In one of my books, Off the Clock, I talk about the realization that few activities are ever fun for the entire family. During one whine-filled hike, I ran the numbers, and found that if each of my four children are happy 75 percent of the time, and happiness is an independent event, the odds of all four children being happy simultaneously are only 31.6 percent. In other words, even with four fairly contented kids, two out of three moments will feature someone being glum.
Accepting this can make family adventures far more tolerable, as long as you keep certain caveats in mind.
I was thinking of this on Sunday when we went to Cape May for the day. While such a trip did not make my Official Summer Fun List, we often go eat at The Lobster House, walk through the Nature Conservancy’s preserve to see the birds, and then watch dolphins from the sand.
We did all those things. There were some good moments. For instance, though all my children ordered chicken tenders at a sit-on-the-docks seafood restaurant (why??) the three older children tried bites of my lobster and liked it. Getting them to eat new foods is always a challenge, but they seemed open to my explanation that lots of people consider lobster to be a treat.
Walking through the nature preserve was quite warm, however. They were also being more stringent about their beach, so we complied with the rules and walked down to the official Cape May one. During this whole time, the 9-year-old whined incessantly. He was hot. He didn’t want his feet to get sandy. He didn’t want to go to the beach. It was too far to drive. Couldn’t we do one weekend day at home? (We had gone for a bike ride the previous day.) Did we remember that we spent a week at the beach previously? Why were we going to the beach again? Could we go home?
The other children played in the waves and built sandcastles. The 9-year-old proceeded to sit on the towel the entire time we were at the beach, never leaving it, and never going in the water. He took off his shoes, but not his socks, thus guaranteeing he would be able to put his shoes back on with no sand touching his skin. I walked back to the towel to check on him every few minutes, but this meant I was subjected to the same questions each time (“Can we go now? Why are we at the beach?”)
We did indeed leave earlier than we probably would have to compromise, and on the long (hot) walk back to the car I pondered the nature of larger families. We all wind up doing some things we’re not thrilled about but that our family members enjoy in order to do some things all together. I know I have my own things I don’t like, and as an adult I get to steer us away from these things in a way a kid really can’t. Whining stems from a lack of control. That doesn’t mean we should do anything differently, but we do need to make sure it’s not always the same family member who’s being forced to do things he or she doesn’t like. We can make sure that person does stuff he or she does want — and we do. The 9-year-old enjoys team sports, which is why I spend my fall weekends at flag football, winter weekends at wrestling meets, and spring weekends at Little League games. The other kids definitely get dragged to some of these events. And they whine about it!
Few activities are fun for the whole family.
In other news: With so much walking, the 4-year-old fell asleep at 5:30 p.m. in the car on the way home. I woke him up to eat dinner at 7, but then he meandered back over to the couch and fell back asleep. So I put him in bed, thinking there was bound to be a 2 a.m. wake up, and possibly sheet-changing involved too but nope. He slept until 6:30 a.m. Guess he was tired!