Cue the Alice Cooper anthem

This week marks the dawn of a new reality. It could either be the start of something so glorious it can’t be put into words or the beginning of a long journey through wet sand while carrying bricks on your back. It all depends on how much your kids like each other. Welcome to summer vacation. 

The past month has been a total shit show for us. We ate no less than four grocery store chickens over the course of three weeks. Other culinary highlights included pizza, noodles, scrambled eggs, oatmeal and even just Rice Krispies. Yes, for dinner. We were late for school almost every day and a pile of clean laundry lived unfolded on the floor of the hallway for two weeks, along with the vacuum cleaner that was transported there in a brief fit of optimism one Saturday morning.

The kids rarely got to sleep before nine and never slept until seven. I stayed up past midnight most nights and was awake before six. Everyone was tired, grumpy, and emotionally unstable. Or maybe that was just me. I felt like a hamster that lost its footing in an overly enthusiastic wheel, bouncing around ass over tea kettle as the damn thing kept merrily spinning, ignorant to my need for reprieve. Stop the world, I cried. I want to get off!

Through it all, there was a feeling of familiarity. Didn’t this happen last year? Oh yes, the school year is coming to a close and everything is wrapping up in a spectacular, flaming tail spin. I remember now. At which point present self says to past self, “Why the eff didn’t you warn me?” Past self gives a half-hearted shrug and goes back from whence she came.

Past self has a history of slogging through the same ordeals year after year without much consideration for future self’s sanity. Christmas is a good example. Halloween is another. Any of those times when I might benefit from being on top of the situation before the situation is on top of me. Somehow, it never occurs to me to put a warning in my calendar. Something to the effect of: Take heed. June draws nigh. Hell cometh forth. Bring in reinforcements and, for god’s sake, sign up for Chef’s Plate.

It all sounds very dramatic, yet here I am, having survived with only a few pounds of water retention and an extra knot or two in my shoulders. Better yet, it’s the start of a new week and I am not in a panic over what to pack in their lunches or whether her uniform is clean or whether I signed permission forms or whether there’s gas in the car.

(Again, this is an area where past self likes to screw with future self. I have, on more than one occasion, turned on the car in the morning to see the number of kilometres left in the gas tank only slightly outweigh the distance between our house and the school. And let me tell you, that gauge is a liar. An optimistic, bold-faced liar.)

We have all been waiting impatiently for this day. Finally, she will be able to get up in the morning and start an art project without me breathing fire down her neck about eating breakfast and getting socks (what is it with socks). Finally, he will be able to start a puzzle without me telling him to get his shoes on so we can get his sister to school on time, for once in our bloody lives. Finally, they will be able to play together for more than twenty minutes a day without someone yelling, “Go to bed!” or “Come for dinner!” or “Get your socks!”

People think summer vacation is all about giving the kids a break. No way, man. I couldn’t wait for this day to come. Not only am I off packed-lunch duty, I also no longer have to be in the car for more than an hour and a half every day AND I don’t have to be the jerk who keeps telling my kids to drop whatever enjoyable thing they’re doing so they, too, can get in the car.

I have so much I want to do with them. Hikes, bike rides, adventures, experiments, spend oodles of time in nature. I want to give them as many opportunities to throw rocks in water as is humanly possible in 73 days. This week, though, we will stick close to home. We will go to the community pool. We will chase an ice cream truck. We will play with neighbourhood kids. We will take a moment to come back to earth and fall in love with that wonderfully simple life called summer.

So, Monday, we meet again

The jeans of the crime

I don’t know about all of you, but we started the week off on a spectacularly shitty note. I could tell from the moment I woke up that it was going to be rough. My hindsight brain is saying, “if you knew that going in, why didn’t you do something to change course? Duh."

Hindsight brain is such a turd. He’s always like, “I would have handle that so much better.” It’s in the same category of people who offer helpful advice for how to best handle challenging situations next time, as if you hadn’t already learned that going to Ikea on a weekend with a three-year-old was a bad call. Has no one read Men Are From Mars? Women don’t want advice. They want empathy.

So, yes, hindsight brain, I realize I could have altered course. But I didn’t. And that’s what brings us to where we are now.

Here’s my mandatory list of excuses: We were running late. When we’re under the gun, younger people seem to somehow move slower than usual, like time is speeding up and they’re stuck in molasses. Then my stress about getting younger people moving seeps out into the world and makes everyone cranky. There was even a clothing crisis… from a child who wears a uniform.

I believe that’s what therapists call miscuing. People think kids are straightforward and easy to read. Hell no. It’s never about what you think it’s about. Maybe it started off being about uncomfortable jeans, but it morphed into something much harder to manage: reality. Specifically, the realization that another week of school was about to begin. More specifically, the realization that she was going to miss me.

By the time I figured this out, the morning had already gone to hell. I saw our metaphorical train leaving the station and I did nothing to stop it. I could have waved frantically at the conductor or pulled the emergency brake or even let the train leave so we could wait for its non-crazy cousin to pull in. But, no, I let it keep chugging away.

“This is the worst morning ever of my whole life,” she screamed as I tightened her brother’s car seat, crushing his nuts in the process.

“Yes," I commiserated, "it probably is.” Meanwhile, my upstairs brain is knocking on the door of my downstairs brain, cautiously whispering, “This would be a good time to be stronger, wiser, kinder. You know…  be the adult.”

I close the car door, do a silent fist-shaking swear dance, take a deep breath and accept that we are going to be late. I go around to her side of the car. I help her with her seat belt. I look her in the eyes and tell her how much of a joy she is in my life. I tell her she is a good person. I pray that some of my words will stick to her Tephlon heart.

Things seem to settle down until I turn on the car, see the time and immediately turn back into cranky, late, asshole mom. Then I realize I’m being cranky, late, asshole mom and that this does nothing to help set them off on the right foot. I apologize for my behaviour, but not my feelings. I’m trying to show them it’s okay to make mistakes, that people will still love you if you lose your cool.

I’m sure there are practical lessons to be learned here. Set out clothes the night before. Get them up earlier. Get them to bed earlier. Be more organized. Move closer to the school. Perhaps the most valuable is this: Mondays are already tough. Skinny jeans will only make them worse.

Wake me up when September ends

IMG_3325 Kindergarten is the modern world’s dunk tank into cold, hard reality. One day, you’re sleeping til you’re done, eating a lazy breakfast, and getting dressed when the mood strikes. The next day you’re ripping yourself out of bed, being blinded by the rise of curtains and shovelling down food in an attempt to provide sustenance before the bell rings.

I’m sure it’s been tough for E, too.

After three hard weeks I’ve come to a startling conclusion: September kind of sucks. I had notions of sliding into a gloriously well-oiled routine after a summer of lackadaisical free-for-alls. Clothes would be chosen the night before. Bedtime would be easier (since she’d be tired from all that learnin’). Then we’d have a happy skip to school before she faced another exciting day of mind expansion.

That fantasy played out for the first few days. Then sometime in the middle of week two, E woke up and asked me how much longer she’d have to go to school. At first I thought the truth would be a hard blow but then I remembered she has no concept of time. I also realized that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t be the answer she wanted, which was likely something along the lines of, “just a few more days, babe.”

In the last few weeks she’s gone from excited to tired to annoyed. Now we’re at just plain pissy. And I’m here thinking, good gravy this is going to be a long thirteen years. Luckily, I know people who’ve been around the schoolyard a few times. I’m told everyone’s shit hits the fan near the end of September. The kids have caught on that this school business is an actual thing and it isn’t going away. Apparently, they lose their will to fight after Thanksgiving (the Canadian one).

