Forgetting the Rules

By Diane Stark

“I’ll be right back,” I told my seven-year-old son, Nathan. “I’m just walking down to get the mail.”

“Ooh, can I go?” He asked. “Can I eat a popsicle while we walk?”

I frowned. “Not this time, Honey. You’re still in your pajamas.”

“So? Why can’t I go? I really want to eat a green popsicle.”

I thought of all of the reasons I didn’t want my son walking down the driveway in his pajamas. What if one of the neighbors saw him? It was nearly noon, and he wasn’t dressed yet. What if someone drove by?  I’d always believed my children are a reflection on me, and a little boy walking down the driveway in bright yellow Minion pajamas at 11:43 am would not reflect well on his mother.

“It’s just that… well, you’re in your jammies, and we don’t go outside in our jammies,” I struggled to explain.

“It’s summer, Mommy. It’s OK to do things like wear jammies all day in the summer.”

He was right that our schedule was definitely more relaxed in the summer. But I couldn’t shake the thought that one of the neighbors would see him and think badly of me.

“I’m just going to run down and get the mail and when I come back, I’ll make lunch and then we can play a game. And you can definitely eat a green popsicle too.” I smiled convincingly. “Sounds good, right?”

His shoulders slumped. “I guess so.”

I tried to ignore the disappointment on his face as I headed out the door. I was walking down the driveway when I heard a splashing sound coming from the pond next to our house. Quietly, I snuck over there and gasped when I discovered the source of the noise.

It was a fawn, still with the white spots on its back. I watched as it splashed through the water and then paused for a drink. I felt a peace come over me as I observed the beauty around me.

“Nathan would love this,” I thought, and then I remembered the reason he wasn’t standing right beside me. I hadn’t let him come outside because I was worried what the neighbors would think.

I shook my head, amazed at my own ability to forget what is important in life. We’d lived in our house for six years, I’d walked down the driveway to get the mail nearly every day, and this was the first time I’d seen a deer in our pond. And my son was missing it because I was too concerned with other people’s opinions.

I rushed back to the house to get Nathan. “Hurry, Honey, but you have to be very, very quiet,” I said. “There’s something in the pond I want you to see, but if we’re too loud, we’ll scare him away.”

Nathan did his best to be quiet, but he is a seven-year-old boy who’d just been promised a really cool surprise. “Is it a turtle, Mommy?” He stage whispered. “Because I saw a turtle in the pond last summer.”

I put my fingers to my lips to motion him to be quiet. But he was just too excited. We got to the pond just in time to see the fawn running into the trees next to our house.

“Oh, I missed him,” Nathan said, clearly near tears.

“It’s not your fault, it’s mine,” I said. “I should have let you come outside when you asked the first time.”

“But I’m in my Minion jammies,” he said.

“I know, but that shouldn’t have mattered,” I said. “I should have just let you come with me and not worried about what anyone thought.” I hugged my son. “Because what you think of me as a Mom is way more important than what the neighbors think.”

“Plus, it’s summer,” Nathan said, “and there’s just less rules in the summer.”

I smiled. “You’re right. And less rules is one of my very favorite things about the summer time.”

Over the next two months, I tried to remember our “Summer has Less Rules” rule. I tried to say yes as often as I could. I stopped worrying about what the neighbors might think. And I definitely decided that wearing jammies until noon was completely acceptable summer time behavior.

Nathan is my youngest child. He has four older siblings, two of whom just graduated from high school. Their summers are now busy with work and preparing for college. They don’t have a three-month vacation anymore. They’re almost grown-ups, and grown-ups are too busy for that.

And as sad as it makes me, even little Nathan has just ten care-free summers before he too graduates and gets too busy to hang out and eat popsicles with me all summer. It breaks my heart, but it also reminds me that I need to enjoy the time I have left with him.

So what if the neighbors see him wearing his jammies at noon? I’m done worrying what they think. Besides, I’m so busy with my own kids that I hardly notice what other parents are doing with theirs. So the chances are nearly 100% that the neighbors aren’t even noticing my parenting successes and failures, or a little boy walking down my driveway in bright yellow Minion jammies.

A really smart little boy once told me that summer has less rules.

And that smart little boy is going to be a brilliant young man before I know it.

So to minimize my regret ten years from now, I’m following his advice today.

It’s summer time, and I’m throwing away the rule book.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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2 Responses to “Forgetting the Rules”

  1. Amanda Adams says:

    What a great reminder about the important things in life.

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Diane, I love this essay. It reminds me of myself when I was a young mom. I had an automatic Mommy-NO. I tossed it out when i had grandchildren.

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