READERS! Hi there. It’s me, Denise. Been a while, right? I’d say let me ‘splain, but to quote Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “no, is too much. Let me sum up”: I’ve been stuck in a cycle of working and worrying and working on not worrying so much and worrying that I’m not working enough. But I’m back and eager to explore what this blog will evolve into now that my kiddos are getting older and it’s less about snacks and bedtime and more about… well, you tell me, parents of tweens. What IS it about? But first, this:
If you know me or have read this blog, you know that I can be a bit of a summer curmudgeon, as I wrote last summer and the summer before that. For me, as for many (if not most) working mothers, summer isn’t all la la carefree we’re on vacation (though it has some of that — more, now, in fact, that my kids are older). Mostly, I’m usually of the mindset that summer is a lot like the rest of the year, only hotter, and the kids’ backpacks have towels and bathing suits rather than pencils and math books.
Mostly, I’m the mom counting the days till school starts and the days normalize. You know that office-supply-store commercial, the most wonderful time of the year? That’s me, merrily tossing notebooks and folders into my cart and singing a happy tune.
But I’m going to blow your mind a little here, readers. This year, I’m NOT so much looking forward to the start of school. Here’s why:
The boys are older. They require a lot less care and cleaning (or anyway, they do way more of the care and cleaning themselves). I don’t have to scramble to get coverage for every day or most days of summer vacation so that I can concentrate on work. In fact, if I’m willing to let them veg and keep to their own devices, I can actually do quite a bit of work up here in my office with them still at home. That still doesn’t mean they’re here at home full time. That would be crazy talk. As I type,they are in their third week of a town-run daycamp, the least expensive and most expansive form of away from home “care” I can manage. But we had whole weeks earlier in the summer when they were home for long days, and I found I could easily manage my work by saying things that are impossible with much younger kids. Things like, “go away, Mommy has to work. See you in two hours don’t do anything dangerous and don’t get in a fight and ater we can go to the beach/for fro-yo/to the library.” When I allow longer mornings of TV watching and computer-using, I’m channeling my friend, the blogger and mom of five Meagan Francis, who wrote this essay on Babble last year on why she let her then 13-year-old watch as much TV as he damn well pleased.
School is going to be harder this year, for all of us. Historically with my sons, the odd-numbered school years have been the least-smooth, and we are heading into a 5th and 7th year. For my seventh grader, it’s a new school to boot. He went to a new school last year, too (our district has a sixth-grade center, a genius idea in my opinion, segregating all the district’s 6th graders and letting them get their middle-school feet wet on their own), and he did well with it. Change is not always his best friend, though; he’s already pre-worrying about things like how far his locker will be from his classes and the like. And my little guy? Mr. Just Wants to Play? The “work” part of “schoolwork” started biting him in his adorable little butt by the end of fourth grade and he’s not going to be able to get by on looks alone, I fear. Which means more bringing-down of the parental hammer, watching homework, staying on top of tests, and all the fun stuff my parents didn’t have to do for me (in part because, you now I was a genius, ha; and in part because what I did in fifth grade is roughly equivalent to what my son did in third). So that makes this year more of a grind for me, with the addition of more stuff on the schedule, too (Boy Scouts, soccer, piano, religious ed classes). Speaking of that last, the religious ed: I have the option of “home schooling” for religion, but who am I kidding? I wouldn’t really do it, or if I did it would be half-assed and that feels hypocritical to me. I may not always be 100% on this whole Catholic thing, but we’re doing it so, in for a penny, in for a pound. This year, my seventh grader embarks on our church’s two-year program headed toward his confirmation in the fall of ninth grade. As he himself said, “we get serious this year and we’ve never been serious before.” Well said, son.
We actually had a decent amount of fun this summer. This is not always a given. (See above about how summer’s traditionally been a repeat of the rest of the year, plus humidity). I’m not saying it’s been a parade of, well, parades this summer. We’ve been to the beach so far a total of twice (three times if you count going to my sister’s local beach; I do live on an island, after all). We’re not chasing the ice cream truck and digging for worms or swinging in hammocks reading novels and sipping lemonade out of those tall glasses with the ideal amount of condensation on the outside. That summer doesn’t exist for anyone, I feel. But we have had fun. For example, in the week just after the Fourth, we headed up to a resort in NY’s Catskill Mountains for a few days with extended family. When I say “resort” I want to be very clear: This place — it’s called Riedlbauer’s — is the antithesis of luxury. It just happens to be in an ideal setting in the mountains, surrounded by woods and streams and waterfalls.
And when I say “extended family” I mean, for serious. My father’s family, this huge, chaotic, many-branched and mostly-Italian-American family, has been going to this resort — this German place serving hearty German meals and with endless German music emanating from a speaker hidden in the flowers, and hiking on the same trails, and playing the same games — for half a century.
There have been lapses in years we’ve gone, long ones. But we go often now (you can only go so often — but neither can you stay away too long), and this time we had upwards of 50 family members and assorted in-law branches filling the dining room and the pool and the hiking trails. There’s a large tree just outside the dining room there, with a long string hanging from a high branch. At the end of the string is a small metal ring. On the tree is screwed a metal hook. You take the ring, stretch out the string, and swing it toward the tree, hoping to get the ring onto the hook. It feels impossible. Until you do it over and over again and then you get it. I never got it; I have no patience. But my dad has done it countless times since he first came here at, I think, 14. (He is 77). His uncle Bob, who is 90, also got it, and does it every year. This year my 9-year-old invented a new tactic, tossing the ring from a sideways stance.
He got it.
So yes, we’ve had a good summer, heretical as this is for me to write.
And for once, I’ll be sorry to see it go.