The week before school started, I wrote a column about my desire to get back to school, but the column got lost in the chaos of my life and I didn’t submit it on schedule. This was kind of ironic as the eagerness behind my back-to-school countdown was more about desire to return to a schedule than the usual burnout from too much kid and family time. This summer was my first as a parent also employed full-time outside the home, and as such it was more of an “un-summer” for me. I wasn’t able to do many summer activities personally with my children this year or even organize much of a family vacation due to work schedule conflicts. Instead, I spent a lot of time behind the summer scenes, coordinating childcare and camps to attempt to provide my children with a “real summer” and planning a few little events and escapes for us whenever I could.
So, this year I didn’t really want summer to end per se, but I was desperate to get some structure back in our days. I was especially excited for the return of bedtime. I have probably written about the lack of sleep that comes with being a parent at least a dozen times in this space– through newborn and toddler stages, adjusting to daylight savings time, when children are sick, upon return from vacation, and so on. The lazy days of summer have always upset our schedules to some extent, but this year the ebb and flow was more dramatic as my children’s 6-year age difference announced itself in their sleep patterns. I used to complain that my early risers made the summer days seem longer, but this summer with one early riser and one newly crowned night owl, the days were never-ending.
At the beginning of the summer, like most families, we felt some relief letting go of schedules for a while. No morning race to get up and out the door with breakfasts, lunches, snacks and water bottles packed along with appropriate supplies (sneakers, smocks, dismissal notes) for the events du jour. Even when the children were in summer school or camps that required similar daily preparations, the later start time brought an easier flow to the mornings.
But then as we headed into August, camps ended and our schedules became even looser. Well, the kids’ schedules became looser. We adults still had to get up and out every morning, and sometimes I barely made it after the late nights with my kids. My night owl is still young enough that it seems strange to go to bed before him, but waiting for him to fall asleep is exhausting (hard for this former night owl to admit). Then, my youngest caught on to her brother’s after-hours existence and became even harder to wind down, even when she had been up since dawn. The frustration of it all often resulted in arguments and not-my-best-parenting moments which delayed the process even further and left me a restless jumble of emotions when my head finally hit my own pillow. Seems you can’t MAKE somebody fall asleep, not even yourself.
So, yeah, I was eager for a schedule.
And now I have it back.
In my unpublished column I had ended by estimating less than a month would pass before I’d again be complaining about the schedules that rule our lives. Well I made it 3 weeks. Now, the school year is in full gear, and I find myself waking each morning with a familiar jolt as I reenter the morning race again and again. “Man, I hate making lunches,” I think, followed by “What’s after school today?” I’m already regretting one sports signup and the fight that is repeated three days to get there.
Every August, I promise myself that the next summer, I will schedule more, be more productive, have more adventures. But then the school year takes over, the intensity of each week leaves us starved for free time, the always busy lead-up to any vacation will end with both kids and parents excited to shut off the alarm clocks, and the kids’ puppy-dog faces begging for a summer of play after nine months of work will wear me down. I will forget that the unstructured summer days will wear me down more. Or will they?
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.