Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sunshine Parent

Reasons to Travel #3:
The Summer Soldier Has More Fun

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it Now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. -Thomas Paine

Morale was rock bottom when George Washington ordered these words read to the troops in the winter of 1776. Enlisted men were barefoot, hungry and cold. One third were too sick to fight and the others were sick of losing and retreating. Their terms of service were up on December 31. They'd be free to go home New Year's Day unless they were killed in Washington's risk everything and everyone scheme to cross the Delaware on Christmas Eve and attack mercenaries encamped at Trenton.

But they were winter soldiers, not sunshine patriots, and they went and won and the rest is history.

On Thursday, when Clem's 104 fever refused to budge with tylenol, I took three kids on a hairraising dash to urgent care (it was closing in 50 minutes) located 40 minutes away in heavy traffic on low gas and returned victorious with antibiotics, for which I have pinned a mothering medal of honor to my chest. Ouch.

Yesterday Mike took Ev and Clem to make claymation movies at Zeum while I held back Greta's hair as she vomited into a bowl and changed the sheets when she missed the bowl.

I am the winter soldier of parenting.

I am not the parent who, in the time of vomiting, will shrink from the service of her children. To be fair, Mike isn't either. He has changed plenty a chunky sheet. He is, probably like many dads, more the sunshine parent because because I have staked out the bitter winter of parenting as my territory. If I had asked him to stay home with sick Greta, he would have, happily.

By my choice in some cases, necessity in others, I do the homeschooling, the medicating, the taking to the doctor, dentist, optometrist, the ferrying to classes, the scheduling, the home cooking. When I am brushing Greta's teeth I recount all the things she has eaten and brush them away. It makes her happy and I count the servings of fruits and vegetables so I can see if I need to do better the next day.

Mike does the reading stories at bedtime and the going to museums/hikes/parks. He takes them to Eccolo for gourmet burgers, and then across the street to Sketch for ice cream. By the way, when he says Eccolo has the best burgers in the East Bay, and Sketch the best ice cream, you can take his word. He's done the research. Of course, we do fun things all together, and I take the kids on field trips, though I try to pack nutritious and balanced lunches.

Winter parents feel compelled to make sure that a kid's every meal is square, that food is served on dishes not paper, that everyone gets to where they are supposed to be. Summer parents are a bit more casual.

Mike chose to take the kids fun places instead of their Saturday piano classes (a supplement to their weekly lessons) so often that the kids weren't allowed to play in the recital, which, since it takes up a whole weekend, he viewed as a victory on par with Washington capturing 1000 drunk Hessians.

When I took the kids on the road for nearly 6 weeks I thought it was going to be hard. But it wasn't. I was forced to be the summer soldier. Hotels and road food make their own demands. (And I did have my mom with me for a good part of the trip. Thanks, mom!)

We went to historical sites, museums and parks and zoos. We stayed in hotels and someone else cleaned our rooms and washed the sheets and towels. We ate in restaurants and someone else did the dishes. Our meals were completely imbalanced. Sometimes we even had ice cream for lunch.

Thomas Paine said that the winter soldier "deserves the love and thanks of man and woman" and so, of course, does the winter parent deserves the love and thanks of son and daughter. But do they get it?

Or do the kids just remember who was more fun? I was thinking about that tonight as I did the dinner dishes and looked out the kitchen window to see Mike playing frisbee with Ev on the court while Clementine rode the wagon down the hill and Greta, apparently completely recovered from her vomiting, ate raspberry sorbet on the curb.

I put down the sponge and went out, on a beautiful July evening, to be a summer parent.


christine said...

the way you put these thoughts together was lovely. i want to be a sunshine parent, too!

AM said...

With each new update, I have this dilemma ... which do I prefer ... the unbearably cute pictures, or the unspeakably smooth writing ...? Whew.

Stefaneener said...

So nice, and lucky you and Mike and the kids.

The Stone Age Techie said...

What a neat way to think about parenting! My husband and I are sort of both. We do this little dance where, if he's summer, I am winter and vice versa, but rarely are we both at the same time.
I wonder why?
Thank you for this post -

td said...

You are so right on, Susan!
(even though I am not a parent, it makes so much sense to me)

Also this 'summer' vs 'winter' metaphor can apply to so many other life experiences & commitments, can't it?

Keep these lovely, inspiring, charming & fascinating posts comin'!

patricia said...

I love how you framed this post.

Your " the kids just remember who was more fun" comment is one I've thought about a lot too. Surely they take for granted all we do as winter parents--why would they remember that? Then again, I don't want to be like my friend, who said that all he remembers his mom doing was cleaning the house all the time. Well, my kids wouldn't say that because it's totally untrue, but they might remember that I was on my computer all the time, if I'm not careful.

Thanks for reminding me to get out there and be a summer parent too!

Kristin said...

Poor Clem. She looks delirious all right.

An antibiotic can be a very welcome curing agent. When your child is soooo out of it and you see that medicine kick in and improve them immediately; it's quite an amazing drug isn't it?

Glad to hear that she is now doing better.

I also enjoyed your history, reflection, and the fact that you put your sponge down and went outside for some summer fun.

Susan said...

christine, you are! And an awesome winter parent, too.

AM, I'm particularly proud of the first shot even though the guy is not unbearably cute. I'm glad I caught the flash because I sacrificed some of my hearing to the attempt (we were told to cover our ears, but I could not cover my ears and snap the shot).

Karen, yours is a dance I am familiar with, too. On a tangent, Summer and Winter dancing reminds me of Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith. First book in the series is Wee Free Men. Awesome read, everybody. Hilarious and full of thinking.

Thanks to Stefaneener for recommending it to us.

Toni, it is true...we can get caught up in all those wintery must-get-dones and forget that this is our one shot at living.

Tricia, true about the computer. I missed it very little on the trip and I have tried to hold on to that and sit at it less.

Kristin, putting down the sponge is something I excel at, but under normal circumstances I might have done something else when I put it down...check email? It was so nice to toss the frisbee around instead.