I am much more “WOOO-HOOOOO!!!” than “boo hoo” about school starting. It has been a long, long summer. Back in June, when it was time to sign up for summer camps and classes, my kids were so overwhelmed with the end-of–the–year activity crunch that I could barely get them to look at a brochure for summer programs. I told them that after a few weeks they would be pretty bored and they would wish they had signed up for something. My two younger kids eventually chose a few one-week classes through the Rec department, but for the most part, we left the summer wide open.
I was pretty frazzled at the end of the year, too, so the idea of long, unstructured days of the kids playing outside and trips to the beach sounded pretty appealing. We were also planning a family trip to Aruba in July, so I really didn’t want to spend any more money on summer activities if they weren’t interested anyway. I optimistically believed that my kids would play all day and I could get stuff done and everyone would be happy. They are all old enough that they can make their own fun, right? Wrong. The truth is, any two of them can get along. All three of them together means someone is left out, or doesn’t want to do what the other two are doing, or needs me to intervene in one way or another.
Playdates and beach trips solved a lot of these little squabbles, but mostly, they were just bored. I am a big believer in letting kids be bored and find creative ways to fill their time. My kids have lots of great ideas, but they just can’t seem to agree on how to execute their ideas together and everything devolves into bickering. Bicker, bicker, bicker … with the occasional punch. By the end of August, these kids needed to get the heck away from each other.
School to the rescue! My kids (and I) are all a lot happier when we spend at least part of the day away from each other. Our time is more structured, our minds are filled with new ideas, new friendships, and new possibilities. Even my son, who did not love school last year, seems to be pretty enthusiastic about starting second grade. That might change when he starts getting real homework, but so far so good. What I don’t love about the first few weeks of school is the “transition” between lazy, late-sleeping, all-day playing days to days that start at 6am and are packed with school, sports, homework, dance classes, and more. By dinnertime everyone is cranky and exhausted and nasty. The first few weeks of school can be a little trying, but I am much more organized and productive when everyone is busy, and the kids get along better since they are not on top of each other all day long, so it is worth it even though it comes with some serious crabbiness for a while. Once everyone settles in to the new schedule, it should be smooth sailing … should be, anyway.
I couldn’t wait for school to start last year. While other parents discussed camp registrations in June 2011, I opted for a freeform summer. I was going to keep it loose, I said. Day trips here and there. No major vacation planned. Well, hell hath no fury like children bored. I attempted to fill the days with fun activities, for which I was rewarded mostly with a gloomy, “Now what are we going to do?” If I wasn’t providing a full-blown three-ring circus, I simply wasn’t cutting it in my kids’ eyes. The 2011-2012 school year couldn’t come fast enough. I stopped just short of having the date of the first day of school screened onto the front of a baseball cap, as dissatisfied voters are wont to do with the impending inauguration date marking the end of a presidential term.
I learned my lesson, and summer 2012 was a different story. We took our big family vacation at the end of June. Both boys went to a three-week, full-day camp in Winchester. Each boy also had week-long camps in the next two weeks, bringing us to the beginning of August. A few weeks of more unstructured free time followed, and then it was time for school.
My desire for the kids to return to school is determined by how the summer went. Although this summer went much better than last, we were all ready to get back to schedules and routines. School’s going very well so far. Both boys like their new teachers and seem to be on top of their schoolwork and homework. I’m sure the wheels will come off the bus soon enough, but I’ll enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Tasha Schlake Festel
I have had a terrible day with my children.
Fighting started at 7AM. We fought about breakfast and who was eating what. We fought about what was packed for snacks and for lunch. We fought about hot pink clashing with coral and which tie dye shirt was in the laundry. We fought about walking to school. We even fought about whether we would stay and play at the playground after school... all before we even got there in the morning.
At pick up, we fought about who could walk home alone and when. We fought about how long we would stay and play. We fought about going to jiujitsu. We fought about what would be for dinner. We even fought about why I had to park so far away from the school... all before we even left the school grounds.
This is why I desperately did not want school to start.
