Summer has come – with a vengeance. I normally love the summer. It means looser schedules. It means sleeping in, even if just a little bit. It means vacations and flip flops and less stress all around. Most of all it means not starting my day trying to get three (mostly) teenaged girls out of the house.
During the school year, I wake up each morning with hope and optimism, sure that this morning will run with the smoothness of a well-oiled machine. And yet, every day, our mornings turn into a Black Friday sale. People run around with a crazed look in their eyes. Items get knocked off the counters and left for dead. I frantically grab things off the pantry shelves for school lunches that usually end up looking like last night’s leftovers (by which I mean they usually are last night’s leftovers). Girls scream in the background about who took whose sweater and put it back and it’s not yours and yes, it is, you gave it to me and no, I didn’t. Then the shouting stops. A few minutes later, they all come down and I laugh and say, “You’re wearing that to school over my dead body.” Eyes roll and it starts all over again.
Then comes the actual leaving. The shorter one goes to the bus stop. The two taller ones must now start the debate about when to leave. The one that drives suddenly remembers that she has to be at school 30 minutes early. For what? Who knows. Probably just to annoy the one that doesn’t drive. The one that doesn’t drive is now extremely put out because she doesn’t have time to do her eyebrows, which is something that the one that does drive clearly should have considered. I don’t really know what that means. But I hear it a lot. Finally, with the same amount of negotiation usually required for a Senate hearing, they leave. No one is happy but me.
The silence that ensues is deafening…and beautiful and wonderful all at the same time. I enjoy the silence for as long as it lasts, which is usually about an hour or so before someone realizes they left their lunch/gym clothes/permission slip that was due last Tuesday. After the subsequent school runs, errands, bill paying, emails, phone calls, and maybe an hour or two of work that I manage to sneak in, it’s time to start the afterschool rituals. There are appointments and activities and rehearsals and friends and teacher conferences, and on the really fantastic days, school concerts that are inevitably scheduled for 6pm when normal families eat dinner. I suppose I should be thankful that we are not a normal family and rarely eat until 8pm, which is the earliest I can manage to have everyone in the house at the same time.
So when summer finally rolls around, it’s a relief. True, I have to give up those few euphoric hours of silence in the mornings, but to be honest, I kind of like my kids in the summer. The shouting and clothing negotiations die down, the homework stress is gone and we actually talk…about real things. We hang out and go places together. It’s pretty cool.
But this summer is different. We’re barely three weeks in and already I’m eyeballing the aisles of Target for the first glimpse of back to school paraphernalia. This is not me.
As I have been trying to figure out why this summer doesn’t have the sweet ebb and flow of years past, it finally struck me. My kids are growing up. In the past, our summers were a time to bring everyone together. During the school year, everyone had different lives and different schedules. They participated in different sports and afterschool activities. Their friends were isolated by schools or grades. The only common ground we had was a chaotic morning ritual and a later-than-it-should-be dinner before everyone went off into their own corners again for homework, or in most cases, Snapchat.
In summers past, I’ve had more control of the schedule. People needed me to help plan get togethers with friends, we would all go to the pool together because I was their ride, and family vacations meant just that – family. But these days, or at least this year, everyone seems to have their own life to live. The one that drives also has a job now. She goes off to work or disappears for hours to hang out at a friend’s house, go shopping or go on a hike. The ones that can’t drive have become more independent, as well. Now instead of needing me to help them plans their social lives, they inform me of their schedules, usually three minutes before they need me to drive them somewhere. Our summers are no longer a group effort, but rather a series of brief business meetings in the kitchen as one or the other lets me know when they’re leaving, how long they’ll be gone, and how much money they need to finance their absence.
My kids used to need me. Don’t get me wrong, they still do. But now it’s mainly as a reverse taxi service, meaning that I give them money for the privilege of driving them to various social events. But for plans? I am no longer at the center. They no longer complain about being bored and wait for me to come up with dozens of brilliant ideas that they will immediately shoot down. I am the last to find out where people are going and what they are doing and who they are with. And I think it’s making me crazy.
Actual conversation I just had with the 14-year old:
Me: Do you have $5 that I can give the 11-year old? (because, of course, the 11-year old is going somewhere with a friend)
14 y.o.: Here. *immediately pulls $5 out of her back pocket*
Me: Why are you walking around the house with $5 in your pocket? Are you going somewhere? Do you have plans? Where did you get $5? Is that my $5? What were you planning to use it for?
14 y.o.: BLANK STARE
See what I mean? I’m a paranoid wreck. But the weirdest part is that while I used to see summer as a trade-off between having stress-free days and more time with my kids versus having a little extra quiet time to myself while the kids were at school, now I seem to have more time to myself than ever. Granted, most of that time is in the car after dropping one off at a friend’s house and on my way to pick up another, but still…I miss my kids.
During the school year, teachers and coaches make their schedules. During the summer…well, that was my time to be in charge of scheduling. Now that they don’t need me to even do that anymore, I’m kind of left trying to figure out where I fit in.
And so this summer, I may not spend my days planning picnics or family trips to the pool. But I will try to grasp every moment I have with both hands. I will take those sweet moments when their swirling social lives converge into a rare family dinner and savor them. I will drag them, kicking and screaming, away from their friends for a week at the beach with a secret smile on my face, because finally, they are all mine again. I will applaud their independence and congratulate myself for teaching them how to achieve it. And I will also be a little sad, recognizing that these moments are fleeting.
But I guess that what “it all goes by so fast” really means, after all.
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