I unrolled a scroll of butcher paper, tore off a piece and drew 10 empty boxes in a line, under the heading, “Nate and Harvey play nice together.” Each time my kids could successfully play together for 10 or 15 minutes without fighting, calling for me or wreaking havoc in our home, I explained to them, I would draw a star in one box. Once every box was filled, they would earn a special trip to the carousel. With ice cream.
It’s the middle of August, and this is where we’re at. Don’t worry, I also bribe my children with screen time.
Summer is both a magical and miserable time for me. I hate heat and humidity, and I now live in New York City, so that’s awful. I never, ever minded cold, fog-filled San Francisco summers, where you forgot that it was summer at all and I would celebrate my August birthday in a sweater going to a bar or a movie on a gray evening. But now that I’m back on the humid East Coast, I have the privilege of spending a lot of my summer in Maine, where my mother’s side of the family is from and which is a beautiful and, for me, nostalgic place in summertime. I had well over a month of perfect, temperate Maine days spent on hikes and lakes and beaches this summer. And now I’m back in New York, slogging it out through the steam and stew in the dog days of August when it seems that everyone else flees town.
As a parent, summer is also a mixture of pleasure and pain. I love seeing my kids enjoy the outdoors, run faster, swim stronger, eat heartily and just be more connected to the natural world. The change in routine from the school year is a challenge for my kids, and we thought long and hard this spring about what type of setting would be best for them, as summer camps have been fairly disastrous for us in the past.
As a parent, summer is a mixture of pleasure and pain.
We hit gold this summer with an art and nature camp that we found in Maine for my 7-year-old, Nate. He normally takes weeks to warm up to a new environment, but within a day he fell in love with this camp, where he spent his time making art in a barn and playing tag in an outdoor sculpture park. It was a warm, intimate environment with excellent, caring teachers, and every single day I felt fortunate that we could give him five solid weeks being creative in this amazing place. My 3-year-old, Harvey, also went to a great camp at a local preschool where two of the main daily activities were eating popsicles and running through sprinklers.
So thanks in large part to my family’s help and hospitality, we enjoyed a long stretch of summer wonderland. But now we’re back to real life, in New York City, where the sidewalk emits its own heat and summer camp is way too expensive. My kids are going through a stage where they are completely wild in each other’s presence, so the unstructured time stretching out before us until school starts feels very long.
I’ve developed a few personal strategies for managing parenting in the hot weather: I get up around 6 and go for a jog in Prospect Park, where it’s beautiful and relatively cool. I take the kids outside to play for several hours in the morning, then we retreat home or somewhere air-conditioned for the hottest part of the day. I pack water bottles full of ice cubes and make Israeli salads for lunch. I try to rotate their toys and facilitate simple projects at home to keep their fighting and mischief under control. I read to them and have them play in separate rooms for a little afternoon “quiet time.” We go to the playground after dinner when possible.
And of course, I offer them rewards for simply playing together in peace for a few minutes at a time. So if all goes well, I’ll be taking them to the carousel before the summer’s over.