The night before school started, I buried my face in my husband's chest and sobbed. I was inconsolably sad about the end of the summer. It wasn't just that we had an awesome summer and I didn't want it to end. We did and I didn't. But it was so much more than that. I had a stunning realization this year. Don't tell my children, but I hate school.
With school comes stress, homework, social struggles, and attempts to compose outfits that match without being too matchy-matchy but still expressing individual style. And with all those things comes fighting. I don't mean the kids fighting with each other. That happens all the time, no matter what. Whatevs, if you know what I mean. The fighting I'm talking about is me fighting with them and them fighting with me. It's ugly.
During the school year, I assume the role of punching bag. Not in the literal sense, of course, but I'm one of the only people in my kids' lives who they can take everything out on and who won't hold it against them. They take full advantage of that. Trust me. I will always forgive them, always love them, even if they blame me for no one playing with them at recess, if they scream at me because camouflage and camouflage don't, in fact match, unless you're in the armed services, which you're not, or if they hold me responsible for "ight" making the "ite" sound when it just plain doesn't make sense.
It is always a fight, never a discussion, and I know why. It's stress and my reaction to it. This year, I am trying to take a deep breath and offer a hug instead of sniping back, one-upping my elementary schoolers and mentally keeping score. (How attractive and mature of me. By the way, I'm currently losing, for those of you keeping score at home.) I am trying to just grow the hell up this year, accept that they are children and do not have superior stress management skills, and help them to cope.
I am also counting down the days to summer vacation.
I had a great summer! I did and did not do exactly as my pregnant self dictated. Zero stress. No guilt. Plenty of fun and trips and relaxation. I think my kids would say they had a pretty good summer, too, if truly pressed to say something non-contradictory, but let me be honest: I actually don’t care that much about the grade they’d give to the summertime fun-having. I know we did lots of activities that pass for fun in the average kid, and, as I said, I had a great summer!
The beautiful summer experience had me mourning its end and the return to school time. I also worried about returning to life with routine. And finally, I dreaded moving onto the next season. Autumn used to be my hands-down favorite season, but since I’m usually cold from October to May, and now that I have kids, I refer to it as, “The Season Before Winter.” Winter is now the season of being cold, messy weather and the perpetual search for a boot or a hat or a glove or the-hood-that-was-attached-to-your-coat-five-minutes-ago!!!
So, the aforementioned leads me to a vote of “Boo-hoo!” for the return to school.
But, then I consider how I’ve been enjoying this chilly “good sleeping weather” and not sweating through two full outfits a day, and the smell of Fall, and I think that maybe a sweater and some sassy tall boots just may be the wardrobe lift I need.
My kids were mostly neutral about returning to school. They welcomed the change from summer’s sublime openness to a more structured day that meant they would have at least one meal at a reliable time of day. They also looked forward to seeing their friends regularly and looked forward to being in a higher grade. But they weren’t exactly hootin’ and a hollerin’, either.
Our third son has joined the Walton crew this year for kindergarten. He’s psyched, as he’s spent a good deal of time over the past three years in tow to his older brothers’ activities. He feels happy to have proof of being one of the big kids now, and had no issues adjusting. In fact, on the first day, when kindergarteners were supposed to join their parents for a first day one-hour orientation, he instead slipped into the school with his brothers at regular drop off time. I later found him in the gym, casually chatting with a parent about his motorcycle messenger bag, lunch bag and new shoes. He graced me with a wave and a nod of the head when he saw me.
What I love this year about three quarters of my kids going back to school is the alone time I get to spend with my fourth son before I add the fifth to the mix in a few short weeks. It allows me to have a glimpse of that mom I aspired to be and actually was for a while when I first had only one child. We do playgrounds and walks and chats and whimsy and creativity and baking and reading, just we two. It’s a great feeling to realize that alone time with my fourth kid is my new guilty pleasure.
Now, don’t worry, readers: none of this means I regret having a big family. I love it- and each of them- like crazy. I just like experiencing a little less crazy for a couple hours a day! So, for that, I say, “Woo-hoo!” to the back-to-school time.