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Learning together this summer

First slide

There’s something crazy happening out there in summer camp world. It’s as if everyone is making up for lost time. Camps are filled to overflowing with waiting lists for the waiting list. And parents are worried. How are we going to keep kids occupied this summer? After more than a year of being cooped up together at home, moms in particular seem to have fallen into despair. Never mind magical or manageable or meaningful, they are asking how will summer be mine? How will I navigate having all this time with my kids without losing my mind or my sense of self or my sanity?

Maybe it’s time to reframe the question. Maybe instead of asking how we can keep them occupied and out of our hair, we need to ask what we can learn together this summer. Maybe instead of buying (literally) into the culture’s insistence that we have to go to great lengths to orchestrate a summer apart, we surrender to the idea that we are going to be together, whether it’s because camp is full or because we see a better vision than long afternoons playing Minecraft. What if instead of pushing them out of the way so we can pursue our own agendas, we ask ourselves what we can learn together this summer?

Have you always wanted to learn to make pasta? Maybe instead of hiring a sitter so you can go off to a class, you buy a simple pasta machine and you and your children watch YouTube videos and then practice together until you have something edible with which to celebrate? Setting a personal goal to run a 5K in the fall? Why not do that alongside your preteen daughter? Run together, working your way through each step on a training app. Kids too little to run alongside? Let them ride a scooter or bike or push them in the stroller. Take them along. You won’t lose your sense of self, and you won’t forgo the endorphins that come with exercise and fresh air. You’ll gain some things, though. And so will they.

The Lord sets us down in families so we can grow together in virtue. It’s up to us to seize the opportunities family life presents. Sure, we can acquiesce to the entirely secular assurance that screens make great babysitters and there’s no shame in the Blippi game. But let’s do that with our eyes wide open. For a moment, let’s not worry about what that screen time is doing for (or against) the child. Let’s just look at how it’s limiting you.

We are here for holiness. We are here to grow closer to Our Lord and to become more like him every day until we are reunited in heaven. Don’t let anyone distract you from that truth. Your whole purpose here on earth is to love the Lord, serve your people and get ready for heaven. Everything else is a distraction from that purpose. Our families are vehicles for growth — not just a child’s growth, but a parent’s growth, too. Maybe parents grow the most.

The very thing God provided to teach you patience might be a loquacious 4-year-old who never stops asking questions and telling very long stories. The mom-coddlers are here to tell you that you matter most — not your soul: your temporal satisfaction. No need to delay your own gratification or stretch your ability to be compassionate, empathetic or attentive to another. The advice is to go plug in her iPad instead of patiently answering all her questions and listening to her story without picking up your phone to distract you.

Before you take that advice, ask yourself how it will help either of you become holier. Ask yourself how focusing on your wants (because truly, I’m not talking about "needs" here) will teach you to lay down your life. Ask yourself if you are missing the thing that is most needful for your salvation.

How can this summer be a beautiful, productive, glorious one for growth in virtue? By recognizing all the many opportunities life at home with children offers to become more virtuous. I know that sounds old-fashioned. What about a woman’s right to time and space and personal enjoyment and enrichment? Go for it. Spend as much time as you like by yourself. Just be sure you hold it up to this test: is this a good way to redeem this time on my way to eternity? Sometimes alone time is exactly what you need for holiness. But often, what you need is to lay down your life and pick up a child.

Maybe that simple test question will yield more messes in the kitchen, walks in the park and fabulously long little girl stories.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss