You know that “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Staples commercial, where the dad is giddy because the kids are going back to school and the kids look like they are incapable of feeling joy ever again?
Well it’s September, and I am that dad.
Yes, summer is fantastic: No collages to decorate, no dioramas to build, no last-minute “Mom I forgot to tell you” school events that I have to jam into my work schedule. There’s no stress over remembering lines for the classroom play or baking cupcakes for class parties. And best of all, no homework! Our evenings are wonderfully relaxed. Dinner’s running late? No problem. “Bedtime” has become a moving target anyway.
So why, exactly, would I be excited for school to start?
Because while relaxation is great for a while, routines are what soothe my soul–especially since my career involves working from home. When the kids don’t need an alarm clock in the morning, getting them to bed is more of a chore. Suddenly it’s 10 p.m., my 6- and 9-year-old kids are still eating ice cream and watching “Wipeout” and my husband and I have yet to have one uninterrupted conversation. And when the kids don’t have to wake up early neither do I, which has made it nearly impossible to find motivation for an early-morning workout.
Then there’s the guilt: The kids are off so shouldn’t I be on vacation too? They loved camp at first but later got bored with it. Why can’t I just stay home and take them to the beach like so many of their friends’ moms (many of them teachers) do? Why must we be cooped up in the house on a beautiful day just because mom has to work?
I explain to them: mom works because things cost money, and if I don’t work we can’t have nice things. Or a house. Or food. But when kids only have visions of bike rides racing in their heads, responsible explanations might as well be voiced in a foreign language.
The working-mom guilt hits me hard during the summer and reminds me of those early years, when I had to hand a hysterically crying child to Miss Jeanine or Miss Kelly, the day care providers I so diligently researched but whose love and care could never match mine. I think back to my own childhood, when summer was eight straight weeks of free play, my mom home to make us lunch and watch us as we ran around outside with our friends. There were no alarm clocks in the summer, no camp buses to meet and no declarations of, “Go play; mommy’s working.”
My constant stress over the “mom I wish I were” vs. “the mom I am” vs. “the me I want to be” sucks a lot of the joy out of summer. But then comes school. Education is the salve for working-mom guilt. When my kids pile into the car, backpacks affixed and lunch boxes in hand, my soul feels lighter. I’m allowed to love the work I do, to enjoy the pursuits that have nothing to do with them. The guilt over sharing work time with kid time is gone. School is now their responsibility and blessedly, work is mine. We have our roles, and I feel less torn in two.
So, last week I headed to the store and gleefully filled our cart with notebooks and pencils, folders and glue sticks. I measured their feet, which always grow exponentially during summer, and bought new sneakers and boots. We packed the backpacks. The phrase “past your bedtime” returned to our lexicon. With homework and after-school events, there will be less time for TV and Oreos. Order has been restored. The kids are back in school, and while it might be quite “bah humbug” of me, I can’t help it: I’m feeling quite wonderful.