Today is the first full day of the summer break from school. It is the first full day because really the summer break started yesterday except my kids had to be in school for two hours. A whole two hours. No sooner had I dropped my three Elementary kids off than my Middle Schooler was arriving home. Pointless. Anyway, today is the first proper day of the school break and I am every bit as excited about it as the kids.
Ten long weeks stretch ahead of us. As a natural born pessimistic-realist, I know that being together 24/7 will lead to squabbles and frustrations, annoyance and irritation. I know there will be yelling (by me) and I will experience rising stress levels trying to get chores done around the house with four kids under my feet and while said kids trail behind me scuzzing up everything I just tidied and cleaned. I know that by the end of week five, my four boys will be veering between being best buddies who love each other to pieces to having to suppress the urge to poke each other’s eyes out and rip each other’s limbs off. I will experience the untold joy of refereeing these special moments to ensure that everyone’s physical being remains intact. I don’t need the stress of hospital visits or the additional chore of cleaning up blood after all.
But, despite all of this, I am still excited because we will get such a massive chunk of quality time together and the freedom to do the things we want when we want to do them. No clock watching, no conflicting schedules, no deadlines. I will be back in control and I am a super control freak so that is a good thing. My rate of Parent Fails ought to taper off too because I will only be having to meet my own expectations.
I experience Parent Fail a lot these days. With four kids in two different schools, I have a lot of stuff to juggle. There’s a lot of homework to oversee, a great deal of demands, and inevitably I drop some of those many balls I am juggling. Sometimes the balls roll into a dark and dusty corner and get forgotten about altogether.
This is a new experience for me. Back home in Scotland I somehow managed to keep my head above water, stay organised and ensure everyone had what they needed at the right times. In part that was because all of my school aged kids were in one school. They also had much less homework to do and fewer demands were placed on parents as a result. I am all for more homework and homework that is more diverse but it definitely adds more stress to after school time and supplies me with ample opportunities to fail. It is, for instance, not unusual for me to write on Math homework that X kid could not complete that question because they asked me for help and I did not understand the question either. Between different vocabulary, a generation gap way of doing things and ambiguous phrasing, even Third Grade Math can make me feel functionally innumerate. Sixth Grade Math is an alien language.
Part of my issue is that I am still adjusting to solo parenting. Just to make it clear, I am not a single parent and would never compare my experience to that of a single parent. What I am adjusting to is solo parenting because I am having to handle most of the childcare on my own for the first time. One of the benefits of living in a small, rural community back in Scotland was that my husband’s regular commute was five minutes door to door. He was home in time to eat dinner with us, could use flexi time to nip out from work and attend a school event and was around to help with homework stuff. Now his commute is longer (though still not long – especially not compared to what it was when he worked in London) and he works much longer hours and he also does a lot more out-of-state travelling. I am, therefore, juggling all of the everyday balls solo. Balls get dropped. Parent Fails happen.
I used to be famous – maybe notorious – for my punctuality. Back in my teaching days, I was so neurotic about the possibility I might be late that I once turned up for a conference so early that I helped the hotel set up the conference room. About five years ago, I was so eager to be on time for a Child Protection training event that I arrived to find the venue locked up and in darkness. There was one time when my watch stopped and I consequently did not arrive at school in time to collect my children. The school staff and one of my friends reassured my sons that I would be there soon at the same time as assuming I must have been in some sort of mangling, incapacitating accident because I was never late for anything ever. My oldest son later confided that he thought I must be dead because I was never late ever. These days, however, “Apologies for being late” is a regular part of my phrase book. Every time I have to utter that phrase, I feel less like my old self.
Every packed lunch I have made since April has been identical: peanut butter and jam sandwich with a piece of fruit, a fig bar and a bottle of water. I ran out of motivation and ideas long before the PBJ rut kicked in but I dug deep until my cup of caring ran dry. Honestly, the kids have not complained, not once. That makes me wonder why I previously bothered to offer any variety. It is so much easier just to do the PBJ production line each morning. Still makes me feel like a Parent Fail, however. I have forgotten probably as many as 75% of special dress days at school. We arrive in the morning and I wonder why everyone is wearing crazy hats and then a vague memory clinks in the musty recesses of my brain that it’s Crazy Hat and Hair day and not one of my kids has anything other than their everyday head on. Parent Fail. Recently, I picked up an email reminder from my youngest’s teacher about the next morning’s egg drop. Reminder? I had not even the fuzziest recollection of anything involving eggs or dropping. No distant bells ringing. Nothing. Having picked up this email at bedtime, I had to pluck the smallest Pictling back out of bed and ask him to figure out how we could protect his egg and save it from cracking and splattering when dropped from the roof of the school. His idea involved military engineering and a whole collection of materials we did not possess at all. Want to know what we came up with? An odd sock from Mrs Pict’s Home for Orphan Socks stuffed to bursting with cotton wool with the raw egg encased in its centre. Do you think it survived the drop? Of course not. Parent Fail. My finest moment of this school year, however, was when I ran out of bread and improvised by making peanut butter and jam sandwiches with strawberry brioche. As much as my kids sang my praises and hoped this would be a regular thing, that was definitely a big Parent Fail.
Therefore, the prospect of a whole ten weeks when we can largely do our own thing without having to meet anyone else’s expectations, remember deadlines, fulfil anyone else’s projects, contribute to events, figure out the logistics of schedule clashes, is a joyful one. One of the things we are going to do is a little homeschool style learning project to keep everyone’s brains ticking over which means I get to impose structure on the kids. Nobody, however, is imposing structure on me. Control Freak Parent is back in charge. Boom! More crucially, when I inevitably stumble into Parent Fails, nobody outside the Pict family need know about them. Freedom to fail in private. Ssssh!
Having reflected on my most mediocre mothering moments, however, I shall conclude this (rambling) post with the successes of this school year: everyone secured really good grades, everyone had fun times, everyone is healthy and everyone is alive. Despite brioche sandwiches.