Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your life?

Grads

The youth and I do not always get along well, it’s true. There are alot of things I just don’t understand about how they do their thang. Fake glasses with thick frames, when all I ever wanted to do with my glasses was get rid of them. All that eyeliner. High-waisted shorts. Man buns. Endless selfies under layers of filters. Texting each other when they’re in the same room. The strange popularity of obnoxious YouTubers. I will stop right there, as I don’t want to sound like a shirty old cuss. Now, if everybody will just get off my lawn and pull up their pants, I’ll get on with this rare post in support of young people.

It’s graduation season. All over the world, people are closing the book on one chapter of their life and moving on to another. Our darling Fiona is leaving the familiarity and security of her school of the past five years for highschool at Notre Dame. With the added fuss of end-of-the-year activities, including uniform fittings and a leaving ceremony (because apparently sixth grade grad is a thing), our June’s been ridiculously busy. She’s excited and nervous, all at once. Big changes are coming. Every spring, for several years now, my Facebook newsfeed contains at least one person sharing the following meme:

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It’s made me snicker every time, I admit. However, it’s not true. Being a kid is actually really hard.

Your personality is still forming – and so are those of your peers. This means that every day you make a conscious decision as to how to present yourself to the world, and that world consists mainly of people who are too immature to respect what you’re offering. Popularity occupies a disproportionate level of importance, and is based heavily on things that are beyond your control. Good hair. Clear skin. The right (i.e. trendy and expensive) clothes. Smooth moves. I’m pretty sure teenagers have not changed that much since my own teen years – which means smooth moves still elude many of them. You have strong opinions, but they are laughed at by many of your peers and dismissed by parents and teachers. What do you know? Talk to me again when you’ve been around the block a few times …. If you put out, you’re a slut – and guys like you while girls scorn you. If you abstain from sex, you’re a prude – and girls like you while guys don’t bother with you. If you’re queer, you face the heavy task of trusting people with that deeply personal piece of information – and they might not react well. Everyone probably assumes you’re straight. You’ve been alive less than 20 years, but people are asking you what you want to do with the next 30 or 40 years of your life. You are constantly being tested on what you know, even though alot of what you know is new – and there’s more of it every day. The results of these tests determine whether you can follow the career path you’ve told everyone you want to follow. You’re being evaluated by just one institution’s accepted metrics – yet you’re being told that you have to measure up or you’re going nowhere in life. You’re facing years of testing, development, uncertainty – and debt.

Not all of you are going to make it. Failure, bad choices, heartache, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, drugs, crime, and suicide stalk you like wolves. Your generation is the one that is most vulnerable to all of these things. If you’ve made it to graduation, fab for you – it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Here’s to your future!

 

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I’m not all “pass-the-mimosas” about back-to-school.

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The contents of my Facebook news feed over the past couple of days have consisted mainly of children heading for higher learning. Some of the pictures are a bit much – heavily posed, complete with props (sigh). Most of them, though, are simple: a grinning kid (or two or three) looking first-day-of-school cool, with shiny new gear strapped on his or her back. Fuzzy new haircuts, missing teeth, eyes bright with anticipation.

Accompanying many of these pictures is a line or two about how much the kid’s parents love back-to-school. There are pics of parents cheersing with champagne flutes as the bus drives out of sight, parents dancing through the halls of their home, parents sprawled on couches with a beer and a remote – and I get it. Back-to-school is, for many, a return to regularly scheduled programming. September means that you finally have a solid reason for telling them to take a bath, go to bed, wear clothes that match, brush their hair. I’ve written before about how good back-to-school is for our kids. And, if you are a stay-at-home parent, when the kids go to school, you get a break – one you’ve earned after a summer of being with your little monsters all day every day. I have Fridays off. In the summer, I spend that day with Fiona and Bridget, and it’s lovely. Lovely as it is, though, I also appreciate the Fridays when I am at home and they are not. I can do any shopping that needs doing (and, with four people who hold fast to the high-maintenance habits of eating, practising good hygiene and wearing clean clothes while living in a clean house – not to mention two people who keep growing – there’s plenty of shopping to do). I can whip the house into line before the weekend, which means I don’t have to waste the weekend doing stupid things like weeding, scrubbing and vacuuming. And I can eat lunch all by myself. This benefits nobody but me, of course, but it’s a nice novelty.

