It is a long-awaited spring morning after a damp New England winter.  I have cautiously turned off the heat in the house and opened the windows just a crack.  As I sit on the couch with my seven-year-old daughter practicing her math flash cards, it seems as if we can see and hear nature waking up through the open window.  Crocuses dot the lawn. A crow fills the air with loud cries.  I imagine the crow is a mommy, noisily building her nest.

Suddenly a raspy shriek comes from right under our window.  My daughter and I jump out of our seats, flash cards flying to the ground.  I try to suppress a giggle, but as my daughter looks at me with wide eyes, I burst into laughter.

From the throat of her five-year-old brother, who is playing just outside the open window, we hear another series of child-sized caws.   Having no idea that anyone can hear him, my son has taken up a conversation with Mrs. Crow!  We peak out the window and watch him alternate between digging in the dirt and talking with Mrs. Crow.  The whole morning is the fresh reminder of what I love about being a mom; just being with the kids.

The morning’s experience is an answer to prayer, because other signs of spring have been coming to my attention, too; but these other signs have brought me anxiety rather than joy.  Flyers for kids’ summer camps have recently begun appearing in my mailbox.

Many of us moms have discussed the possibilities of sending a couple kids to one camp or another.  We have stopped short of signing up, however, because of some combination of scheduling conflicts and finances.  It’s a combination I think worth talking about in light of coming to grips with the fact that, for most families, certainly for ours, “you can’t have it all,” even though “having it all” is exactly what pop culture screams we are all absolutely entitled to and must have.

Up until this morning I had been really wrestling with the choice. Feeling the pressure to conform to society’s expectations with unusual strength this past winter, I had begun to believe that if we didn’t provide our kids with organized science, sports, art, and/or music camps in the summer that they would fall behind, be left out, and lose out on all the learning they’d absolutely need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.   I had begun to think it wasn’t enough to work hard at keeping expenses down so that we could keep one parent at home.  What would the kids have to put on their resumes when applying for fifth grade honor society?

But, this morning’s events quieted my anxiety and the noise of pop culture.  In the few and precious summers of childhood, I think it best to give my kids time to talk with Mrs. Crow; time to explore the backyard with their sibling and neighbors, time to develop interests without pressure, time to connect with the God of the universe by smelling the roses and gazing at the summer stars, time off from the activity merry-go-round.  Why?  Because, to me, giving the family time to regenerate and reconnect with one another in the summer seems to be in keeping with the gift God gives us of a weekly Sabbath, just on a larger time scale.

Okay, okay.  I’m not completely immune to societal pressure.  For those who ask, I may cave just a little bit and call our family time together ‘Free-range Summer Camp.’  (I wonder if the honor society would call for an explanation of camp events?)  Honestly, I’m happy with our choice, even though it’s a choice not to attempt to have it all.  I just really believe in the value of family time, and that family time can’t happen if we’re always cooped up and scheduled up.  And now, because her voice has so influenced our summer “un-plans,” I think I will go outside and join my son in talking with Mrs. Crow.

Copyright 2011 Heidi Bratton