As expected, I misspoke last week. I do this often, especially after stating something that may have come across arrogant and/or self-righteous. It’s nothing new. But to clarify, while I didn’t dread summer last week–which I still celebrate as a noble feat given my track record–I’m starting to understand why I didn’t dread it. And like most long, drawn–out public scenes, I have a grocery store to thank.
I concede that it was a bad day for the weekly event. Both kids were in tow, hungrier than usual because we had no food in the house, and indignant because this was NOT how they wanted to spend their first official day of summer vacation. Plus they hated grocery shopping at Wegman’s which was further away than any grocery store should be, and larger, which made the experience that much longer. But since I’ve actually been a stay-at-home mom longer than a working woman at this point, I wasn’t worried. It was a challenge, sure. One that would require all of my resume-worthy experience as a parent to pull it off. But I was ready. They didn’t scare me.
First, I brought out the portable DVD player, usually reserved for trips over 1.5 hours. They each picked out a movie, grabbed a few toys, and off we went. We discussed something sweet that we’d share when back in the car, and the pool after the groceries were put away. It was great. And then I turned off the car in the parking lot, which consequently turned off the TV. This was when they forgot everything. They forgot that they just watched a movie in the middle of the day, all the years we put into learning manners, and the fact that I wasn’t their slave.
Just that morning, while standing next to another mom and her whiny child at Starbucks, I’d mentally celebrated the fact that we hadn’t yet experience the first “No Fair!” of summer. Clearly a reflection of my improvement as a parent. But in the honesty of the produce aisle I admitted to myself that I’d just ignored it during the weekend because it wasn’t “officially” summer break. And now, six hours into vacation, everything exploded into a public display of fireworks and unfairness. It was unfair of me not to allow them to hang over the same side of the empty cart. It was unfair that I was planning meals they suspected they wouldn’t like. The food I choose was unfair, as were the vegetables they were destined to go to bed early in order to avoid. Most unfair? They were smiling at each other and I wouldn’t “do anything about it.” Plus they were starving, bored, and couldn’t handle one more moment of standing.
I applied reminders with ease, and threats with skill, but they were unpenetrable. I started to panic. It was kind of like when you haven’t had a bad period in a long time and kind of forget what it feels like, and then all of a sudden you’re smacked down by the worst cramps in years. The kind that require self-medication, a heating pad, and hours of sleep you’re no longer privy to.
I tried not to look around because I knew how we appeared. The pale, corpse-like expression on my face. The alien beings on the back of the cart, morphing from sweet girls in VBS t-shirts and matching braids to synchronized banshees as they pushed each other to the floor. Because when little kids misbehave in the grocery store, it’s kind of accepted. Parents of small children are smiled at, silently commiserated with, and hoped the best for. Because there is plenty of time for them to work with their small shopping companions and mold them into decent human beings. But parents like me? Parents with older kids who are too big to sit in the cart, but too small to leave the heck at home? It’s too late for us. Obviously I’m reaping what I’ve sown. And since I generally kill all plants pointed in my direction, we might not even make it to the Swiss Cake Rolls.
So while it’s true that I didn’t dread summer last week, it wasn’t for the reasons I’d hoped. I hadn’t grown, matured, changed, none of that. I’d simply forgotten what it was like. I’d packed my plate so full with end-of-year activities that I just wanted them to end, not caring what that meant. Because from that distance summer seemed like a relief. So much so that I didn’t sign up for any camps. None.
And now, since it was too late to properly dread summer, I grabbed for the only logical thing I could. Fear that September was only a myth. What if it didn’t come? What if it was the first day of my own private Groundhog Day? Every morning, trudging off to Wegman’s with hungry kids and low blood sugar? Or even worse–what if I woke up one morning realizing that elementary school was just a dream and I was actually a home-schooling parent? And my resume-worthy skills? Tanked. All of them. Who would hire me now?
In hopes of breathing normally, I did my first Days Until School Starts count, which I estimated to be around 77, give or take what day Labor day fell on. And the extra week tacked on before preschool began. It would be okay. 77 was manageble. There was an end date. And the Lindt raspberry-filled chocolate bar that I no longer had to share due to behavioral technicalities? That was nice, too.
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