Sometimes in our house, it’s the mom who acts like a spoiled brat. Yes, I mean me.
Like yesterday, when I was trying and wheedling and thinking of any possible way that I could get my kids to go to this supercool new family music camp I heard about.
I tried the hooks that sometimes work: you can sing all week! There will be s’mores! Swimming and hiking! Maybe even fishing! It’s just like the AMC huts, except without all those pesky mountains!
But neither one of them was awfully sure about my plan. Mostly because it was mine.
They’ve seen my summer plans in the past, and have complained that even my most minimalist schemes leave them more tired at the end of the day than they feel after regular school. Both girls would prefer to spend the dozen or so weeks of summer melting into the soft furniture in our living room, moving only to procure salty snacks or halfheartedly make a small portion of a friendship bracelet. If left entirely to their own devices, they would spend the summer reading or glued to screens, interrupting their pursuit of sloth only with lazy begging for trips to the mall.
This is not how I raised them. Like poor Republican Michael Keaton from Family Ties, trapped in a family of do-gooder liberals, my children are trapped with parents who enjoy things like swimming, and hiking, and socializing with other people. We like museums, art classes, and dorky non-competitive sports. Left to our own devices, we would spend the entire summer driving from one swimming hole to another across the entire New England seaboard, staying with friends everywhere, and getting in and out of kayaks, bands, mountain ranges, and trouble as frequently as possible.
Child psychologists refer to an important element in child and family happiness that they call “goodness of fit” between a parent’s and a child’s temperaments. The happiest families are those where most of the variable aspects of human personality are in sync. Not so chez nous. Activity level on summer vacation is just one way in which we are more different than we are alike.
So suffice it to say that while I thought they should be extremely grateful for my signing them up for the art camp that everybody in Brooklyn raves about, they are a little more tentative in their enthusiasm than I would like for them to be.
“It sounds like school,” one said. (As though we send them to school in the Gulag.)
“Yeah, there are probably periods.”
When I signed them up for the art camp, they were asked to choose among dozens and dozens of classes: ceramics, sewing, swimming, comic books, computer art, carving, singing, band, drama…. The list literally did go on and on. Reading it felt like reading my college catalogue. I wanted to join every single class myself, even if I would be the only 40 Year Old Weirdo making macramé and trying out for the camp rock band.
You’d think that all this extracurricular possibility would thrill them. But for some reason, even with all this exciting choice at their disposal, they weren’t budging when I threatened them with yet another week of fun choices at the awesome music camp. All the choice was making their tired brains more tired.
After awhile, I stopped selling, and went straight to pleading:
“Can’t you just try it? What if you discover you really like line dancing? Maybe there will be nice kids there? Um, PLEEAAAASE???”
I watched as their sweet, generous hearts hardened to stone.
It was then that my inner spoiled brat reared its ugly head. I turned into one of those moms who says, “Fine,” when she really means “This is so not fine I could spit. On you.”
And here was the lecture I delivered, in a tone of deepest irony:
“OK, so we won’t go to the world’s most awesome family music camp. You guys can lay on the sofa all you want. No, I mean it. I seriously mean it. What a fun way to spend July!”
I was sounding like a really scary cheerleader, my tone rising higher with each new sentence.
“But you know where I’m going this summer? Let me tell you! I’m so excited about my summer plans! Because I am going to Dishwashing Camp! And also spending fourteen weeks at House-Tidying Camp! Maybe I will even get to sort your underwear drawers!! And replenish your art and school supplies!!!”
Abigail looked at me as though I had finally cracked. She was clearly trying to determine whether or not there really was a Dishwashing Camp someplace that I was going to force her to attend. But a smile started to play at the corner of Grace’s mouth, just before the major eyerolling commenced. Her appetite for sarcasm is definitely advanced beyond her years.
Knowing that I was hitting at least a portion of my target, I kept going, “And I am DEFINITELY looking forward to my folding and sorting class at Laundry Camp! God, I really hope they still have space for me in the Lunchmaker’s Club!”
With that, I ran out of extra octaves in my cheerleader voice. And, I have to admit to you that I stormed out of the room. I went stomping all the way upstairs and slammed the bedroom door.
To do what? You guessed it. Folding practice for Laundry Camp.
There was a long period of quiet from downstairs. I could hear DH and the girls murmuring in hushed voices. Whoever said that folding laundry helps you to calm down was talking smack, because the longer I stood there, the more imaginary camps I invented to fill my summer. Groceries and Cooking Camp! Dropping off Kids at Camp Camp. Picking them Back Up Activity Hour! Complainers Club!
(Anything, of course, except Watching Perfectly Capable Children Lie About My House Like Sloths Camp. That one I Would. Not. Do.)
After a longish ten minutes, I heard a child’s quiet steps on the stairs. She did not turn the knob of the bedroom door, but instead pushed a tiny slip of paper through the crack underneath.
It said only this:
We’re sorry, Mommy. We think we’ll like music camp.
I hate to teach them that this sort of base whining and verbal manipulation can get such terrific results. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Harmony heaven, here I come!