One way to describe my little piece of heaven might be ‘controlled chaos.’ Four small kids, two large dogs, one international college student, two working parents … picture bunkbeds and lots and lots of toothbrushes. I am only half-joking when I refer to my house as Camp Brighton. Most days it really does feel like camp. Mostly the good things about camp – crafts and snacks and noise and fun – chatty conversations over meals, sneaking in and out of bedrooms at night – lights out at 9 but talking in the dark for long after that. I can’t imagine a more perfect life for us. We are blessed with happy kids and lots of love, beautiful weather and amazing friends. I don’t try to be preachy to my children about how much they should appreciate what we have but there are three little words that they may never, ever say. Ever.
During the early years, we set the ground rules for the first word – hate. That word is not allowed in our house – whether it’s about a new vegetable or a bully on the bus, you may never say hate. Hate is such a serious word – there isn’t anything more passionate than hate – except love. And so we will temper our distaste and our anger and our occasional indignation and express ourselves with something a little bit milder. We will try to put out as much love as we possibly can to overcome the hate that exists in the world. At Camp Brighton we wholeheartedly believe in good karma. The more love you put out there, the more you get back. What's that little line about loving the least of your brethren? Yup. That one. Get on it. Practice makes perfect.
As my children got a little bit older, we started to subtly emphasize how many options they had for free play with their sibs or quiet time by themselves. We were trying to do a back-door sneak attack on the word “bored” before they tried it out on us at home. Bored. Forbidden word #2. I clearly remember making the gigantic mistake of saying that I was bored at my grandmother’s summer house – a house filled with Tom Hardy mysteries and old board games and large stacks of vinyl records, a house surrounded by marsh and woods and endless wildlife. “Only boring people are bored,” came the crisp reply of my patrician grandmother. And that was that. Never again would I ever say that I was bored. I have seen crafts on Pinterest with cute acronyms for the word BORED to help save your children from themselves and adorable choice boards that would make the teacher in me proud. But, truly, why are we wasting so much precious time on helping children not be bored? Boredom sparks creativity. Boredom helps our kids grow and learn and explore. Let them be bored for a minute or two and let them find something to occupy their time. Or, better yet, let them be idle, it won’t last long.
Our third and final forbidden word just surfaced very recently. We have always tried to not keep any sort of tabs on who gets what or who does what. For years, my very handy line has always been, “It will all work out.” But just the other day, with visitors over (of course!), my son announced that the current driveway bike share-soccer ball-hula-hoop what-have-you shenanigans were, “Unfair!” I still have no idea what drama he was lamenting, but I quickly turned and, in my best mom voice, said that he was not allowed to say that word. Ever. My friend laughed out loud at my savvy parenting skills. Later, my kids and I talked about fair and, although I hate the phrase – “Life’s not fair.” - when we talk about life not being fair, we need to be talking about the kids we met staying in a homeless shelter last week or our friend’s baby getting a new wheelchair because she can’t crawl anymore. Our family has been given more than our fair share.
And to whom much is given, much is expected. Camp Brighton is pretty loosey goosey when it comes to picking up the laundry from the floor or making your bed in the morning, maybe even brushing your hair before you get on the school bus, but we run a tight ship when it comes to loving others and trying to spread more good in the world. There’s too much to do, too much to see, too many new people to meet. There’s just not enough time for hate, bored, and unfair. We can do so much better.