Someone has got to go to school. I don’t care who it is, but someone HAS GOT TO GO. I cannot take any more summer vacation. For several weeks, I have been stumbling along, thinking that I’d like to finish strong even as the amount of television I allow each day keeps creeping upward. You want to watch another show? Well, I would love another half hour of peace. It’s a deal. I kept seeing First Day of School Pictures in my news feeds like shimmering oases in the desert—Finally! I’ve made it! School is starting! Then I shake my head and the mirage clears. School is someone’s reality, but not mine.

To be clear, our neighborhood school has started. Monday was the first day, but not for kindergarteners. They don’t start until after Labor Day, and even then they split the classes in half and the kids go every other day for two weeks. It’s going to be nearly October before Charlotte is a full-time kindergartener. I’m not sure how the kindergarten teachers worked this deal—I can only assume they have incriminating photographs of several school board members. Or maybe if there’s a better-than-even chance that someone in your class is going to wet their pants during the year, you deserve a few more days to steel yourself for the onslaught. Either way, all I know is that school is in session but Charlotte remains at home, all day, every day.

Riley went to the first two days of school. Then she woke up with a tiny fever and a bunch of slightly-itchy red bumps. Oh, and she was developing an antibiotic-worthy bacterial infection from a puncture wound she got after tripping and stabbing herself on a bracelet studded with earrings. Wow, Mom, you were right that having sharp pieces of metal on the inside of a bracelet was probably a bad idea. At least that’s what I imagined her saying. Instead, when Nick returned from urgent care, I heard, “I might have chicken pox! I get to stay home from school until they know for sure!” What? Why did I bother vaccinating you? Now you’re full of energy, you’re not going anywhere, AND you might have a highly-contagious disease? Nick clarified that the staff didn’t really quite think the rash was chicken pox, but they couldn’t rule it out without the test and the responsible thing to do would be to keep her out of school, just in case.

Sometimes there is a huge downside to being married to the medical profession. Nick spends each winter delivering periodic impromptu lectures on germ theory and how, if my friends and I would stop getting together during the window of contagion, maybe our family wouldn’t hopscotch from cold to stomach flu for several months on end. So when faced with a pox-like rash, I can’t just look the other way and pretend I don’t understand the implications of sending a probably-fine-but-maybe-Typhoid-Mary through the elementary school doors just so I can have some peace and sanity. However, to be completely fair, without Doctor Dad I would not have noticed the spreading, puffy red area around the puncture wound, or I would have ignored Riley’s complaints of soreness, and she’d probably be admitted to the hospital with IV antibiotics right now. So things could be worse.

I was just ready, really ready, for the opportunity to miss my children a little. We had a fun summer, actually a pretty idyllic summer from a seven-year-old’s point of view. But by late August, the children were getting sick of playing with each other every day and no longer responsive to my parenting tactics or self-entertainment suggestions. To cap it off, our air quality had verged on dangerous for the last two weeks of vacation due to smoke settling in our valley from the massive wildfires in the northwest and Canada. Guess what? We know your kids are bickering nonstop and it’s super hot and you don’t have air conditioning, but it’s not a good idea to breathe the air outside. So children really need to play inside and you can’t open the windows unless you want your house to smell like the inside of a grill. I’m not even trying to suggest that my chaos and discomfort is the focal point of these devastating fires that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres, dozens of homes, and most terribly the lives of three firefighters, but in our small world, they were the last straw on the camel.

It’s Thursday, September 3, no one went to school today, and I just can’t even. I can’t even begin to care that Charlotte is heartbroken because Riley told her that she can’t have ice powers because Riley already claimed ice powers so Charlotte is stuck with flower power. (Or whatever. I can’t even pretend to care about the differences between the fairy powers, princess powers or pony powers anymore.) I can’t even go to the grocery one more time when I have to assume a defensive blocking stance with my hip while paying so that no one sends the grocery cart—containing a two-year-old—shooting through the register line into the DVD display. I can’t even deal with the surprise that when I said, “Please get in the car” I actually meant, “Please get in the car” instead of, “Please run down the sidewalk and see if the neighbors are home, I’m sure the swim instructor and the six other kids will hold class for you.” I can’t even deal with the meltdowns over misplaced flip-flops, still-wet swimsuits, the injustice of wearing sunscreen (sorry kiddos, if your natural pigment were a paint color, it would be called Office Paper), your sister stealing your imaginary fairy’s name for her imaginary fairy, and every other relentless bicker and irritation that was a whole lot easier to manage in June.

As tired as they are of me, I am feeling the same way about many of their quirks. Behaviors that make strangers smile in the grocery store (Oh look at her loud, tuneless whistling! How adorable! I sure miss the days my kids would whistle in my face while I was trying to pick some bananas) make me want to run over their toes with the cart. When they magically transform into shrill, barking puppies at bedtime, I am ready to buy a couple actual kennels to put them in. God bless the patience and perspective that the mothers of homeschoolers are able to maintain. Right now, “I just want to keep them close as long as I can” sounds like a prison sentence, not a parenting philosophy. I am at the point that I can no longer see the forest of childhood through the trees of pointless arguments. This has been a summer of extended togetherness and I’m ready for a little absence for my heart to grow fonder again. Seven hours a day, five days a week ought to do it.

Summer lemonade stand

Super-homemade lemonade stand, one of the highlights of the summer. “Lemonade treets”—I really do love these girls.

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