Thursday, May 24, 2012

Because I Said So: Freedom best part of summer parenting

Is there anything more anticipated in our relentless, 365-day marathon than the end of the school year? Christmas, maybe. Birthdays, perhaps. But even as adults, we can sense an excitement in the air as the seasons change and the days on the calendar tick down to summer vacation. In all the years as children, with each lesson and rule being hammered into us until we don't have to think before we multiply or label a part of speech, this time of year has become second nature as well.

I felt it last week on the last day of school when I picked up the kids and we stepped off the curb of school property for the last time. I was giddy - giddy! - with the knowledge that we could sleep in the next day and lounge around, and not have to think about homework and lunches and school uniforms. Sure, I have to keep working as I always do, but it's a far less stressful day knowing my kids are playing and relaxing nearby.

I also looked back at the school year as I stepped off that curb, and I think I did a pretty good job. The kids made it to school every day (not perfect attendance, but really, really good attendance), they had something to eat, their uniforms were clean, they had two, matching shoes on their feet. All in all, not too bad.

In this week's Because I Said So column, I actually grade myself. I do this before my kids can do it for me, and I declare myself: average.


Freedom best part of summer parenting
The school year is over, and it was a good year with advances made, focus maintained and lessons learned. The grades are just beginning to roll in, and I could not be more proud. I've given myself a solid B-minus in School Year Parenting for 2011-12.
It wasn't perfect (it never is), and I'm no show-off, but I did manage to prepare just north of 750 sandwiches since last August. I found socks, washed uniforms, located shoes and walked the kids to school. I napped. I read to my daughter's kindergarten class once. OK, sure, it was only once, but one is more than none, and that's good math. I also helped my kids with some math homework.

My weakest subject was probably handwriting. Specifically, in putting my handwriting on the many forms that Memphis City Schools requires for our kids to take part in any activities. There was a mountain of paperwork in my inbox, and no way to get to all of it, not with all of those sandwiches to be made. So some papers were late, and some never made it to school. Or they made it there, but were tardy.

There were forms for field trips, for projects due and projects done, graded homework, quizzes to be signed and notices of fundraisers. I put these things off, set them aside and forgot all about them.

The first rule is to always show your work. Well, here it is, beneath this pile on my desk, still.

There were tests, too. Spontaneous questionnaires by people I'd run into at Lowe's or Kroger -- "Papa quizzes," if you will -- and I was expected to know the answers. "Sixth-grade ... baritone saxophone, Japanese and Spanish, soccer ... 14 years old ... TCAP ... peanut butter."

School-year parenting is different than summertime parenting, isn't it? During school, there are rules and regulations to adhere to, time schedules, adults standing at the front of the room telling you what is and is not acceptable. But in the summer, I can do what I want, when I want. Mostly. As long as the adult at the front of the room says it's OK.

During these 10 weeks of summer, we will sleep late and eat at all hours of the day. We'll go outside when the sunshine calls and come in for television and naps when the shade begins to vanish. I will still make sandwiches, and I will still walk with my kids, but I won't have to sign the forms to say they can go to the zoo, I won't have to wake them before sunrise, and they can spend whole days with no shoes for all I care.

Summertime Dad will get an A-plus. I can feel it. I've been studying for this since late last year, somewhere around sandwich No. 220. I've memorized the formula, I've solved for X and found that X marks the spot. And that spot is poolside, where I'll be with a cool drink in my hand and working on a passing grade at passing the time. 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer Days

I've been working on this week's column which is all about the end of the school year and beginning of summer, just as it was last year at this time (and probably the year before that). It got me to thinking about last year's column, so I descended the creaking, iron staircase to the second basement level and the Because I Said So archives to retrieve it and share it again with you.

Happy summer, everyone.

A syllabus for summer vacations to remember
Another school year has come to an end. If yours was anything like ours, the year was one of ups and downs, overall good grades, some conduct issues, large and involved projects and plenty of homework. 
School days are, by necessity, rigid in their schedules and run smoothly because of their rules.

Summer days are not.

So, to my kids, and to yours if you wish, I give you your summer syllabus.

First, take your school pants, the ones with the knees that are frayed and worn thin, and rip the legs off there at those knees. This is your summer uniform.

