After a summer “off” from writing, I am thrilled to be sitting here writing again. I say “off” because I really didn’t want a break from writing. I should have made a posting to say that I was “off” for the summer, but eternal optimism kept me from doing that. “Next Week”, I kept thinking, “Next week, I can write”. I lost my nanny to her own thrilling pregnancy, and I am thrilled for her, but I wasn’t expecting to be nanny-less for the summer. I tried to hurriedly hire someone to replace her, but we also had a lot of travel planned for the summer, so it proved difficult to find the right person in between trips while at the same time trying to figure out exactly what our lives were going to look like in a couple months with my son starting a new preschool. We found a GREAT sitter, whose schedule meshed with ours and she was our for-the-two-weeks-before-our-next-trip nanny. With each trip (Atlanta, Canadian Rockies and a trip to the mid-west to visit my family), I had expectations of relaxation, free-time and creative juices flowing. I am not sure when I will ever accept that traveling with young children will NEVER result in relaxation, extra free time or allowance for any kind of creative energy outside of creative negotiations with the 3 ½ year old. This is an age I am struggling with immensely, as it appears many mothers do. It has added to the challenge of travels and to the crazy summer, in general. And now I find myself longing for the school year to begin. His school does not start until after Labor Day (ugh), although most other schools have begun already. And here I am, it seems, caught up in the crazy school-cycle that I have witnessed over and over in my friends, particularly those with older children. It is a cycle of ‘the next season’ and it goes something like this.
For the first month or so after school starts, there is a whirlwind around this very fact. This is expected, getting everyone transitioned and settled. Soon after, the holidays start and everyone both anticipates and dreads the holidays because this brings more ‘crazy times’ (this is what we say to one another when we realize it will take us 4 – 6 weeks to get together for our next play-date). We pine for the start of the New Year, where we bask in the cessation of the holiday craze and the thrill of the New Year Resolution euphoria. There are actually a couple months of ‘normal’ and then by spring/early summer, parents and children alike are burned out on their school routines and all I hear is “in the summer, I will be able to do that’, “this summer, we are going to sign up for that”, “the summer, the summer, the summer”. And then the summer hits and after the first couple weeks of relief from the apparent grind of the school year, mothers realize, as if it’s their first summer all over again, that the summer, in fact, means that their children are home…all day….every day. And that this, in fact, makes them busier than ever before, without any free-time to themselves. And then the mantra begins, “when school starts, I will be able to do that”, “when school starts I am going to sign up for that”, “when school starts, when school starts, when school starts”. And this is the cycle of family-hood that I have observed around me. Fathers drift from one season to the next, somewhat unaware of the changes or changes in expectations that each new season brings. Mothers comfort one another, confirming that they are not crazy, that this…that this schedule is crazy…and that the next season will bring something different. Different? Yes. Change is the only thing we can always count on. And that’s what keeps us going. I feel myself being sucked strongly, against my will, into the abyss of this endless cycle.
I like to believe in an idea called ‘slow family living’. Yet, already with only a 3 ½ year old and a 1 year old, I feel my cycle starting, which does not seem very ‘slow’. I feel myself celebrating the end of this ‘crazy summer’, even as the 100+ degree temperatures continue, which, by the way, very much added to the craziness. I enthusiastically shop for my son’s new school supplies. I browse, contemplating long pants, sweaters and sweatshirts, symbolizing a cooler, less crazy time. Back-to-school shopping seems to be not about buying clothes for my child’s back, for which we have plenty, but about buying into the beginning of a new cycle. A schedule. Finding the right nanny. Fewer transitions. With such young children, many mothers comfort me by telling me that this stage is the hardest. And I believe them – because if I believed anything else, some days, I feel I might break.
And so, while I have feared this ‘next season’ cycle, perhaps a part of me welcomes it because I see it as an evolutionary step in my parenting. When I have both children in school…then I will do this, and I will sign up for that. The Buddhist in me says, ‘live in the moment, silly’. And this is why I fear the cycle – always looking forward to the next season to bring change doesn’t seem like a very joyful way to live. But perhaps the answer lies, again and again, in the middle. The cycle is not something to avoid, as I’ve treated it, but something to cherish – to live in the moment, within the cycle. Because this cycle ends only when our children leave home or some life episode or tragedy shows us that this cycle is not so bad. It can be fun to plan and look forward to things, as long as we don’t lose the moment we are in with it. Easier said than done? Of course…but that’s parenthood. So I am off to enjoy our last week before the school year begins… and I look forward to next week, when our school year begins….