The Perfect Summer Illusion

16 Aug

It’s the middle of August, that time when the back-to-school ads and sales are omnipresent and moms everywhere suddenly realize that the perfect summer they had created in their head didn’t happen… again. That illusion of a perfectly clean house, perfectly behaved children, a constant parade of fun activities and perfect weather has failed to materialize for the umpteenth time. It’s a time when so many moms beat themselves up for not being “better”. I know because I’ve had more summers than I care to count that have ended with me thinking I didn’t do enough. My house wasn’t clean enough. My kids didn’t have enough fun. I didn’t plan well enough, and even when I did, things didn’t always go the way I’d hoped. I have some advice for all of the mamas out there who feel like I felt in the past. Stop it! Stop doing this to yourself. Stop setting your expectations so high that you can never be successful. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else who seems like they’ve got it more together than you do. They might, but in my experience, everyone struggles with something, no matter how good they look on the outside.  The ones who look good are just better at hiding it.


Recently, my boys and I got to revisit our past. When my boys were much younger, we spent most of our summers hanging out with my sister-in-law and her two oldest grandchildren. We had annual passes to the zoo and the local amusement park, and my sister-in-law had a built-in pool. At least three days per week we would get together for lunch and an activity. Last week, for the first time in years, we met at my sister-in-law’s house for lunch and swimming. It was fun, but it wasn’t the same.


Last month we took a vacation to Florida. We spent a few days in Orlando and a few days at the beach. We’ve been to Orlando several times because I have a brother who lives there. We’ve been to Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, Gatlinburg and Washington DC. We’ve been to Yellowstone and St. Louis, Louisville and Clearwater and probably a few more places I can’t think of right now. We’ve seen and done some great things and I’m grateful for all of it, but as I look back I realize there something much more important than where we’ve been. The most important thing about every trip and every summer and every moment is who we’ve been with and who we’ve become on the journey.


There were so many summers when the kids were younger that I dreaded the first day of school because I felt like I had failed my boys, but talking with them about it now, I realized that I didn’t fail at all. The fact that we didn’t take trips to Europe or take a cruise didn’t matter to them because it wasn’t the big grand gestures that they remembered in the end. It was the moments of joy. It was dunking Oreo cookies in milk after swimming. It was having a picnic in the van to save money before heading into the amusement park. It was walking around the lake at the local park as a family. It was staying inside on a beautiful, sunny Florida day to do nothing but watch movies as a family. It was being given a budget and a shopping cart to buy food to cook for an entire day so I could have a day off while on vacation.  It was the simple moments of hanging out and just being together they remember most fondly. What a revelation!


Last Sunday we were supposed to have a family dinner. Because everyone had other things to do, we had to cancel it. I was disappointed because my oldest son leaves for college on Sunday, my middle son is in band camp and my husband is traveling for work. Our moments together are few and far between, and until I looked very closely at the schedule I thought we lost our last moment together. Luckily for me there is a small window this evening to spend a little time to have some dinner and some conversation. It feels like such a gift and I am so grateful for it. That gratitude is magnified by something I read on Facebook this morning as well. One of my Facebook friends, a young single mom in Europe whom I’ve never met, made me realize how precious every moment is with my boys. You see, she posted that her five-year-old son who has autism did something this morning he’d never done. He made the sign for mommy and gave her a hug.  Reading that status completely changed my day.  It made me realize how truly blessed I am to have boys who hug me regularly.  It really brought to light that the greatest gifts are sometimes the simplest ones.  It made my day of interruptions and lack of progress seem miniscule in the grand scheme of life.  Better still, it reminded me not to sweat the small stuff and to focus on the good and the beautiful in this world.


So here I sit in gratitude for my husband’s safe trip back home today, for the hugs I’ve gotten and will get from my children and for the time we will be spending together this evening. Our lives are not perfect but they’re pretty darn good. Our relationships aren’t perfect but they’re pretty darn good too, and as our summer time together comes to a close and I look at the pictures that other people post and the stories that they tell I’ll know that their summers weren’t perfect either but that isn’t the point. The point is that we spent time together with those we love most, that we created memories and that someday will look back on these days and realize how nearly perfect they were. Thanks for being you and have a great day.


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