Monday, September 14, 2009

Stupid Survival

It’s hard to believe that school is back in session. It seems like just last week that we were counting down the days until we finally had a more relaxed schedule. The summer came and went in a wet, chilly flash. It was the first summer since I’ve had kids that I’ve worked full time. I was just a little nervous about how all of that would play out.

Would they kill each other before I got home at five? Would the big kids really keep an eye on my littlest guy or would they assume their sibling had it covered? Would chores actually be done or forgotten in the excitement of running off to meet up with friends? One of my biggest worries concerned food.

I know older kids. Food is something they like to think just appears in the cabinets and then on the counter, warm and ready to scoop on their plate. They knew the basics - how to open a can of ravioli, how to make Easy Mac, how to pour the appropriate amount of milk on a bowl of cereal. (Although I sometimes wonder if they have a special blindness for containers full of leftovers because they seem to sit on the shelf of the fridge until it’s time for me to introduce them to the trash bin.) But overall I was pretty sure my kids would not starve in the eight hours I was at work.

The first week came and went and all seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone was getting along. Littlest brother was happy and well supervised. The house was not a complete mess of clutter and, better yet, had not burned down. But I was suspicious about the food thing.

I was seeing evidence that lunch consisted of a box of crackers, woofed down during a game of Xbox live. Or a couple of granola bars, scarfed up while they ran out to get their bike ready for a long ride through the woods. When I got home at five everyone was hungry. Very hungry. Our dinner hour was bumped from six to five, because that was the latest I could hold off on these starving children.

So I decided it was time for a chat. Just a reminder about the idea of actually deliberately sitting down to enjoy some real food for lunch. An actual break in activity to pull out a bowl and a spoon and put the microwave to good use. Isaac was the first kid who came through the kitchen that night so he got the first lecture.

I spelled it all out to him. Reminded him of all the choices I had strategically placed in the cabinets for him to pick from. I offered to make a list of options to post on the fridge, to tweak his memory when lunch time hunger pains were distracting him. I told him how important it was for his body, his energy, and our regular dinnertime, that he make sure he sat down and ate a real lunch. He listened patiently (while he poured a glass of milk to tide him over until dinner) then he sighed and said, almost under his breath, “Ug…stupid survival!”

I had to laugh because I totally related to what he said. In the days after his three word revelation the phrase came to mind many times.

When I came home from work and knew there would be five people waiting for me to come up with something amazing and tasteful for dinner, I said to myself, “Ug, stupid survival.”

When I filled my cart with allergy and sinus meds for sniffly nosed kids, and bandaids for frequent summer boo-boos I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.”

When I had to scour the calendar for a date I could schedule my yearly doctor appointment and no dates seemed to be free I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.’

When I squeezed the last bit of sunscreen out of the slippery tube and vowed to buy the big family sized bottle next time, I said it, “Ug, stupid survival.’

So many things I do during the day I do because they are necessary for survival. Like Isaac pointed out so clearly that day early in the summer, life is full of really fun stuff. There are great opportunities all around us. But that survival thing seems to get in the way.

I go to work every day so that we can actually pay that mortgage bill when it rolls around each month. We teeter on ladders to clean out gutters, risking our life, so we can maintain the house and provide a safe, warm, dry place for our kids to live. We wrote a huge check out to a contractor in the middle of the summer, money that we would have loved to have spent on family adventures, so that when winter came we could have a furnace that actually heats the house. Ug, stupid survival.

So this week I have to thank my middle son for the smiles he puts in my day. Many times when I am getting hung up on the stuff that doesn’t matter, the stuff a mom has to do to keep a family running smoothly, I see my son’s face. I see him roll his eyes in frustration and let my new coping mantra slip out. The smile it brings to my face to say “Ug, stupid survival’ never fails to make me think of my boy and reminds me of why it’s all worth it.

So very worth it.

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