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Happily Abnormal (Or Working On It) Author: Alyssa Lipson M.Ed

Ahhh Summer. The season kids and teachers alike dream of. The season that seems oh so far away August through April, and then all of the sudden hits us in the face with such a fury we can barely stop spinning...Okay, maybe that is just how teacher/parents feel. But listen up y'all, the struggle is definitely real. My kids have already eaten me out of this weeks budget worth of food and it is only Wednesday. And the fighting. Ohhh the fighting. At school, I am a mediator. I am a counselor. I am a confidant. I listen and I help students be their best, emotional selves. In fact, there is an entire block of time each week dedicated to teaching my students about their emotions and how to handle them. At home? During the summer? I am a messy-bun wearing, crazed, heavily caffeinated, insane person. How many times have I said so far this summer (it's been 3 days, BTW) "Well, you probably deserved it" or "I SWEAR TO EVERYTHING GOOD IF YOU ASK ME FOR ONE MORE THING TO EAT I AM LOCKING MYSELF IN THE BATHROOM!" or "I honestly don't care if your brother hit you. Hit him back."

I think one of the biggest reasons for my love-hate relationship with summer is that our routine is totally jackknifed. For 9 months there are rules. There are expectations. There is sanity. Once summer hits, all bets are off.

I remember one particular story that occurred in 2019. It was a Monday evening at about 5:00. After my kids had asked me over 100 times for a "snack", I decided I would just start dinner. Once I started, my oldest rode his bike to a friend's house up the street and my two youngest kiddos went next door to play with their neighbor friends. I reminded them all to be back home by 6:00. It was peaceful. It was quiet. I took my time and cooked the chicken, sautéed the broccoli, made the rice. I listened to some music, made an uninterrupted phone call, and even went to the bathroom in solidarity. I was probably living every SAHM's dream- shoutout to you all, by the way, you are the REAL MVP's! After about 45 minutes I was ready to serve dinner. I made up everyone's plates, set them out, and then made my plate. By this time it was 6:00. And no one was home. So, I decided to wait. At 6:05, still no one was home, so I decided I was going to eat. I felt almost uncomfortable eating by myself- one of the rules in my family is that we all eat together. Then, I went really crazy. I broke another rule- I pulled out my phone WHILE I WAS EATING, and played Wordscapes while shoveling teriyaki chicken into my mouth...If my husband or kids would have seen me at this point they probably would have been staring, open-mouthed at me, as I broke one of my biggest household rules- NO electronics at the dinner table. But, guess what...I broke the rules, and nothing happened...

At this point I started thinking about why I had created these rules for my family. One big rule- Eat as a family. Another big rule- No electronics, whatsoever at the table. Why had I decided those were important to me? Was it really me who decided they were important? Or was it the expectation of what a "good family" does that drove my decision?

While I was growing up, it was just me and my mom. We ate together because we were all we had. Since it was just her and me, I was able to help her decide what we were having for dinner. I helped her in the kitchen. Sometimes we did fun things like light candles and listen to piano music and have "fancy" dinners. Sometimes though, my mom had school so I would go to my grandmas. Other times I would be at my friends house, so we wouldn't eat together. My mom didn't have strict- steadfast rules on always eating as a family, and that was okay.

However, I also remember going over to my friends' houses who had big families. There would be a mom, a dad, sisters and brothers- and they would eat together. They would laugh and pass food around and talk, and they seemed "normal". When I watched TV, and looked at the "normal" families, they did the same thing. They laughed and joked at the dinner table, and they all seemed so doggone happy.

Somewhere down the line, I decided that "normal" people held certain traditions and expectations. These traditions that "normal" people had were rooted in the days where dad's went to work, and mom's stayed home to take care of the kids while simultaneously making phenomenal dinners. They were rooted in the times where everyone sat down together as a family and enjoyed every minute of it, because golly gee whiz, they were a happy family!

Here is what I realized through some reflection that day: My life didn't fit that narrative. I had a husband that wasn't home for dinner. Not because he didn't want to be, but because he couldn't be. I had kids who had soccer practice and baseball and friends- and they were not always around. Even so, every time I sat down to dinner and a part of my family was missing, it didn't feel right. I felt like I'd lost the "normal". Guys. That happened almost every night. Do you know how many times my family sat down as a family and ate together? Once or twice a week at best. So THE REST OF THE TIME, I felt that twinge of anxiety- that glimmer of sadness, because I was not fulfilling the "normal" life that I had demanded from myself and my family....And then it hit me- I WAS THE ONE WHO WAS NOT NORMAL.

Some of you will snicker to yourselves after reading that last line and think to yourself "I have known that for a long time, Alyssa". Very funny. But seriously. I had let this idea of what "should be" dictate the rules that my family lives by. That life? That family life where each member of the family sits down and eats dinner together every night? That life doesn't serve my family. That life doesn't always work for us. But, you know what does? One night a week where we just enjoy each other. Does that mean that Easton might be eating his 8th peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the day, and Tripp and Noah might be eating cans of SpaghettiOs, while Jason and I order out? Or cook ourselves something delicious? Yep. That is exactly what it means.

That summer one of my goals was to really look at what I expected from my family- really look at the rules that governed my family- to see if they all served us. Because if they didn't, there was no room for them.

We are our own normal. We are crazy, messy, loud, normal. We are not the Cleaver's. We are not the Camden's. We are the Lipson's hear us roar!

But still. No phones at the dinner table.

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