Published on August 10th, 2015 | by Kathi Valeii1
SUMMER’S END: Kathi Valeii On Back-To-School
All of the other parents are starting their countdown posts. They know the days, the hours, maybe even the minutes until their children go back to school.
I’m living in distracted denial. Working my damnedest to stay present. To not neglect my work, and to revel in this too-short time. These days – of balance, of work, of lolling laziness – I cling to them hard. If they were wood, there’d be slivers under my nail beds.
The other week, the oldest went on his annual mecca to art camp. It’s a weeklong day camp. No biggie, really. Except that it was. “Jeeeeessssus,” I thought all week. “I can’t wait ’til this week is over so I can stop getting up and making early breakfasts and packing his lunch!” So. Much. Work. Laughable, really. Our wake time was still an hour later than school wake time, and the breakfast ordeal was one third of school day ordeals. The lunch-packing? Half.
The 6:00 alarm, the schoolbus I see in the pitch dark up the block, and every time I think, ‘Holy Goddess, bless those children, that’s too early.’ The way the oldest guy stumbles down the stairs – always the same drill – his feigned crying and too-long shower. The militant way I’ve resorted to shooting out reminders, like machine gun fire – the fastest way to get it done in the least amount of words, because I missed the parenting prerequisite of Master Multi-Tasker. Mornings are like brushing my teeth – done in the same order, the same circles, muscle memory so I don’t have to think. While juggling breakfast and dishes, tea sipping and lunch prep, I bark: “Do you see the time…. wash your dish…. sort your folder…. did you fill your water bottle?” The carpool always rolls up too fast – he wants to grab a book he forgot about – we argue, he slumps his shoulders, offers a half-hearted hug, and says goodbye. I’ll take a deep breath, sit for five minutes, pound out an email, and start over with Boy Number Two. This year, Boy Three enters the equation with preschool. All different times, all different schools.
This week was nothing like that, though.
We made it. Only to have them leave for their dad’s for a week. The second of the three non-consecutive weeks they’ll be gone this summer. I thought it would never get easier. Six years into this back and forth game, I finally made it to a week where I didn’t cry after they left, didn’t sob at every little thought of them, every little twang in my heart as I passed their rooms.
It took six years.
This week is our week. One of the three non-consecutive weeks that we get, too. Today, we’ll go to the beach. We’ll empty our minds, our devices, and our distractions to jump and splash and get carried away by the waves. The days are never long enough, the time slips by, like sand through our toes.
September will be here soon. I can feel my breathing go shallow just a bit as the time draws to a suffocating close. August is a month of anticipation. The month we’ll call his school and talk with his counselor. We’ll nitpick his schedule, he’ll start pre-conditioning running. We’ll wait for the administrative staff to arrive those short weeks before the chaos begins and ask them to straighten out their botched attendance record from last year. The one that reflected “unexcused” on his report card. The “unexcused” time he accompanied the band on a school-sponsored trip.
This is how the year will start.
With hawk-like attentiveness to the single person handling seven hundred student’s records. With no room for errors or too-tired’s or I-just-can’t’s. It ushers in a nine-month cycle of hit-the-ground-running, of one child up before the crack of dawn, then the next, then the next. Of daily clock-watching and phones turned up. Of schedule changes and juggling, of after-school sports and trips to dad’s, of homework meltdowns and corroborations. Of running ourselves into the ground. Of pure exhaustion.
We’ll live for the goals.
Every completed paper a sigh of relief. Every closed marking period, an exhaustive, “we made it!” We’ll anticipate the big and littles – each and every weekend, plus the long one we’ll take to the music festival, then the holiday breaks, then Spring, then Summer. We’ll embrace the cycle – the single days, the weekends, the weeks, then months of freedom we’ll carefully parcel – not too busy, not too boring – just enough steady to keep the flow in-sync, to keep the days close.
On the first morning, I’ll receive a text – the parental invitation for mimosas after the kiddos have been dropped off or sent off on busses. It’s taken about six years for this, too, to not feel too intense; to not make me want to throw the wine glass across the kitchen. What, exactly are we celebrating? Time away from these mongrels? Surely not that insensitive, but more likely a form of relief, an ability to better time-manage. For me, it’s a “Holy fuck, we made it. It’s going to be okay. We can do this.” And that’s certainly worth a toast and a cheer.