Here it is, the beginning of September, and I feel like it’s the New Year.
As a mother of school-aged children (albeit one is in a preschool program), both attending full-day, full-week programs for the first time, the back to school season seems to me to mark a new beginning much more than the traditional change-up of January 1st.
Adjusting to so much sudden newness — new schools, new teachers, new schedules, new bedtime and wake-up routines, managing to get them fed and one to the bus on time – creates much more upheaval than the January 1st fervor of casting off the shadows of last year’s shortfalls while scrambling to boldly proclaim new health and personal resolutions, and remembering to change your date references to the new calendar year.
Perhaps September is the new January. I can see that working in our society with its love affair with rebranding. Please, someone make a meme to that effect, which we can all post and pin endlessly.
And it doesn’t help that summer is such a tease. Bidding you to come and sit awhile and imagine what life could be like if there weren’t any real world responsibilities, as if it were possible for adulthood to be as carefree as youth. As a parent, all summer long you know the return to reality is lurking out there, ready to stare you down come the end of August, but there are ample and tantalizing distractions to help you succumb to the siren song of summer. Beach days, hikes, picnics, family vacations, dips in a pool, spontaneous explorations, gardens, bugs, wildlife, fairs, ice cream runs, glow sticks galore, fireworks, more ice cream; not to mention the unavoidable diversions like longer days with a lingering sunlight that pushes bedtime well past the time your child’s little body actually needs sleep.
And then suddenly the calendar changes to the first day of school; and the momentum shifts, you’re in overdrive.
During my years of full-time lawyering, my performance goals and the firm’s were tied to the traditional calendar year. Each month’s performance marched you closer to the final accounting in December. There was no escaping the established January to December measure of time. But with children it’s so different.
The concept of time is still so ambiguous, so un-measurable, for children. It’s that limitlessness that contributes to their sense of wonderment and curiosity. After all, what isn’t possible when time is simply a continuum, not an ordered, impending beast full of deadlines and due dates and pickup times and late fees.
Of course, that limitless mentality backfires into a hot mess when trying to convince them they need to go to sleep NOW or they’ll be inconsolably tired the next day, or that we needed to leave the playground LIKE 15 MINUTES AGO or dinner will be late and baths will be late and this ultra-sensitive pressure-cooker called our “schedule” will explode into a million pieces.
I admit I’ve never been good at take it easy, go with the flow; although I’ve certainly expended effort to make it look otherwise. Historically, my only flow has been the one I create and try to control by squeezing it around the neck into submission. In fact, when I finally made the decision to leave my job in order to stay home with my family, I had this really hard core expectation of my new role – I was going to be the CEO of the home. It was my job to be in control of all the home/family needs. Um, embarrassing.
How stupid. Ridiculous, really. And even worse, it doesn’t work! It is fairly obvious, although it took me an incredibly long time to learn, that the need to control is mostly born out of fear and anxiety. Yep, take a minute to let that sink in, and then tell me how cool you feel being a control freak.
So, I guess if September is the new January, it’s only appropriate that I make a resolution or two.
I’ll go with trite. Trite but true. Be present more, breathe more. Instead of focusing on that clock, the ever-present schedule, the self-imposed sentence of my mental to-do list, just be mommy. Because, after all, that is my job.
I don’t need to have the cleanest house, my kids don’t need to read by age whatever, I don’t need to make everything for them, we don’t have to be perfect, breakfast for dinner is a real thing. And so on. But kids do have big needs – mostly and simply to feel loved and safe and encouraged. And every time I yell or, even worse, curse, because I feel we’ve fallen short of some arbitrary standard of measurement I’ve created, I degrade that safe environment and I invite anxiety into our home. We know these things, but we ignore them. We need reminding.
A reminder to myself: My job is to support my children, not to confine them with kooky expectations, or comparisons, or to-do lists. There’s no such thing as perfect. I can’t control everything. Who would want that job anyway?