Next, go outside and stay there until called in. And then complain that the day is over. Catch fireflies. Explore the woods. Build a fort. Tear it down and build another. Spend an entire day reading comic books. Have your fill of snow cones. Learn the names of the birds in your backyard. Drink from a hose. Track down kids in your neighborhood and get to know them. Read "Tarzan, the Ape Man" beneath your largest tree. Spread wildflower seeds around your neighborhood. Build a sand castle. Laugh at the tide the next day when that castle is gone. Build a kite. Fly a kite. Use chalk to make a sidewalk mural an entire block long. Go barefoot. Everywhere. Learn new songs and sing them. Draw a picture of your house every day and color it a different color each time. Camp in your backyard. Write a story. Write a poem. Plant a garden. Wash your neighbor's car. Go whole days without putting a shirt on. Play in the rain. Shoot 20 baskets in a row. Eat new foods on a blanket on the lawn. Drink lots of lemonade. Make your own popsicles. Eat a popsicle for breakfast. Read your parents' old encyclopedias; they were the first Google. Conduct a census of the squirrels. Climb trees. Oil a baseball mitt. Dig a hole. Read the funny papers. Watch a Marx Brothers film. Forget where you put your video game. Roast marshmallows. Count the stars. Lie in the grass and listen to the cicadas; you'll be adults the next time they sound like that. Make mud pies. Operate a lemonade stand. Nap in a hammock. Run through a sprinkler. Visit the zoo. Stay up all night and watch the sunrise. Tell ghost stories. Build a birdhouse. Ride your bike farther than you ever have before. Swing on a rope. Find some shade.

I understand the concern for lazy children and the fear that the Chinese or Canadians or whatever group is currently overtaking us in math and science scores will be studying these next two months. But maybe we as parents can go this summer without thinking of us vs. them. Maybe we can look at these long summer days through the eyes of our children and remember just how quickly it all slips away.

Kids, soak up these days, and be sure that at the end of the season, when you're back in your desks and your teacher asks, "What did you do for summer vacation?" you can answer honestly, "Everything."
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Because I Said So: Volunteer early for getaway errands

Last week I was sent up to Kroger for an item. While there, I found myself walking around the store looking at products and wasting time. I wasn't looking for anything else in particular, and I didn't find anything, but the kids had been especially loud and obnoxious at home and it was just a nice little escape. This "vacation" struck me as funny, so I posted something about it to Facebook, and a lot of people found it funny as well. A lot of people identified with it, and that's one of the main things I look for in a column. I want it to be funny, or poignant, but I also hope that it's about a trait or habit that other people might see in themselves. It needs to strike a nerve and, if I'm lucky, that nerve is on the funny bone.

Today's column is an example of how a silly little Facebook status can turn into a silly little column. I apologize ahead of time to anyone whose cover I might have blown with this column, hopefully I'll see you up at Lowe's and we can discuss it there.

Volunteer early for getaway errands
Every parent needs to get away from time to time. We need to step out of our role as caretaker and the crushing weight of responsibility that comes with it. We need time for ourselves, time to clear our mind, a change of scenery. We need silence.
However, a weekend on the Florida coast or a Caribbean island might not be available to all of us. A trip to New York or San Francisco might interfere with soccer games, homework projects and sleepovers.

So what I do is, when I'm sent up to the Kroger on Sanderlin for a necessary dinner item or forgotten lunch staple, I take a little time just for me and stroll around the store. I sight-see and explore for things like fruits I've never seen or a new flavor of toothpaste. Perhaps I'll run into someone I know or just sit and watch the lobsters for a bit.

It is the saddest vacation available in the Frommer's travel guide.

There are times when a special item is needed and Kroger becomes a layover before traveling on to Whole Foods. This is the closest I come to visiting a foreign land. The foods there are exotic, the people concerned and the ambience organic. I feel, while walking around that store with no children tagging along, as free to range as their chickens.

There are other vacation packages available as well. There is the obvious choice of the hardware store. The aisles of Home Depot and Lowe's are populated by fathers who have "run up to the store for a minute" for a box of nails or "a bracket for that thing I'm working on." I see them wandering, clutching a roll of duct tape like it's luggage and admiring a 12-amp reciprocating saw as though they were browsing the duty-free between flights. A trip like this could take an hour; in the spring, when the garden center is in full bloom, an hour-and-a-half. Bracket For That Thing I'm Working On would be a good name for some sort of VIP lounge if those companies were so inclined.

The trick, of course, is to buy your ticket early. Not too early -- don't look too eager -- but claim it just before your spouse has the chance to volunteer picking up that pack of toilet paper or a head of garlic. It's why I always offer first to travel to Gibson's Donuts. It's just something, I tell my wife, that I want to do for my family. I'll get the dozen donuts and then get one just for me and a cup of coffee. It's 10 minutes of "me time," 20 if that train at Poplar, blessedly, delays me.

The trip home from any of these excursions should be a long, circuitous one. I'm the one you're stuck behind and cussing as I meander just below the speed limit to take in the changing leaves or the progress my neighbors are making on renovations. I know they're renovating because I see them at Home Depot all the time. The escaped parent finding himself alone in the car does not care about gas prices. He is not concerned (at the moment) with the environment. He is alone and at peace with the windows down and the dulcet tones of NPR to keep him company.

Being able to spend quality time with family is a gift we all should cherish. Being able to spend a few moments away from the kids and the television and the responsibility is like an exotic trinket from a far-away gift shop.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2012 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.