Last week, my Facebook feed began to overflow with adorable snapshots of smiling children sporting freshly combed hair, new clothes, and shiny lunchboxes. It’s still summer, but in many places the back-to-school rush has already started. And the photographic evidence fills me with envy.
My daughters, ages 12 and 14, and my son, 13, will be hanging around the house until after Labor Day, and I really, really need them to go back to school.
So that I can get some work done.
Before we all kill each other.
I used to relish summers with my children. The relaxed pace and reduced obligations let me perform better as a parent than I did during the school year. Without homework, soccer, or teacher emails to worry about, I had more free time and felt confident juggling things as a working mom.
But as my kids have grown, so have my ambitions. Like many moms, I started working more hours when they started middle school and had a longer academic day. But come summertime, those bonus hours evaporate. I’ve also shifted my focus to higher-profile assignments with hard-and-fast deadlines attached. I’ve started writing a book, though I’ve ignored the manuscript all summer. In short, my professional pressures have intensified but I still have limited hours in the day.
As kids get older, they take on their own obligations — ones that inevitably place demands on their parents. All three of my children have been playing competitive soccer since second grade, but as they entered their teens it evolved into a year-round proposition.
For example, in July our club demands both day and evening practices, making day camp impossible and requiring an adult to shuttle them around. And then there’s travel: We live in Seattle but this summer brought us to tournaments in Boise, San Diego, and Vancouver. The endless travel has made it tough to gain any writing momentum. My husband, a partner in an accounting firm, also needs tournament season to end so he can get some work done, too.
But the biggest summertime challenge I face these days — and the one that is hardest to swallow — is the fact that my children have changed.
Having three so close in age meant that when they were small they could easily entertain each other for hours. Today, as young teens, my three are exploring and forging their own identities. They want to hang out with kids who are not related to them, which is both developmentally normal and extremely inconvenient.
Their classmates and teammates are scattered all over the city. Social plans often involve a request that I drive them somewhere. I warn the kids not to interrupt me when I’m working, but adolescence is inherently a time of self-involvement, and they forget. Every need is an immediate one, and they refuse to stop advocating for themselves in any negotiation. We’ve all heard that when an office worker is interrupted by a colleague, it takes her more than 23 minutes to get back on task, but I’m convinced that interruptions from teenagers reverberate at least twice as long.
All that — plus the unpredictable hormonal surges of puberty — has turned my kids from best buddies to occasional combatants.
A few days ago, my daughters got into an argument that quickly escalated to foul name-calling. The fight flared with such volume and fury that I leapt from my desk only to discover that the war had started over where to position bowls of chips and salsa on the table. I did a quick mental calculation: As of that moment, school was still three weeks away.
On the rare occasion that my kids ignore me for a decent stretch, I start to worry. Silence means they are all glued to their screens — not reading books, doing their chores, getting enough fresh air and sunlight — and I’m failing as a mom. Those interruptions of maternal guilt are the most disruptive of all.
I really need my kids to go back to school. It’s a win-win for everyone: I will (finally) get some work done and they can spend all day with friends. Plus, I can start drafting a better work plan for next summer.
Sharon Van Epps is a writer, wife, and mother of three exuberant children. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Adoptive Families, Redbook, McSweeney’s, Motherlode, and other publications. You can follow Sharon on Twitter and Facebook, or visit her website, sharonvanepps.com.