night. It’s just-enough-time so that everything’s wonderfully orchestrated, and there are no burned out mommies or bummed out children.

But it’s summer and the pleasant waking up has been succeeded by the challenge: “what are we doing today, mama?”  As though I had nothing else to do but keep them occupied. The dependable cadence of everyday has just gone off beat. And the mama is in a funk. I had evil thoughts of making a break for the city, dispatching them to any summer camp, or shipping them off to the grandparents. And then there was an hour devoted to inquiring about summer classes every day of the week.  Just so I could have my rhythm back and perhaps, yaya, camp counselor, teacher or grandma, can do the work for mama instead.

There are plenty of empty hours to suddenly fill. And my children are still young enough to mind me. I’ve been allowed an interlude of a school year, and conveniently forgot what days were like when children stay home all day. It would be much easier if I could pin up a poster:

Frazzled and panicking mother. Looking for a summer class/camp, play date, or neighbor. Willing to work the entire summer. Min requirement: A nurturing environment that will support a child’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development.

What am I expected to do when the book says: purposeful work in the morning? My purposeful work is not tidying up the house or preparing breakfast.  The maids do that. I’m on the screen and typing! Do I give them the screen too? That will entrance them into submission. Guarantee my dependable everyday because certainly, television will do mama’s work instead.  How do I keep them occupied so they don’t imitate mother glued to the screen all day?

Here’s my attempt at a Striving Mother’s Plan for the Summer (thank you books and fellow moms.)

  • Strike out the school-day rhythm. Ample time by myself, that won’t happen. Endeavor towards an on-vacation rhythm that can bear my everyday yet allow the kids a regular structure too.

My 5 year old goes to my bed every morning asking me what day it is. She’s memorized what days are like on Mondays, or Tuesdays, or her favorite, Saturdays.  I suppose when she knows what happens next, she’s less nervous. When I bring her to an everyday rhythm, I don’t hear the panicky voice or the whining (well, not as much.) And she goes about her day confident, more trusting about the world. And if you still don’t know, rhythm is the magic potion for discipline.

But I’m neither rigid about exact time nor dogmatic about having to do exactly this or that. Having regular activities that flow smoothly into each other (like inhaling and exhaling) is the key. Without some structure, everything just spills out: overflowing schedules and a flood of frustrated tears.

  • Allow myself time by sharing the parenting adventure with like-minded others.

I almost went all out with this rule. There was a sweet temptation to fill their days with summer classes. Ballet, cooking, swimming, art, equestrian, fencing, these were all ripe for the summer picking. But I couldn’t shake the feeling it was another cop out of conscious parenting. Overburden them with activities so I could salvage my time. And what happens when I fill up their days with people instructing them what to do? There’s a whole lot of pressure in perfecting a pose or doing the right stroke. And if I use up hours, I’d be taking them away from learning the lifelong skills of climbing rooftops or refining the talent of playing Rapunzel from our attic window.

My way out were friendly neighbors + 2 guided activities for the summer. Thank goodness for neighbors who share my same ideals (i.e. they would have answered my ad.) We trade in the adventures of parenting. So it doesn’t feel like full time (even when it is). And as you’re not overwhelmed, you cherish the precious hours when the kids are with you.  Especially when you know you can work out a trade, in case the adventure gets tough.

  • I’m not a playmate but they certainly need help fixing the fort.

I don’t have to play with them. But I also cannot have them loaf around my study, or have television enthrall them everyday for hours. They will unfailingly ask me: “what are we going to do today, mama?” And so every morning I’m bringing down baskets for the morning’s play. They might get sticks and stones, but somehow, they will know what to do with it. Or I would have to pause from work to mix paint with water and bring the paintbrushes out. I will have to do Filipino style for purposeful work. The cook will learn patience as my little ones chop carrots with her. The maid will learn to leisurely walk the dogs with two girls in tow. And the gardener will learn to work with two headstrong helpers who will mess up his perfect flowerbeds. (These will grant me time for my purposeful work of pressing keys.) After nap, the gates that lead outdoors would have to be unlocked. And then, before the sun sleeps, this mama will deliberately end screen sucking, so I could teach underwater somersaults, have my 7 year old learn to break on her bike, and so that summer memories would be of canoeing at the lake.

That’s the summer plan. Imperfect and certainly, with hits and misses. Still, I’m hoping there’s no need for perfectly orchestrated just because school is out. All a mother really needs is a confident and unruffled reply to everyday’s: “what are we doing today mama?”

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