(I’m sure there are exceptions. We all know those people whose social media feeds have us believing they’ve found the key to the perfect family life. No one yells, their kids do the dishes and everyone plays Jenga together on Friday nights.)

It also doesn’t help that E is convinced I’m the one who made school start at eight in the morning. What kind of crazy fool does she take me for? In a fit of irrationality, I tried to introduce reason to our conversation.

“How could I possibly be responsible for forcing hundreds of kids to be at school that early? More importantly, why would I ever do that??” I suppose I should be flattered by the reach she assumes of my power, although also concerned that she thinks I’m capable of such lunacy.

When her anger first started to rise, I wondered whether something bothersome was going on at school. Unfortunately getting pertinent information out of a five-year-old is like trying to get shoes on a two-year-old. Both are incredible frustrating activities that usually result in footwear being thrown across the room.

Then I found this list of great questions. I tried ones like, “did anyone do anything nice for you” and “who made you smile” but another thing about five-year-olds is that they have no concept of gratitude. I was asking these idyllic questions of the same child who, a week prior, cried over the future absence of ice cream while she was still eating the ice cream.

Last night, I took a different approach:

Who did you sit beside? Noah. If someone in your class could be the teacher, who would you want it to be? Me! What’s the hardest rule to follow? NO TALKING!!

Little by little, I’m shedding light on the mysteries that unfold behind those closed doors. In this respect, I’m happy Alberta has bucked the trend of subsidized daycare and kept kindergarten at a half-day. It gives us a bit more time to prepare for that day when they go off on their own, forget that we exist, and only call when they need money or advice about how to do laundry.

Day One

Myers First Day 2

In the days leading up to this moment, all I could think about was how the hell I would ever get the Queen of Stall Tactics to school on time. I've been ruminating on that point since about May, back when we learned school would start at the ungodly hour of eight o'clock in the morning. I imagine it was my brain's way of creating a diversion from the actual task at hand: letting go.

Friends had told me how they melted into puddles of tears the first day their little one marched off to school. I couldn't imagine why. It's not like we're shipping them off to boarding school. It's kindergarten. It's less than three hours long. You can't even do Costco in that time.

Then it was my turn. Luke stayed home late that morning to help get everyone out the door on time. As I mentioned, I was worried I would be dragging a half-dressed, underfed fit of defiance to the school yard to greet the new teacher. On this day, she was standing by the side of the bed, fully dressed and raring to go before I had both eyes open. Excitement, fear, nerves, whatever we were working with, it certainly made my life easier.

It all seemed rather idyllic. We walked hand in hand in hand, the three of us, towards the schoolyard we know so well. She has spent many an afternoon exploring its playground or running through the field. It's where she learned to ride a bike and where she flew a kite for the first time. Despite my agonizing over school options, I think we always knew she'd some day join them on the inside.

The teachers stood outside in front of the swarm of nerves. Parents and children alike staring silently as they waited for a name to be called. Some ran to stand in line without looking back. Some ran the other way. All of them with their massive, snack-filled backpacks smacking the backs of their knees.

E had a few last minute tears, then walked up the steps and disappeared. All of a sudden, it was just the parents, standing there watching the doors close behind kids that two minutes ago were taking their first steps, saying their first words or eating a grape for the first time without it needing to be cut into a million pieces.

How the hell did that happen so fast? Why the hell did I want it to? Now it's all coming crashing down around me, all this time that I can't get back, and I finally empathize with the ugly cry set. We're not sad that they're growing up (we all talk about how wonderful it will be when they can get their own lunch or walk to a friend's house without a secret service detail), we're sad that they're doing it at the speed of light.

We're sad that with each new milestone, the previous ones seem to fade in our memories. We long for the feeling of their baby soft skin sleeping against our chest, for the fuzz of their hair tickling our nose, for the squeak of their voice as they learn how it works. We long for them to be small and vulnerable and close just a little while longer. Then they let go of our hand and walk away.