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It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love my son. Let's just be clear on that. But by the time mid-August rolls around, I've decided I love the beginning of the school year almost as much.
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(Admit it: you sang the title just now, didn't you.)

I love my son. Let's just be clear on that.

But by the time mid-August rolls around, I've decided I love the beginning of the school year almost as much.

Those office supply commercials capture the essence perfectly, don't you think? From the parent gaily coasting along the aisle on the back of a shopping cart, to the sad, pitiful children, standing by, watching as their Dad effectively loses his mind from pure relief that summer vacation is nearly over.

Isn't it great?

Our kids don't understand. They won't -- unless and until they become parents themselves. And it doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home parent or a parent working outside the home: by the time summer is well underway, you find yourself going through the calendar (many, many times) counting the number of days until the bell rings.

I love our family vacations when we're able to get away. But they're FAMILY vacations -- we ALL get to relax (more or less) then. The kid may be "on vacation" from school the rest of the time, but the adults here are back to work. Trying to keep another person busy and entertained is another whole job unto itself. Forget about getting anything else actually accomplished.

Even a teen -- old enough to dress and feed himself, but apparently not old enough to understand that 12 hours in front of a screen probably isn't the healthiest way to go -- surrenders to the idea that brains are on hiatus over the summer. I'm tired of taking away gadget privileges for spending every waking hour with them. When does self-policing kick in? Age 30?

No matter how many times I tell my son "It's good to be bored once in a while," he doesn't believe me. In this age of instant access to all sorts of information and entertainment, being bored is akin to the spinny circle of death on a computer screen (cue the screaming and agonizing and gnashing of teeth).

I've come to the conclusion that I look forward to the beginning of the new school year because then I have other adults (ie, teachers and coaches) on board with me keeping the kid's brain from turning to mush. We get back to a SCHEDULE where EVERYONE (even the teenager) knows what is expected and when (even if he claims the contrary).

But I think it's mostly this: even more important than my teen having a schedule is ME having a schedule: I know exactly how much time I have before the "I'm hungry/there's nothing in the house to eat/can I watch TV/where's my iPad charger/why do I have to take the garbage out/my room IS clean/I have too much homework" griping begins. I know exactly how much I can get done during the school hours, and I know how I need to structure my day and my work schedule to take advantage of the optimum quiet time BTA (Before Teen Arrives). Even when I worked outside the house in an office miles away, I was besieged by telephone calls and texts once 3:12 p.m. rolled around -- the moment he walked in the door from the bus stop.

Even when I leave lists of chores to be finished by dinner time, I still hear "I'm bored" once in a while. At those times, I'll "save" my work and put the computer to sleep, and sit down with my teen child. Sometimes that plaintive tone best suited for a 6-year-old comes through in the 16-year-old. I'm not sure, but I think that's more "Mom, I need you."

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but he seems happier when we've sat together and talked about his day, or avoided talking about his day all together. I can pick up on the cues enough to know when he wants to skip a certain subject. Sometimes I'll fix us a light snack as he sits at the kitchen counter, talking; me asking questions along the way, sometimes he asks the questions. It can be 10 minutes or half an hour. But somewhere along the line, these breaks have become very important to both of us. I can see his shoulders relax, he smiles more quickly, and becomes animated while telling me about what happened during chem lab or at the lunch table that day.

Sometimes, when the snack is finished and we've talked about everything we want to at that time, a "sigh" will escape. That's usually me. Z will look at me and smile, give me a hug, and go back upstairs or downstairs (depending on mood) to work on the "too much" homework. I'll go back to my computer and open the most recent project. We both work until it's time for dinner. At that point, we've settled back into our day and managed (usually) to accomplish something, and we feel good. The laughter comes easy, sharing the rest of our day is fun, and it's a pleasure for all of us to be back in the same room together.

There is actual research to support the idea that when people spend a portion of their day apart, coming back together is far more pleasurable. Maybe that's why summer break doesn't always feel like a vacation: maybe there's too much togetherness. No apart time. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing all day. There's not much to talk about then.

So come on, First Day of School! Hurry up and get here! I really, REALLY want to appreciate the absence of my teenager!