JUST THE BASICS
In the past, I resolved to get everyone to school on time, help my kids keep their backpacks organized and keep on top of permission slips.
But recently, I started to think about the new school year from a new perspective.
My daughter and I have just spent the summer volunteering twice a week as docents at a living history museum.
That means that we dress like a mother and daughter from the 1880s and make our way to a charming Victorian ranch house to welcome visitors and share with them the history of this home.
Spending three hours among these tall windows, gracious porches and wood stove in the kitchen takes us back in time nearly 150 years. We marvel at the butter churn and old pump organ, learn the history of the family that built the house and perform daily Victorian-era tasks.
The time with my daughter, who is venturing into middle school this fall, is sacred. We dress in our time-period-appropriate clothing from bonnets to boots, making sure our aprons are ironed and our boots are polished. I watch as she braids her long brown hair and fastens her bonnet strings beneath her chin. Her eyes sparkle with delight; she adores this role with all of its secrets and responsibilities.
She and the other junior docents take turns playing old fashioned games, running errands, sweeping the porch and talking to the children who visit the house. I join the adult docents in polishing furniture, cooking on the wood stove, and talking to visitors about the family who lived there.
When my daughter plays with the other docents and talks with visitors, she is enthusiastic and not a bit self-conscious. She lets out a sigh of contentment as we approach the house each morning. The role of tour guide is one that suits her, as does the adventure of visiting a different time period for a few hours. It makes me reflect on what else makes this so wonderful.
Middle school is quickly approaching – a time notorious for feeding awkward self-awareness. It’s a world of ever shortening shorts, exposed belly buttons and having the latest phone and video gaming system. But this summer, she and I are sidestepping it. We are pleasantly engaged in a pastime where my daughter wears a comfortable loose dress and the focus (outside of basic tidiness) is not on her appearance or on what cool new electronic item she has.
She makes doll clothes, climbs trees and plays an old-fashioned hoop throwing game. Walking on stilts isn’t easy but she takes a stab at it. Together, we struggle with heating the wood stove to a consistent level hot enough to make cookies. She is a contributing member of the group and is treated as being capable of tasks like beating the rugs and rolling out the biscuits.
As the pressures of present day living fade away for a short while, she stops thinking about what everyone thinks of her.
She can simply be herself.
BACK TO BASICS
No media, no screens, no cacophony of music, other than the pump organ that she attempts to play. When it rains and there are no guests, we sit on the side porch with the other docents, watching the storm clouds and visiting. Volunteers and staff from other areas in the historic site stop by — bringing vegetables from the garden, nails from the blacksmith shop, and news of a rattlesnake sighting by the barn. Life slows down, and I can enjoy the creative, quirky, inquisitive girl that she is.
There are plenty of things I am glad to leave behind in the 1880s. Corsets, for one! Women were still 50 years from being able to vote and had few rights. Diseases that are just a sniffle today would have caused serious illness, disability or death. Lack of sanitation was a way of life, with outhouses and chamber pots a daily reality.
BACK TO SCHOOL
But I think that there are some things that have been lost to us as well, things that we could appreciate if we slowed down enough to pay attention. Quietly, I make some school year resolutions to continue this way of connecting with my kids. It can be a challenge as the new school year starts, especially with all of the excitement and time commitments. But here is my short list:
- Institute one screen-free day per weekend. We love movie night and watching YouTube videos as much as the next family. But I hope this will provide time without distractions. Who knows – maybe we will add a few screen free evenings throughout the week.
- Talk with our neighbors. I hope to knock on doors with something to share – whether it is a loaf of banana bread or a box of ice cream sandwiches and a few minutes to exchange pleasantries. Neighborly conversation is wonderful, but in our busy world, it will take intention.
- Involve my kids in actually cooking a meal once per week. They are old enough to be of use – measuring, stirring, chopping. They can contribute to dinner and learn a life skill at the same time. Win!
- Slowing down. I can create time where nothing is scheduled, then be vigilant about filling it with activities we do together, like riding bikes or playing a game together. I think this will decrease our stress levels and create time to connect with each other.
What school year resolutions do you have?