My oldest daughter is 12 and my youngest son is 2. Their ages, along with the three other kids in between, have made this summer an interesting study on the differences between toddlers and tweens.
It turns out they're not into many of the same things.
Last summer, when the baby of the family was more of an actual baby, I toted him everywhere without suffering too many of his opinions. He happily tagged along with the older kids as we explored the pools and outings with friends. He sat on my hip or in the stroller and enjoyed summer as a spectator.
This summer, his full mobility has come with very strong opinions. Last year, the big kids were in charge. This year, he’s the one calling the shots — which would be fine if the bigger kids enjoyed splash pads and park outings in 90-degree heat. But it turns out they have just as many opinions as the baby. I stand in the middle, the meddling mom mediator, simply trying to remind everyone that they love each other.
Every single thing we do is a fight with somebody. But I’m starting to think I’m the one always losing. The big kids want to see a movie, but the baby won’t sit through a movie. So I spend the two-and-a-half hours out in the hall. I find a great park I know the baby will love but will then spend the next two hours listening to how hot and bored the older kids are while fending them off the apps on my phone.
The big kids get to go to awesome camps and summer programs, but the baby is too little for all of it and melts down every time we drop off or pick up. The pool sounds like a great idea until I make all of them hang out in the shallow end because the baby doesn’t like to be fully immersed in freezing water and I only trust one or two of them to not drown.
Basically, I’m spending entire summer days making one person happy while I ruin four other lives. It takes a certain level of talent to make that many people unhappy at once. I must have special super-mom powers.
It’s not all lost, though. They seem to be able to agree on things we can eat. Take our "Great Doughnut Hunt" or "Best Ice Cream in Omaha" challenge for instance. Additionally, the Fremont Splash Station is another family favorite. And we haven’t made it to the zoo yet, but I have high hopes that everyone will remain entertained.
It’s definitely a challenge to find something that will engage all five kids at all of their different ages. Maybe it’s even impossible. But I also think it’s good for them to be bored. To go to activities that aren’t meant for them.
I might have to sit through a lot of tough afternoons — whether I’m talking my kids off the cliff of boredom or physically restraining my 2-year-old from jumping off the diving board — but they’re becoming better kids through the process. They’re learning to be patient. They’re being forced to think about someone else other than themselves. They’re learning grace and kindness and stretching their imaginations as wide as they will go.
So, I’ll continue mixing up activities, handling the grumpy kids and cheering on these future adults to be the best humans they can be. And in the meantime, maybe I’ll also institute summer naps for everybody. Because mom should get to enjoy an activity, too.
Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.