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September 14, 2013

Celebrate small accomplishments of best laid plans

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The Daily Star

---- — My summer plans always seem so reasonable when I make them in May. Come late-August, I wonder what the heck past-me was thinking.

For example, this summer my goal was to paint my home office and the family room and the stairwell while simultaneously finishing a book I’ve been toying with and researching another. The kids and I were going to do co-operative craft projects and reading logs and muck out their rooms.

I accomplished exactly one of those things. My office is lovely, by the way. While I hate painting, I love having painted.

Part of the problem is the weather. Actually, the weather itself isn’t the issue; instead, it’s my response to metrological conditions that creates the problem.

I don’t function well when the mercury climbs above 75 or so. As I type this, it’s in the 80s and all my brain seems capable of is wondering if they still make thermometers with mercury in them. Isn’t it all done with, like, solenoids and iPhones now?

All I want to do on a hot summer day is lie around and feel sorry for my sweaty self. Accomplishing anything beyond tearing up some lettuce for dinner is more than I can imagine, much less taking the children outside for some wholesome activity. Besides, they’ve reached the age where they can find their own fun.

Or, if they choose, said kids are welcome to cultivate their own boredom. I think idleness is under-rated in our culture today. A good friend of mine who has grown a decent music career learned to play guitar because there was nothing else to do on his family’s farm. You need a certain amount of slack in your life in order to figure out how to amuse yourself.

No, learning how to fling flying birds at militant pigs doesn’t count as amusing yourself; designing your own game does. Because I’m the mom, that’s why.

That’s the other part of the problem. For the most part, given that I don’t teach during the summer and most of my freelance writing projects can be wedged in around the edges, I’m the parent who is here the most when the kids are home. I’m certain that in 20 years I’ll look back on these days fondly.

Most of the time I enjoy the clamor of parenting. Still, nothing quite sucks all of the life out of you like being asked “what’s for lunch” about a billion times each day. Usually, the query comes shortly after the dog steps in the paint tray and a merry (for the dog) chase has begun. Because that’s exactly the time when I want to think about lunch.

Getting much of anything actually accomplished when your kids are around is nearly impossible, unless you are able to break it up into five-minute-or-fewer chunks of time. Painting a wall can be done, as long as you aren’t terribly fussy about accuracy. Beyond that, however, it can get weird.

Which isn’t to say that we didn’t manage to squeeze in some fun around all of the boredom and emergency clean-ups. There were trips to points far and wide. We saw both the Puget Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. There was swimming in pools both local and foreign. Books were read. Freshly picked fruits and veggies were eaten.

It was a summer. It went faster than expected, as they all seem to anymore.

Now we’re deep in the transition into the school year. The Girl, who really isn’t a Diva anymore, and has grown into a mostly reasonable tween, will start middle school. There have been quick storms of angst about the change. Now, however, she hovers around being 80 percent excited and 20 percent anxious. Knowing her, I suspect it will all work out OK eventually.

The Boy, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about third grade, which is his standard take on school. He has his strengths. He’s a great reader. He could charm the boots off of a Texan. He’ll be the next Jon Stewart once he hones in on what’s funny rather than what’s mean. But he only does these things when he chooses. Try to force him and he’ll dig a trench and hunker down.

This behavior doesn’t really work in a classroom with 20 other kids, which means that the academic year can be rough for us all where the Boy is concerned.

Much like my summer plans, we shoot for the best case scenario with regard to the rest of the year. Then we celebrate the small portion that actually works out.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.