“I think I figured out your parents’ secret,” someone said to me one time. “They kept you busy. They kept you so busy that you didn’t have time to get into trouble.” The comments were based on observations of the teenaged version of myself and that I had somehow managed to make it through high school without any major crises.
I’ve thought a lot about that comment over the years. And I’ve thought about how, unbeknownst to many, I often struggled with dark, depressive thoughts during the summer months when I wasn’t as busy as I usually was. An idle mind is indeed the devil’s playground. My mom and dad were aware of my struggles and encouraged me to keep my mind busy…to read more, and to specifically read the Bible more, to fill those empty gaps when my mind had nothing to do but sit idle and let the darkness seep in. That always helped, as long as I kept at it. And then, of course, when school started up again, I was thrust back into classes, symphony, sports, student government, and music lessons, and the darkness would soon be trampled into non-existence by default.
Ryley is 12. She is at that awkward age where she’s too old for daycare, but too young to stay at home by herself for eight hours every day. If she had younger siblings, she could certainly be trusted to babysit. But being alone for hours on end? That’s no fun for anybody.
Plus, summer is her growing and stretching time. She seems more herself in the summer months, without the limitations of the school schedule and commitments.
She spreads out and stretches the muscles of her personality, becoming gangly both physically and mentally. Her personality is a liquid; she fills and molds herself to whatever container she’s given. And if there’s no container? Well, then, she spills over into everything!
In my mind, she will forever be a mess of blonde pigtails, tanktops, freckles, and sticky popsicle stains on pink cheeks. :-) A summer girl to the core.
This past spring, I started stressing out over my annual question of “What Shall We Do with Ryley This Summer?” And I felt like God was telling me to trust Him…that it would all work out, like it always does. I never want Ryley to feel like she’s in the way…like juggling her is a pain. I want her to enjoy her time off. But we need to keep her busy too, while spending the least amount of money possible. ;-)
We have a wonderful library in our area, and I jokingly mentioned to my mom that if I dropped Ryley off in the morning on my way to work and picked her up in the afternoon, nobody would even notice. She could read all day, get herself a snack at the café, and just hang out in her happy place. It’s a spacious, cheerful two-story building, with abundant nooks and crannies for hunkering down with a good book.
“You should see if she can volunteer there!” my mom suggested.
Imagine how thrilled we were when we learned that the minimum grade level for volunteers is 7th grade! Ryley was super excited, and once she was approved and had completed the orientation, we scheduled her for as many shifts as we could.
“I might have read the backs of a few books,” she said slyly, after she spent her first shift shelving all the holds. She found it fascinating to see what kinds of books people put on hold; some patrons had reserved multiple books on parrots; others had reserved a bunch on a certain time in history.
After that, her primary responsibility was to sit at the Summer Reading table and sign kids up for the reading program, and later, give them a stamp/sticker or a prize when they returned their completed reading log. She regularly brought home multiple books after her shift and read them in time to return them at her next shift a couple of days later. :-) Throughout the summer, she met lots of interesting kids, played chess and other board games, learned how to greet parents with their little ones, and became very serious about her responsibilities. It was amazing to watch her growth and development.
But we needed more than just the library to keep her occupied.
My mom came up at the end of May and took her to my grandma’s house in Nebraska for a few days. Lots of fun ensued, and Ryley loved the idea of being a part of four generations of women.
“Mom, it’s like I’m a miniature version of you, and you’re a miniature version of Mammaw, and Mammaw’s a miniature version of Honey! And I see where I get my talking…All four of us talk a lot!”
In mid-June, we sent her to a church camp in Lexington, Nebraska, which had been a goal of ours for several years. My cousin is the director of the camp, and she got to stay with the girls from their youth group.
She absolutely loved it and came home with a suitcase filled with wet, smelly clothes and tons of fun experiences and stories to share. :-) The evening services were really life-changing for her, too! She seems much more sure of her faith than she did before!
At the end of June, we enrolled her in a week-long cooking day camp. Cooking has become a fun hobby for Ryley in recent months, and she is constantly on the lookout for new recipes we can try.
The camp was a success. She was the oldest kid, which wasn’t a bad thing because the instructor trusted her to do some of the tasks that the smaller kids weren’t ready for. The hardest thing about it was arranging for her to arrive at 9:30 (awkward time for work schedules), then picking her up at 12:00, grabbing her a bite to eat, getting her over to the library in time for her 1:00 shift, then back to work for me! But it all worked out.
An exhausting week of volleyball camp followed,
then her birthday week.
And now she’s preparing for a week in Dallas with my family before the summer wraps up.
In the midst of all this, we’ve had some rough waters to navigate.
Of course, there’s the normal parenting stuff, like the fact that we’ve had to cut out video games. I have a pretty decent theory for why video games cause attitude problems: we let our kids control a world and a character for hours on end, and then, when we need them to come back to Earth, they have to suddenly relinquish control. They were king, and now they’re reduced to a nobody. Suddenly they have to answer to us again instead of being the boss of their own universe. That would make anybody cranky!
One of the biggest challenges this summer came by way of text message, when one of Ryley’s best friends decided to come out as “bi-sexual.” My sweet pre-teen didn’t even know what that was. I had to help translate a bunch of confusing, befuddling text messages in which the girl was frustrated that Ryley wasn’t understanding what she was saying.
“I mean, I knew there were gay people, and I knew there were straight people. It never occurred to me that there was something in between!” poor Ryley lamented.
But her maturity in handling the situation floored us: “Mom, I think it’s really sad that she is so desperate for love that she feels like she needs to expand her options to the same gender. If anything, I think she needs my friendship more than ever. She needs to be shown Jesus’ love more than ever.”
My shock and horror at the overall situation melted into troubled concern, which finally gave way to acceptance after a week or so, as we discussed with Ryley how to handle the issue and her very precious friendship. Our consensus was that it’s really none of our business what the girl thinks she is and Ryley should do her best to forget about it and not encourage conversation about it. But that’s easier said than done. The text messages just kept coming.
The drama deepened when the girl expressed attraction for one of their mutual best friends. Then, it got worse when she asked the fellow 12-year-old “out” and was rejected. Oy! The world is a different place.
Twelve-year-olds should not be thinking about sexuality at all, let alone which “way” they go. I am so disgusted with society’s obsession with sex becoming a part of one’s identity. Each person is an individual masterpiece created by God with so much more purpose to offer the world. Sexuality is just one small aspect of who we are. As I read recently, “sex was created for us; we weren’t created for sex.”
So we have 12-year-old girls sitting around all summer with nothing better to do than to think about whether or not they like boys or girls or both? Give me a break. Girls need to stay busy, both physically and mentally. They need an outlet and a purpose…one that allows them to still be kids but also helps to confine and shape their liquid personalities.
I can’t pretend to know it all, because this journey is certainly just beginning for us. We have made countless parental mistakes this summer, and we are destined to make many more. All we can ask is that God gives us wisdom and creative answers for how to keep raising a young woman who is a light in the darkness. This summer, God gave us the activities. Next summer, it may be something else. All I know is that every summer – every chapter in our lives – is an evolving, ever-changing quest to discover the secret to raising a girl.
Having lunch with me at my work…pickles and soup. Of course!