I’m almost at the time of year where things go upside-down in my house.
By upside-down, I mean not just for me or that there’s a ton of work, it’s that my kids go to their version of summer camp. Difference is, it lasts all summer long and I get more benefit out of it than the kids, I think.
Beginning in 2011, out of necessity, my folks picked up all four of my kids and drove them to Nebraska – where I grew up – for the summer. Now, before you criticize, if you had planned on it, bear in mind that this was not a punishment. It wasn’t something that was a foregone conclusion, either. Just over two years ago I was in a frenzy of trying to figure out what I was going to do for the summer. My oldest daughter, Abbi, was only 16. My twin sons, Noah and Sam, had just turned 8. My middle child, Hannah, was 11.
The bigger issue was the fact that those four kids had just lost their mother. The entire structure, the basic molecular bond of our family was broken. While she wasn’t the only glue holding together our atoms it didn’t change the fact that somehow they’d been split anyway. it would have been very easy for our whole family to blow in a burst of energy equivalent to a blast on some Bikini Island atoll.
Instead, thanks to the structure, help, and encouragement of my parents, we got through the first few months. Eventually summer came, my folks needed to get home to their own lives, and we all came to the realization that I still needed to work. I was forced to change jobs, lost my house, moved into a rental home and was working out getting my oldest daughter into a different school. I had no vacation time and my home life was nothing like it had been.
Change. Lots and lots of radical, unintended change and consequences. That’s what we faced.
But the change was a good change. Well…not all of it. I wouldn’t, two years ago, have considered losing my wife a good change. But the major difficulties we had to face after losing her . . . those ended up being far more positive than we expected.
The kids, in need of structure, routine, and a calm environment got it that first year. My Mom is the epitome of structure and routine. That first year the kids and I needed routine. So for the summer, and last summer as well, my kids got to spend the summer months in a small town. As a little kid that’s amazing. They spent tons of time outside. My Mom had a blow-up pool and bicycles and 3 acres of land to run around in. They did projects, went to the county museum, and played cowboys and indians outside in the acres of land free of cars, people or rattlesnakes.
It’s brilliant and part of me is a bit jealous they get to do it. Still, I get to continue working without the minute-by-minute worry the kids are home alone. It also kept my oldest, Abbi, from having to grow up too soon and act like she is their mother-figure at the age of 16. That was priceless.
So this year only 3 of the 4 go to Nebraska. Abbi is working to make some more money for college. I am working because I took most my time off. I get to have a couple months with my oldest, like when she was the only child in the house.
Some may criticize and ask how I can let my children go for so long without seeing them. The difference is, this works for us. Without doing this, what damage could I be doing to them? Would they feel alone? Abandoned? Left to fend for themselves? I don’t know. The reality is technology is amazing. Apple’s FaceTime app lets me see them and tuck them in every night. Text messages, emails, Facebook, IM . . . all that helps to stay connected. Is it the physical presence? No. Is it worth it to make sure they’re well adjusted?
And it works for us.