For the most part, though, I can’t join the yearly fall conga-line with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” soaring in the background. (That was fun, though, eh? Great song ….) For one thing, I’m not a stay-at-homer. So, for me, school doesn’t mean much of a break from my kids, and it adds fuss. The need for agenda perusal, early bedtimes, clean clothes, neat hair, nutritious snacks and meals to promote learning …. Daycare don’t care, school does. Alot. School supplies, indoor shoes with non-marking soles, a bajillion little snack-sized plastic containers (with rogue lids). Hauling your kids out of bed before dawn and barking at everyone while doing things at silent black-and-white movie speed – only to be late again. Homework. Sweet cousin-of-Jedidiah, what is it about homework that so often leaves the kids and me teetering on the brink of hysteria at the end of what’s already been a long day?

More than the fuss, though, back-to-school means change. On Fiona’s first day of school, when I saw her itty-bitty four-year-old face pressed against the bus window as it rumbled away, I cried because I would miss her. Her backpack was almost as big as she was:

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My days would be so different without her – but I still had two-year-old Bridget to deal with, and I grew to cherish my Mommy-and-Bridget time in the afternoons while big sister was at school. By the time Bridget’s first day of school rolled around, I was back in the office. Her daycare provider, one of the sweetest women I’ve ever had the privilege to know, sent me a picture of her all ready to go:

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And I cried again. Not because I would miss her. She and I were already apart that day, and many days. This time, I cried because I knew what I was losing – my baby. I knew that, although the child who stepped off the bus that afternoon would look the same, she would be different on the inside. New surroundings, new friends, a new role model. And I knew that she would keep changing. She would lose her babyish pronunciations. Manners and the influence of other children would turn her from a human tornado to a little lady. Her end-of-day stories would be filled with people I might never meet. For the first time in her life, I would have no control over a significant part of her world: the classroom. When I dropped her off at daycare that morning, I knew I’d be picking a different kid up at the end of the day. Still mine, but different.

You’d think I’d get used to it. Yet, every year on the first day of school, I get a little watery thinking about my girls. I know as I’m taking the requisite back-to-school picture that I will never see these kids again – they’re passing through this phase at the speed of light, and the coming year will change them utterly and irrevocably, starting with who’s at the front of the room and who’s sitting next to them. This is as it should be, and I’m cheering them on every step of the way. I can’t wait to see who they’re going to become. But I’m not ready to knock mimosas with other mothers about it …. I miss them already.

Back-to-school is not for everyone – but I’m trying to see the other side of the coin.

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Where, oh, where has summer gone? There’s less than two weeks left! Yes, I hear you, gotta-be-right windbags: summer doesn’t technically end until late September. You probably also like to remind people that black is not actually a colour, and that “I can’t get no satisfaction” really means that you can get at least some. Whatever. We all know summer’s over when the kids go back to school.

Most of the items on my summer bucket list have been crossed off. I’ve watched all the flowers come and go in our garden. Having lived in this house for a couple of years now, I know there are more to come, and I’ll be watching for them, too. I’ve enjoyed several sun-drenched happy hours on one of our plastic chairs with a book and the buzz of cicadas and crickets all around me. I’ve made three or four different kinds of popsicles, lemon cream, blueberry-cinnamon-Greek-yogurt, blue raspberry and peanut-butter-chocolate-pudding (new this year). We’ve had a few picnics – on a sunny, breezy day, packing a bag with sandwiches, pickles, cheese, fruit, cookies and juice (or, if you will, vodka), and heading for the park is lovely. We’ve had some barbeques, and dined al fresco both at home and at various restaurants. We’ve spent the odd lazy afternoon at the beach. I took Fiona and Bridget to Mont Cascades for a day. Fiona and I kept pace with each other as the daredevil half of the family. Bridget faced up to a few of her fears and enjoyed some of the tamer water slides – and surprised us by riding Mammoth River with us twice! We went to the Capital Fair, where we all enjoyed the ferris wheel and the Wacky Wurm (which, after a unanimous verdict by Facebook friends, was declared to be, in fact, a caterpillar). Ryan and Fiona had a go at the bumper cars, and Fiona challenged for my Queen of the Thrill Rides title with the Cannonball. I saw her Cannonball, raised her a Pharoah’s Fury, and won that particular hand. There was a musical instrument petting zoo, and a regular petting zoo, and both were great fun. Food trucks galore …. Ok, this post is starting to become an advertisement for the Capital Fair. What was I talking about again? Oh, yes: my summer bucket list. We went to an outdoor concert, Earth, Wind & Fire, and enjoyed some good music and a summer sunset. The girls enjoyed a few nights in their itty-bitty tent. It’s technically a two-man tent, but I think the two men would have to be very close …. In fact, they might have to know each other in the biblical sense to share this tent.

