Summer vacation at the school our kids attend in Crete is 13 weeks long. (!) We just kicked off lucky number 13. It's been long but also been terrifically sweet. Time in New England with family and friends; sleepaway camp in New Hampshire for the big two; a week in Spain for the kids and me on trip back; nearly a month kicking around Crete. I feel so thankful.
So I'm jumping in on Emily Freeman's great "What I Learned" summer linkup. Here goes:
1. Flying backwards in a plane is really awkward. Not so much in the regular part of the flight, when you barely notice, but during takeoff and landing. The seats in the military aircraft we flew from America to Spain were rear facing, and it was quite a head game. (There were also no windows which was likewise a novel experience.)
2. Pursuing delight is crucial to successful parenting. In June we invited friends over on a casual Sunday afternoon but they couldn't make it. Pork was turning on the spit, tunes were playing on the speaker; I was disappointed they couldn't come. I asked myself, "If friends were here, how would I approach the afternoon?" The answer was: kick back, settle in for conversation and fun, engage. I decided to treat the day just as I would if our friends had come.
Thoroughly enjoyable afternoon... and ultimately an eye-opening experiment for me. I saw how much less I devote my best self to immediate family than I do to friends/guests. And how apt I am to duck out of recreational family time to pursue other stuff - chores, errands, a run. All needful things, but I realized: I was skipping the (potentially) fun times with my crew. I was opting, too often, out delight - or at least its possibility.
So I tried to bottle the essence of that Sunday afternoon and pursue delight with my people daily. Giggling, goofing off, singing, jokes, swimming, games - whatever. The effects came back quickly... more fun, more relaxed demeanor around the household, more enjoyable times together. More, basically, of all the good stuff.
I find the practice to be self-reinforcing - happily so - though I'm unsure how the school year will affect things. Looks like Project Keep Delighting Throughout the Fall could be an interesting one to track.
3. The right readaloud makes all the difference. We've been intermittent with reading aloud. I love the idea and am committed to its value; the challenge has been its not going as well as I want it to. Often. Our oldest, a bibliophile, dislikes the "group" aspect of the venture and how slow it goes (compared to his dashing through tales at breakneck speed). Our youngest is just young enough to not grasp understand what's happening. And all four sometimes get- you know - distracted. And interrupt, talk through, bicker, complain, what have you. It can be discouraging and feel like a slog.
But we had three successes this summer: Matilda, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Railway Children. (This last one was an unexpected, utter delight.) We fell into a rhythm; folks mostly well; we had good conversations about them. In short, it worked. Looks like I need to be readier to ditch a book if it's not going over well with the team and find something that at least 4 out of 5 of us enjoy.
4. You never really *arrive* at Butterfly, not fully. You keep on going back to Caterpillar, over and over again. That's because life's a series of new ventures, chapters, seasons, and roles... and you begin at Caterpillar - maybe even an earlier stage - with each one. You're ill-fitting and awkward and (may I say?) ugly at what you're doing, so it's hard going and a bit dismal. This is the nature of Caterpillar.
I say this because, when we returned to Crete from 8 weeks away, I felt myself exhale here in a way that I hadn't during our first ten months. I felt less awkward and clunky, more 'can-do' and grateful. And I realized: we're coming out of Caterpillar stage. We're not necessarily out of it yet; we sure as heck aren't butterflies yet, but I think the most fully caterpillar characteristics of our Crete experience are behind us.
It was a great feeling. And these three Cretan weeks since have been lovely. Snippet:
4. Now, moving from a wildlife analogy to actual wildlife... The average loggerhead sea turtle nest has between 75 and 120 eggs in it, and most of the hatchlings emerge and head to the water in the dark of night. But not all of them.
We went to see an afternoon nest excavation organised by Archelon, a Greece sea turtle NGO, and while watching it we saw seven turtle hatchlings come out of the nest! It was fascinating and so exciting. They were weak and it was unclear whether they would survive - this was the reason they were still in the nest - but watching them and learning about them was an incredible experience. (More about them here.)
5. It's worth saying no to other things so you can say a whole-hearted yes to family. This summer I said no to Greek studies and writing (much). Both felt hard and a little sad to push to the side, but it was clearly the thing to do. Once I let them go, I felt focused and peaceful.
Mental space is vastly under-rated in the modern world; to have it feels almost dreamy. Slow days and energy to pursue delight (see #2) proved eminently worth it.
6. Having a home country is a gift. You don't realise how great it is to be from a place till you're back there after a chunk of time someplace else. You know how everything works. And where everything is. And how to get there. You can understand being said. It's so awesome.
Plus of course: your people- the effortlessness, the known quantities, the age-old jokes. There's nothing like the solidity of belonging to your (extended) people.
I'm so grateful that we have these months living in Greece and experiencing its beauties. But this summer I realized: it's also such joy and privilege to have a home to return to.
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