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"A big summer" by Jake Frost By vastateparksstaff [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]This was a big summer for our family. There were many firsts and many changes. For one, the reading bug bit. For the first time one of my kids sneaked a flashlight into bed with her to continue reading after lights out. I love it! Sort of. I love the idea of it — but she really needs to get her sleep. So, it’s cute, and I did it when I was a kid, but now I keep an eye on the flashlights in the utility closet. Another: the training wheels came off! Two-wheeler bike riding was mastered by another of our kids, pushing us to fifty percent in the Tour de France preparedness department. Also memorable was the first visit by the tooth fairy for another child. Well, technically that came at the tail of the last school year, but her first “big person” tooth came in this summer, and since losing that first tooth the baby teeth have been flying out of her head with income-generating regularity (at least from her perspective), all to be replaced by big beautiful pearly whites that will have to last her a lifetime, so: brush, baby, brush! There was also a new burgeoning of independence for my older girls. They spent a lot of time doing their own thing this summer: reading, sewing, playing their own games on their own without needing (or, dare I say, wanting?) any ideas or direction from me. Many happy afternoons were filled with listening to books on tape and sewing doll clothes and stuffed animals of their own design. They also planned, cleaned and prepared for, and executed, their own doll house remodel — complete with selecting colors, painting the doll house and furniture, and even doing all the cleanup afterward all on their own (happy Dad!). And this year was the summer of the BIG HAIRCUT. One of the girls went from hair that fell below her shoulders to hair just below her ears. It was a BIG DEAL. It was something I’ve been thinking would be a good idea for awhile now. I thought it would be really cute, and a better fit for her than long hair was. Not to mention the joy and peace that would come if we could put an end to The Wars of the Tangles every morning. I first suggested it to her during the school year. There was interest, but hesitation. Which I totally get. A new haircut is always a big change, and going from long hair to short is a huge change. So I waited. And each time when I’d start to notice the progeny looking a little shaggy, as I’d get ready to load everyone into the van for another round of haircuts, the possibility of a new, short haircut would come up again. We’d look at some different hairstyles and talk about possibilities. Some things were rejected, others remained to be considered further — for some future day. But not yet. Then one day this summer as I was planning the upcoming week with the kids and haircuts were once again on the agenda, the daughter in question said: “Dad, I want to get a short haircut. But not this week.” We were getting closer. She was still nervous about it, but she definitely wanted to do it. So I told her whenever she was ready, we could do it. There was no rush. It was up to her. More waiting. Until the next time we were due for haircuts, and she brought it up on her own and said to me: “Dad, I want to get my hair cut short this time.” So we did it — and it went great. The stylist was super nice, helping us look through books of possible hairstyles and steering us to low-maintenance options (I told the stylist that I do the hair, and my skills are rudimentary, so it had to be simple to take care of). My daughter made the final decision, and I sat down to watch the snipping commence. I’ll admit I was nervous as the first long, long locks dropped to the floor. Heck, I was nervous all the way through. And then when it was all over (and there was no turning back!), my daughter looked at herself in the mirror to see the final result, and when she broke into a smile, I did too. She loved it! For days afterward whenever she passed a mirror she stopped to look at her reflection, and every time she smiled. Once again: happy Dad! The experience reinforced for me the value of listening to our kids, especially when embarking into uncharted waters, as our family did this summer with kids growing up into new levels of maturity and capability. It’s funny, in prior summers — even last year — we started out most mornings with what I called “setting up camp” in our yard. After breakfast the kids and I would all go outside and I’d get out the lawn chairs and wagons and bikes and sidewalk chalk and balls and bats and we’d spend the day outside riding bikes, playing in the inflatable pool, digging in the sandbox, watering the garden, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, reading books under shady trees, and sipping juice boxes. Then at the end of the day I’d put it all away again to start over on the morrow. And it was great. Still, sometimes in the midst of our “camp days” I would occasionally catch myself daydreaming about the wonderful freedom that I thought would be mine when the kids were a little older, a little more independent, and about all the things I’d do when so much of my time wasn’t consumed with kissing scraped knees and changing diapers and wiping up spills. Then last summer I changed my last diaper, and this year my older ones moved from being little kids to being just kids. Even the younger ones, I realized, have moved on to something new: they aren’t toddlers anymore. They’re little kids now. First it was no babies, then no diapers, then no toddlers. But somehow those great expanses of lovely, beautiful time I’d envisioned don’t seem to have materialized. There’s still lots of parenting, just of a different kind. Instead of carrying babies around and making bottles, now there’s a lot of listening. I hear all kinds of things: about sewing projects, about all those books they’ve read, about ideas they have for crafts, about the mystique of France (they’ve never been, but they love their idea of France), about the horses they’ve ridden at their lessons, about their ideas for redecorating our house (Chip and Joanna, I love your show, but I rue the day my daughters learned about backsplashes!), about their thoughts on the artsy beach town where we go in the summer for our Great Lakes sand and surf time (we live in the Midwest, so our beach comes in a freshwater variety), and about a lot of other random things that defy categorization. And when you listen to all those things, you sometimes hear about big changes they are ready for, like a bold new haircut. To hear that, though, takes really listening, not just nodding your head while you think about other things, and that takes time. But I’ve seen the pay-off: the new hair cut was awesome: super cute, super happy daughter, and the dreaded early morning Wars of the Tangles have given way to The Brushings of Bliss. Well, bliss may be a bit of an exaggeration — but it worked out well, and now the peace of the morning brushings remind me to listen. Which goes for the little ones, too! Because I also realized that while my older girls have turned a page to a new chapter, their younger brothers are only now starting on the chapter the girls just finished. The boys are really enjoying our home “camp days” of bikes and pools and sidewalk chalk. So last week I made bows and arrows for them out of bungee cord and sticks, because I remember how the girls enjoyed the ones I made for them some years back, and the boys loved them, too! So it was a big summer that ended with our family having one foot in two different worlds: one of little kids twanging bow strings and sending projectiles flying through the air and one of older kids designing their own crafts and doing them all by themselves. And a happy daddy in the middle between both, trying to keep his ears open and take it all in and enjoy it while it’s here because he’s starting to realize how fast it goes!
Copyright 2018 Jake Frost