Guest Blogger Anna Van Devender: Getting Over the Blues

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20140723EK4A8281

For most people, summer weather conjures up pleasant thoughts. But in some places, it can be oppressive. Whether it's 117 degrees out or -10, Anna and I have both taken on our fair share of caring for toddlers in extreme weather. Here's her take on how letting go, reaching out for help, and being creative can help us all become better, more sane parents.

Taking on the Summer Blues

by Anna Van Devender

It was one of those afternoons. Now we were in the car on a special errand. “Why are we going to Petsmart, Mom?” asked 4­-year­-old Kid 1 with slight concern. “To buy a bathtub,” I proclaimed. Within minutes we picked out and purchased a small, hard plastic wading pool that had been stuck in my mind since spotting it the previous summer. This summer was going to be different.

It was the end of May. I had plans, I had hope, and a whole season to prove it! I am a desert rat – an Arizona native and proud to stick around. Even when I was pregnant the first time, I could tough out triple ­digit summers by planning my work and errands around the weather. By the time I was pregnant with Kid 2, though, trying to keep up with Kid 1 and my paid job zapped even more energy from me than the summer sun. The following summer – home with a preschooler and an infant – we scraped through with indoor activities to escape the heat but were sadly lacking in fresh air. I had the Summer Blues.

With a lot of work and some natural growth, this summer has been a turning point for me. It definitely helps that infants grow into entertaining toddlers, and big brothers grow more capable every day. What else changed? We got outside more. My favorite way we did this was implementing “outside bath”. Our house is comfortable enough, but the bathrooms happen to be tiny. Outside has glorious space. Water play seems obvious to entertain kids in a hot place, but not to this conservationist. The kids needed baths anyway. The first night we tried it, after returning home with our Petsmart dog pool, my heart soared. The kids were dancing with excitement while I gathered shampoo and towels, they raced to bring out toy boats, Kid 1 actually went potty first without argument, and splashing and laughter ensued. Better yet, outside baths came to the afternoon rescue several times a week all summer long.

The other big way we succeeded at outdoor living was by chopping up our morning routine. I made a point of doing non­water play, walks, and the yard work I craved (really) “before 8 or after 5”, which usually meant brushing teeth and getting dressed after coming back inside. So I just didn't feel as trapped taking air conditioned shelter during the day. For this, I also give a lot of credit to Kid 2 nursing less and Kid 1 being able to get his own cereal first thing in the morning.

I turned my stress down a notch. After working at home throughout pregnancy and early parenthood, this January became the time to quit my paid job. This summer, I got to redirect my energy into planning satisfying activities for the kids – or sometimes NOT having to plan, and giving my kids a little more eye contact. This summer, I got a little more exercise, a little more sleep, and a few more smiles for and from my kids. I also got some help. Being a mom brings PLENTY of stress, no matter the season. Last Fall our family reached out for some behavioral help for Kid 1, and this Summer I got my own counseling. Kid 1 helped by finally making progress in potty training. Kid 2 kindly stopped biting me. I hired a babysitter to come 2 hours a week too. With those 2 hours I sometimes organized, sometimes facebooked, sometimes grocery shopped. Uninterrupted. Boy, did I covet those 2 hours!

I allowed more fun. The playing with trains or wrestling on the floor variety my kids prefer often isn't fun for me. I did have fun making a calendar on which Kid 1 got to help arrange the outings, chores, and blocks of free play. I didn't force him to go to story time or gymnastics, which he used to enjoy but told me he didn't want to do. I let the kids spray hoses just because. And the DVD player got more use than I used to be OK with. As for the wrestling, Kid 2 can hold his own against his brother better every day.

Flash forward to the end of August. “Time for an outside bath!” I announce. It's OK that I interrupted playtime: a choo­choo train of two kids and a wooden train whistle appears, whoo-whooing with no further direction from me out the back door. Kid 1 designates the station where I should place the tub and turns the water on. Kid 2 brightens my day with a fit of giggles at being sprayed by big brother. A bit of natural history kicks in: “Look, it's the Santa Cruz River!” describes Kid 1 of rivulets of water on the patio. Then, “It looks like raindrops!” while examining drips coming off of a chair. Somewhere in all that, the kids get clean, and I can truly breathe. Growing up, I had adapted to the desert. Now, bit by bit, I'm adapting to parenthood.