Of course, our summer hasn’t been entirely idyllic …. There were sunburns, mosquito bites and stings of the wasp and bee variety (one per child). There were days so disgustingly hot and humid that the make-up melted down my face as I was getting ready for work. These were usually followed by nights of tossing and turning, peeling the sheets off our sticky skin and gasping in the direction of the open window, craving even the lightest puff of fresh air. There were deluges, accompanied by the awesome power of thunder and lightning. There were skinned knees, and a nasty episode of motion sickness after twisting around on a tire swing way too fast and long (Bridget doesn’t get on those now). There is a dead chipmunk in our yard, foul and festooned with insects, which is taking its not-so-sweet time to return to the bosom of Mother Nature. And there is one thing left on the list: our big summer road trip! We’re leaving tomorrow, but we still don’t know where we’re going. Which is just how we like it. The day after we return, though, is the first day of fourth grade for Fiona and second grade for Boo.

I know many parents are giddily soft-shoeing down the back-to-school aisle of their nearest department store, daydreaming about the moment the be-backpacked backs of their offspring disappear down the street to the bus stop. I know a few parents who would have school go year-round if they could. I am not one of them. In fact, I might even be the opposite of those parents …. I’m really not feeling the rigid mornings, packing peanut-free lunches, tripping over backpacks stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys, spending whole evenings hunched over the kitchen table trying to work out what in the name of deep-fried butter the teacher wants from the kids (there’s that fair sneaking into the post again). I don’t want to wade through the drama of who-said-what and who-didn’t-sit-with-whom. And head lice! I. Can’t. Even. with the head lice ….

I don’t want to sink too deep in the Pit of Despair-and-Fundraiser-Hatred, though, so I’m going to try to come up with some positive things about sending my girls back to school.

There will be order in their days again. Structure is good for kids, and I honestly couldn’t be arsed to provide it during the lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer. Sometimes, that shows in their attitude and behaviour. Rules and schedules will return to two little people who really could use them. Their nutrition and general hygiene will improve, as schools like children to be fed properly for learning and bathed regularly. Ring-around-the-mouth is not a game we’ll be playing anymore for the next ten months. No whipping hair into a braid so no one can tell it’s been dragged through orange juice, ice cream and licked lollipops, then rolled in playground sand and slept on. No more scraggly fingernails with whole flowerbeds of dirt under them. No longer will the sniff test be used to determine whether something can be worn in public.

They will be using their brains for more than pondering how SpongeBob can die a dozen deaths and still be fine at the end of an episode. Yeah, we’ve taken them to the library a couple of times, and we answer their bazillion questions and toss in the occasional intelligent thought of our own – but homeschoolers we are not. We pay taxes so that somebody else will do the eju-ma-catin’. They will be able to see their friends without me having to see their friends (or their friends’ parents). A few of their friends are lovely, with lovely parents, and they’re no burden to have over or hang out with. Most of their friends, though, are other people’s kids – and, by definition, teetering somewhere between mildly annoying and simply atrocious. Usually, it takes awful parents to make awful kids – and, if you’re not sufficiently hard-hearted to ignore your child’s pleas to see their friends because they havn’t seen them all summer long, you might even end up hanging out with the entire rotten tribe. When school starts, though, they’ll see their friends every day, and it will require no effort or forbearance on my part.

I’m sure there are more good things about back-to-school, and I’ll rediscover them when September comes. In the meantime, though, I’ll treasure these last few days of summer. Starting with hitting the road tomorrow!