I like plans. I dislike the unexpected and I am happiest when there is a clear plan. So Alan and I started our marriage with a plan. I would quit my day job so I could devote myself more fully to my artwork. I would continue to freelance as a technical illustrator while I built up my equine art business. The business would be well-established when we had children, and I could stay at home with them and still work.
When we found out we were expecting our first son, I promptly went out and found a book on raising children while running a home-based business.I had no idea what having a baby in the house might mean to my established work routine, so it seemed sensible to get more information.(My husband finds much amusement in my firm belief that no matter what new thing I must do, someone somewhere must have written a book telling me what to expect.) I still remember following along in the book, thinking the author was making sense until I got to one of the charts. It listed the age of the child in one column, and the number of hours one might reasonably expect to work while at home with the child. And there in the first row, marked 0-6 months, was the number zero. Zero hours – a week. It didn’t get much better, either. If I remember correctly, by age two you were up to five hours a week. I never read the rest of the book, convinced that I didn’t need advice from one of the few people who appeared to be worse at time management than me.
It was the first lesson in what I’ve come to think of as a (now) twelve-year course in humility. I’m still wondering how she managed those five hours at age two.
I spent a lot of time when my children were young wishing for enough personal space to create some artwork. (Or maybe just sleep.) I dreamed of the day that they would head off to school so I could reclaim my career, or at least some small part of it. I told myself that one day, my children would not need me quite so much, and that it would be easier to get work done. And over time that has happened.
That was why when I planned my summer, I assumed that I would be working. The boys did not need my constant supervision. No one would mind, or perhaps even notice, if I was holed up in my studio working. Why, I could finally hold the first-time winner’s lottery I had long wanted to have!
But then something happened. (Parenting Rule #1: Something always happens.) My older son finished fifth grade this year, and he was asked to give the student speech at the graduation. I have always found it odd that my quiet, introverted child enjoys public speaking. He’s also a very respectful child, so I was even more surprised to find him balking at requested edits. Both his teacher and his father tried to no avail. Then the day before the ceremony, I discovered why while volunteering in his class. His classmates were celebrating the lack of homework when I reminded my son that he would spend the evening working on the edits to his speech. Suddenly there were ten boys all shouting that it was perfect – absolutely perfect! – and that he need not change a word. The next day he gave his unchanged speech, full of confidence and his own dry humor, to crowd of kids and parents. And it was perfect just as he wrote it. But even more important, I caught a glimpse of my son as his friends saw him and how important this would be to him in the future.
He’s still very much a kid, but it did bring home to me how little time we parents remain central to our children’s lives. For all that the days seemed so (unbearably!) endless when they were really small,time seems to me rather short now. All too soon, my sons will be fully their own people.
So this summer, I have lingered a bit in what remains of my kids’ childhood. I’ve wiled away my summer days in their company. Yes, I’ve done some work in the studio, but mostly I’ve spent time with them at the pool and the barn. I’ve done a little house painting (an activity done with children only if you are brave and don’t mind bright colors). I’ve played way too much Monopoly and Uno. I’ve been thoroughly schooled in ancient history (Brandon’s abiding passion) and been routinely beaten at Wii Tennis. In a few weeks, I’ll be back to work and I’ll have to figure out what to do with all the horses I haven’t finished over the summer. But I can’t say that I have any real regrets.