Back to school. I hate it. I hate the end of summer. I hate the start of school. Am I the only one who hates it? I don't want school to start! My husband doesn't believe me. Or rather, he believes that's what I believe, but he thinks I don't know what I really want. "Trust me. School starting is a good thing."
But, ugh! The return of homework, the packing of lunches, the homework, the forgotten gym uniforms, the permission slips, the two dollars in envelopes for this and that, the homework. Have I told you how much I dislike the homework?
It sounds like I'm the one returning to school this week, doesn't it? It feels like it, too.
My husband insists that the start of school is a good thing. He says it quietly, holding my hands and making direct eye contact, while smiling and nodding at me; like how we used to talk to our children when they were toddlers and we were explaining how immunization shots at the doctor's office are actually good for you!
Every year at this time, I start having fantasies about taking my children and running away to a hippie coastal town, where I could homeschool them and we could live a simpler life. My husband laughs when I say that. Not like I just told a good joke, but in a "yeah, right" sort of way. "Trust me!" He says, "They need to go back to school, and you need them to go back to school. You just don't know how much you need it."
I've had little kids at home with me for 13 years. This is just the reality I'm used to; is he telling me there can be another way to live? My youngest is still in preschool, having missed the cutoff for kindergarten by a few weeks. (My sincere apologies to local parents of her future kindergarten classmates: She will probably eat your children. God help them if they are your firstborn or even worse -- an only child. This youngest of four is so freaking ready for the world, just not according to the arbitrary school calendar cut-off date.)
Instead, she will be at preschool, two full days this year. TWO FULL DAYS! I plan on napping, reading, napping, reading and napping one last time before pickups for at least that first week. Leave me alone, world; I have a lot of catching up to do.
At no other time of the year do I feel so utterly conflicted as I do at the start of the school year. Stay! No, go! Wait, stay! Oh, my Lord, if I have to referee one more sibling conflict I WILL SCREAM! Hey everyone, let's lie down and read a book together! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, WILL YOU FLUSH THE FREAKING TOILET? Let's all go for a walk and bring the dog! OH MY GOSH, CAN'T I JUST HAVE A MOMENT OF PEACE AND QUIET?
Even the conversational snippets of summer heard in our home are conflicted:
"Let's go to the beach!"
"I'm sure your bathing suit is where you left it after the pool, hung over the tub."
"No, you can't play Xbox."
"Get outta there, squirrel! Go get the squirrels, Blue!"
"Whose turn is it to walk the dog?"
"Go walk the dog, please."
"No, we can't get another puppy."
"GO WALK THE DOG!"
"Who didn't flush the toilet in here?"
"Not me!" "Not me!" "Not me." "Not me!"
13 year-old about his almost 5-year-old sister: "I can't live like this!" Dramatic slam of his bedroom door.
"For goodness sake, who didn't flush the toilet?!"
"Go practice your cello."
"Because she already practiced her violin, that's why."
"Hey! Get outta there, squirrels! GET OUTTA THERE!"
"Clean your room, then you can do that."
"No. No. I SAID NO!"
"Sure you can, if you bring your brother with you."
"But I don't want to wear underwear!"
"I promise I'll clean up afterwards, pleeeeease can we make cupcakes?"
"Please go upstairs and put on some underwear."
"Who was just in here? Why didn't you flush the toilet?"
"No, you can't play Xbox."
"Doesn't anyone in this family wear underwear?"
"Wear a helmet! I don't care who makes fun of you!"
"Get outta my bird feeders, squirrel!"
"Why is there underwear in the minivan?"
"FLUSH THE DAMN TOILET!"
Sometimes, I'll whisper to my husband, late at night, when it's quiet, "Do you think this is how it is in other people's homes?" He says yes. He says this is how it is for everyone with a bunch of little kids. I don't know. What if everyone else's kids always flush the toilets, never argue, don't whine for screen time and never need refereeing? My husband never worries about that. He's too busy yelling at the squirrels that are eating the birdseed in the backyard and trying to solve the Case of the Toilet Bandit. (Sometimes, I like to imagine what would happen if a squirrel snuck into our home, used the toilet and didn't flush afterwards. I think my husband would just start lighting stuff on fire.)
But I like those weird snippets of summer conversations. They may be annoying, repetitive and strangely focused, but they are what we know of summer. I love how we are in charge of our family life and schedule, not at the mercy of studying for tests, time-sucking projects and school schedules. And the sports and music schedules and demands -- oh, my gosh. We get to take a break from all of that in the summer and just be.
But maybe I have the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome in the world: That's what I think my husband is referring to when he talks to me in that careful, big-eyed way. "Prison cell? Nah, this is a cozy little nook with my very own bed that I get to lie in all day, complete with my very own toilet that is always flushed!"
I guess I just hate handing over the reigns of my kids to someone or something else. But at the same time, I am also out of ideas of how to entertain all of us and how to keep one step ahead of FEMA declaring my home a disaster site; my standards for cleanliness are now so low as to be barely distinguishable anymore.
I love summer, but I'm so, so tired. I want to homeschool but also, NO. I want to runaway to my hippie town and spend the day combing the seashore for shells as a homework project! But also, I tell my kids that if they talked to a classmate the way they just did to their sibling, they'd be in the Principal's office immediately and maybe then they'll learn.
So what do I want?
I want summer! Never-ending!
But also, alone time to take a nap!
And someone other than me to teach my kids math!
And also, long, lazy days with nothing in them!
But for no one to ask me, "what are we doing today?"
And for them to hang out with me all day, right by my side.
But for goodness sake, to give me some breathing room!
And to seriously, flush the freaking toilet.