This summer was one of the first in years where we chose not to sign our kids up for camps. In years prior, we preserved our sanity by breaking up the endless together time with 3-4 hours a day where one kid or the other was at least a 10 minute drive away. From that distance, it miraculously became impossible for them to find reasons to bicker. 

Don’t get me wrong here—the two occasional monsters in my home actually get along unusually well some of the time. They have matching patterned swimming suits I bought on sale. I imagined them groaning to discover this, actively avoiding twinning whenever one of them decides to wear it. Instead, they Lands End magazine at every opportunity.

The kids will be in middle school together this year—the first time sharing a building since 2nd and 4th grade. When their schedules arrived, the first thing they did was compare to see where they might pass each other in the hallways. 

But this camaraderie is sprinkled with the kind of fights that come only from sharing genetics and four walls. Fights that make complete and total sense. Fights that are worth sharing with a nearby adult who can tell the other person they are definitely wrong. Fights like, “That’s not YOURS. That’s MY dusty 50-cent piece that you just found under the couch that has been there for a few years. I’ve been looking for it.”  

We adults are not immune to this kind of fighting either, when we have all spent too much time together. And since husband Wally and I both work from home, together is our state of being. We got into it the other day about his shoes. He wanted them by the door. I wanted them put away. It was almost enough to drag the kids in so they could tell the other person they were definitely wrong. (And by the “other person,” of course, I mean Husband Wally and not me. Because he is DEFINITELY WRONG.) Instead, we bought a shoe cabinet. 

And so, as bickering is a natural state of together time, to keep the arguing at bay, in past years we have employed camps, alternating weeks, so everyone has an opportunity for alone time. As the kids have gotten older, though, we have gotten very busy during the school year. And shoes and dusty coins—while still inspiring the occasional kerfuffle—have lessened in importance. This year, a summer of trips and together time seemed like something we could manage—could enjoy even. 

That’s not to say we hung out together and played games and kumbaya-ed all the time, of course. There is always the chance a shoe or a dusty coin will turn up—and so we have to stay employed in our individual capacities. I was tasked with guiding Vivvi, so she spent a good bit of the summer doing important things, like Kahn Academy for math upkeep, playing piano, and making sock puppets. Husband Wally was assigned WallyBen, so he did what any basketball-loving dad would do and had him shoot 500 shots a day. That’s it. Just a whole morning of the same motion, jump shot after jump shot, dribble swish repeat. 

After a few weeks, WallyBen’s shot was more consistent. So Husband Wally decided to hone in more—he needed to simulate a game. Husband Wally could be the guy to pass the ball to him, and WallyBen had to get open for the pass and shoot. But he needed to get open from someone—a defender. Since I am the right height, have two legs that work, and live in this house, I was chosen for the task. I was concerned about my skill level but was assured my main role was to be a barrier. Stand in the way, or as much in the way as my turtle’s pace shuffle allows. Since I have gotten to an age where breaking a sweat feels like an accomplishment, I said yes. I win here too with a workout that isn’t Apple Fitness in my basement. You need a barrier? I will be your barrier. 

We went to the park near our house for this drill—it offered a better court and more space for Wally to run around and for me to be a wall. I felt quite good out there, trying to keep up, taking my athletic defensive stance, trying to predict his moves and outwit his fakes. I was successful quite a bit of the time—which is to say, quite a bit of the time for a woman in her early 40s who last played the sport when I was my son’s age. (This was in a farm town, where everyone makes every team—even us of the barrier propensity—because you need 5 athletes to play and a few barriers to sub in every once in a while.) 

WallyBen, I believe, got better every day because I stood there in front of him. I was a good match, since he is now, close to my height. (Which is to say, after this summer, he is, unbelievably, taller than me.)

And I had a good time sweating and feeling fit. I have never been athletic, but I have always liked trying. I have never been graceful—my mom took me to ballet as a kid and looked in the window to laugh at me. But if you are not graceful, that doesn’t mean you feel not graceful. You can feel very graceful inside, while being moments away from tripping on a low crack in the sidewalk and slow-motion long-fall-running twenty feet before landing on your knees and elbows. (And then the dog you were jogging with looks at you like, “Oh hey! What are you doing down here?” You know, just an imagined example from the top of my head—not speaking from experience or anything.) 

When we showed up one morning a few weeks into the routine, a few teens were on the other half of the court practicing. Husband Wally and I walked to the court and WallyBen trailed behind with a delay getting out of the van. The teens looked at us approaching the court with interest—what are these old fogeys doing here with this basketball? I imagined them picturing us starting a game of one-on-one, maybe challenging them to a dual where they’d make a fool out of me. It then occurred to me: when I did these drills with WallyBen, because I was sweating and my heart rate was going and I was remembering my good ole basketball bench-riding days of learning a skill that doesn’t come natural to me, I felt good. It wasn’t until then that I wondered—do I look as light on my feet as I feel? 

I decided to ask the question out loud: “Out of curiosity—how do I look when I’m doing this?” Talk about a trap. My husband knows I prefer honesty. He also knows I am aware of my sports skills and abilities, so the risks in answering the question were low. But he also wanted to avoid another where-to-store-the-shoes incident. And he is incredibly nice. 

So he thought for a brief moment, and answered, “You look like a loving mom who wants to help her son get better at basketball.” 

The statement confirmed my suspicions—it was the best possible way to say I look like a total grade A dumbass. It made me laugh. But it also filled me up. It was almost enough to make me rethink my stance on shoes on the ground. It was loaded with priorities and perspective. And it felt like the truth. Because of this very perfect answer, another fight was avoided. Husband Wally passed in the ball to WallyBen, and I shuffled away, sweating and trying to keep up, happy for another summer together.