Monday, August 26, 2013

Random Musings on the First Day of School

It gets easier.  Or does it?

I can remember rushing through the grocery store, flinging items into the cart, a crying infant in the carrier.  “It gets easier,” a nearby woman smiled sagely.  The announcement that my son had learned to crawl elicited lots of “Oh, you’re in for it now!” from family members, implying that difficulties lay ahead.

When my last child entered kindergarten, neighborhood moms all said, “Think of all the free time you’ll have!”  And when my oldest started driving, other parents sighed deeply and muttered sympathetic platitudes.

There is a certain kind of craziness parents experience during the first and last few weeks of school – especially elementary school.  I lived through it.  But now, as my two high-schoolers drive away on their own, I sit here with the smugness of one who has survived the gauntlet of elementary school competitions activities such as storybook character dress-up day, create a family cookbook with hand-illustrated treasured family recipes project, wear a chartreuse t-shirt day, and gourmet teacher appreciation month.

There is no more trying to find the time to read aloud to my children for 20 minutes every night and logging it on a tattered chart.  No more flash cards, weekly spelling lists or math facts to memorize.  I can’t even help my kids with their homework anymore, and even if I could, I probably shouldn’t.

There are no more family-friendly festivals on campus, guest-reader opportunities, working like a dog at the book fair, bring a grandparent to show-and-tell, sweating it out during field-day, or chaperoning a trip to a museum.

No more signing my children up for summer book club, acting class, soccer camp, cooking school and arranging the carpools with all of the other harried mommies who have kids going in 3 directions every day.

I don’t miss it.  At some point it all began to feel competitive and overblown.

I may have complained about the inordinate amount of driving, but I miss time in the car with my kids and their friends.  Sometimes they’d talk to me, and sometimes I’d just shut up and listen as they talk with their friends.  Listening to the various interpretations of the fifth-grade “puberty” movie was beyond hysterical, especially when the fourth grade doctor’s kid attempted to correct everyone’s misconceptions.  Teenagers don’t come home and tell you about the program they attended about abstinence education, they prefer you didn’t know it took place at all.

And I also complained about some of the schoolwork, and elementary school events, but at least I was there.  I’m grateful that I had the opportunity, and I also knew what they were doing.  When I ask my high-schooler what he is studying in History, his response is, “History!” If he’s feeling particularly garrulous, “Things that happened in the past!”

One thing I figured out early on with this parenting gig is that everything is a phase.  Things will change in an hour or six months.  I try to be positive and embrace the new and if I can’t, at least I know it will change eventually.

But no.  It doesn’t get easier.  I might not be ferreting out papier-mâché supplies at 9:30pm or dragging three 2nd graders through Target the night before “Twin Day” but I have other important jobs.  Nag.  Busy-body.  Worrier.

In pushing these young beings towards adult-hood, I’ve always had this very sad voice in the back of my head telling me that I must raise them to leave me.  That they must become self-sufficient, eventually.  This starts with baby steps (pick up your toys!) and will somehow get to being a productive member of society.  In theory.

Right now, we’re standing on the abyss, just a few short years from pushing them out of the nest.  So, instead of carpool logistics and flash cards, much of my parenting consists of laying in supplies for unplanned hoards of hungry teenagers and worrying about car wrecks, drugs and sex.  And nagging.

In the course of a typical evening, I nag my 16yr old about making his dentist appointment, returning a library book, packing fruit in his lunch, picking up his dirty socks, cleaning his bathroom, returning an expensive piece of computer equipment, wearing his retainer, making “good decisions,” being kind.  Most of which are responded to with grunts and eye rolls.

I sigh, and look around the untidy house and begin to wonder at the wisdom of all those mommy-blogs that say to worry less about housework and spend more time with your family.  I fantasize about not having to nag or produce 5,000 calories worth of nutritional meals every day.  I dream of preparing elegant little meals that are nearly vegetarian, and not have the constant mocking of Laundry Mountain.

Then, I have one of those rare evenings where the kids spend nearly two hours after dinner sitting at the table with me.  Talking.  To me!  And I remember how rare and precious this is, and what a gift is motherhood.  And I remember to live in the now.  Memories are better than fantasies and I am grateful to be making them with my children, and I don’t care how easy or hard it gets.