This summer, our family went on a tried-and-true Minnesota vacation. We rented a small cabin up north that had just enough room for the five of us to sleep in, play cards in, and stumble over each other on our way outside. It was perfect.
In between sunrise swims and still-gone-fishing sunsets was the kind of spaceless togetherness that I crave. I watched Jason thread Kayli's fishing rod and beat Chloe at Clue by the grace of one turn and give Brody an extra hug when he was sad or hurt or tired.
We parented around each other in a way that our everyday life just doesn't allow for. And because the slow patio mornings in our pajamas and the late nights listening to "The Shadow" -- all in one room, surrounded by blankets, falling asleep one by one -- had us as soft as we could possibly be, we asked each other about our parenting choices and we were both so very much bettered by listening to, and hearing, the answers.
These are what I'm convinced are the best pieces of parenting advice Jason and I have ever given each other.
The five of us had a love-hate relationship with the dishwasher at the cabin, because there wasn't one. One night after dinner -- hamburgers and watermelon and dill pickle chips -- Jason washed and I dried and we did the kind of together-chore that we used to volunteer for before we were married with kids and jobs and time that flits so very quickly, even when we try to take the tiniest possible eyelash blinks.
In those days, we would sign up for anything if it meant that we could be together; no task was ever unwanted. In the years since those first ones, chores turned into gifts or swaps or real-life love notes: I'll cook while you go running and I'll give the kids a bath so you can read became our love language. But that night at the cabin, there wasn't a need for swapping. So Jason passed me the plates, the cups, the silverware -- cutlery, as our kids tried their very best to pronounce all week long -- and teased me when I couldn't quite reach to put them back up on the seamlessly lined shelves once they were dry. The kids cleared the table, put away the ketchup, the mustard, the Ranch dressing (cabin necessities), then ran to the park, pretending to wait patiently for s'mores and night fishing.
During these moments of clean-up and transition, Jason was, in my eyes, hard on Brody in a way that was different from his interactions with the girls. The Human Development major in me believes wholeheartedly in high love and high expectations, but the mom in me looks for soft landings, wide eyes, and impact.
That night, I asked him about the difference in softness and hardness when it comes to Brody, and he answered with the same, although opposite, question. He thought that I was much easier on Brody than I am with the girls. And because our questioning was encased in defenses-down togetherness, he also told me why he thought I shouldn't parent our youngest in this way.
He said that society checks girls all the time. Plenty of people and time and experiences will try to put them in their place, whether we want them to or not. There aren't as many chances for the goodness of boys to be checked, and he wants that for our son.
This changed my entire perception of his expectations of Brody. Where I saw our baby, he saw a future man and the opportunity to raise a good one.
There's nothing like vacation to zoom in on everyone's personalities. Brighter, bolder, highlighted -- it's as though the sunshine made all of our goodness shine and our faults equally visible.
The biggest need in life for one of our girls is fun. She finds it in every nook and cranny, and mines it for every grain -- and only then moves on to the next opportunity for glitter. Sometimes this comes in the form of a guttural laugh that begins deep in her belly, and other times it's unrelenting sass, a self-assurance that jars those around her into place, an unshakable vision of herself as right. This is her strength and her opportunity all rolled into one -- and something that I wouldn't change about her, because grit. But this can also be challenging to parent, and we all have our limits.
One night, Jason had reached his. And, for the record, he was right. Her fun was happening at the expense of everyone else's, and it was a perfectly natural time to play the "it's all of our vacation" tape. But when they couldn't find the spot between his quiet and her wild, he lost his cool with her.
With the sound of loons over the lake in the background, I told him why, when I did step into the conversation, it was on her side instead of his.
When I still had a baby on my shoulder and a toddler at my hip, a parent educator slipped a thread of perfectly curled hair behind one ear and told me this: With every interaction we have, we're creating an intimacy roadmap for our kids.
Her eyes, a wise shade of cornflower blue, looked right into my tired hazel ones, and I was sure that she was speaking directly to me. So I placed her words in my back pocket then and I pull them out regularly now. I don't want our girls to think it's an everyday thing for someone who loves them to yell at them or use angry words with them. With time, they'll learn that anger boils and settles, but I don't want them to see it as commonplace or expected, without explanation or apology.
When I suggested that my girl and my guy apologize to each other, it was more about her roadmap than our standstill, and that night I was able to tell Jason this, and he was able to hear me. I'm so grateful for long summer days, quiet summer nights, and the small and big talks that thread the two together.
And I'm equally grateful for the reminders of why we chose each other to parent with in the first place.
Incidentally, the night before we left the lake, we spent many, many hours fishing off the dock. A small group of ducks came right up to us, and so the kids, of course, split our bait and took turns feeding them.
At one point, Chloe threw a worm to the back of the group and cheered when one of the ducks (finally) got her worm. "You get that worm, girl," she said. Then added, "It doesn't matter how nice your people are -- sometimes you have to take care of yourself." I couldn't help but think that this, too, was really good advice.
This post first appeared on Galit's blog, These Little Waves. Galit's book, Kindness Wins, is a simple guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. Working as a team and learning from each other is a huge part of this.