Back-to-school brings scissors, pencils, cliques, and other sharp things

It’s mid-August, finally, and many schools in our country are back in session. In my neck of the woods, however, we still have a month to go before that first bell. There are beaches to visit, day trips to take, ice cream to scoop, camp-outs to plan, and all kinds of lazy days spread before us like a month of red-checkered picnic blankets.

Still, it’s mid-August, and while that means the summer’s last hurrah for the next few weeks, for many parents, it also means thinking ahead to the upcoming school year. In my house, we have summer reading (and notes) to finish, as well as math homework (yes, you read that right, we have math worksheets). Amid all the catalogues and online ads and social media posts of faraway friends’ kids having first days of school — first weeks even — there has been this gnawing thought.

What will this year look like for my kids?

Honestly, I’m not concerned about academics. It’s not that my kids are so brilliant. It’s just that I can handle helping them with schoolwork. It’s neat. It’s predictable. Sure, it’s often a challenge at one time or another, but it’s manageable.

What I wonder is what the year will look like for them socially.

talking behind backUndoubtedly it’s my own baggage that makes me feel this way, year after year. I had some struggles in middle school, sixth and seventh grades in particular, when both years found me an outcast for some alleged insult to a friend. (Yes, both times a friend heard a rumor I’d said something that I didn’t say, and suddenly no one in the grade spoke to me for months.) I remember this keenly, and have always been on the lookout for my kids. Are they happy? Making friends? Being a good friend? Enjoying school? Enjoying after school?

It’s usually a case of “so far, so good.” I don’t care about popularity and I don’t care about numbers. I think it’s okay to not be friends with everybody, but I try to teach my kids to be kind to everyone, even if they don’t want to foster a friendship. What I do care about is that each of my children has one or two good connections, true connections, honest and mutual friendships, to count on.

This year, I’m not so sure what to expect. This year, I have my doubts, and also my fears, about what back-to-school will mean for one of my children in particular, because for the first time, in the last few months I have witnessed some genuine Mean Kid behavior. Straight out of a Disney Channel movie.

The first incident happened at the end of the school year. My kids and I were walking to a nearby soccer field for someone’s game. Our route took us through the neighborhood across the street, a neighborhood filled with families and kids, many of whom are friends on some level with my kids. We rounded a bend and I saw them, the three peers of my child, stopped a distance away, chatting. My nerves got edgy; these kids are only peers, not friends, though they friends were at one time. But not any more, as far as I could tell by the sudden lack of phone calls. The were No Longer Friends.

We walked on. The trio walked as well, but stopped every once in a while to chat, or look at a phone or a flower. They saw us; I saw them recognize us. Yet no one spoke, not them, not my kids. Finally we were near enough when I could use my Mom/Teacher voice to say, “Hey there, Name, Name and Name!”

No one answered. By now my blood was a little hot. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined any of these kids (I know their PARENTS!) ignoring an adult. But ignore me they did. We closer still, until we were a few steps behind, and we all finally had to turn onto the single-file path through the woods, a cut-through to the fields. One of my kids was on a bike, and wobbled slowly just behind the ahead-walkers, and still no one spoke. As the path widened, my bike-rider shot past them, as did my kid, the peer and former friend of these three, and still not one spoke. Not to that child or the siblings, and not to me. And I thought, “What the what?” and “So it begins.” whisper1

Fast-forward a few weeks, to summer vacation, the local pool. Neighbors, friends, peers swimming, enjoying the hot July sun. They were there again, peers of my child, though not all three, but some, with another in the mix. At one point I gave the kids money to get some overpriced treats from the snack bar. Kids’ peers were perched at a picnic table, slurping on Italian ice. My kid walks past them. One says hi to my kid, brightly, friendly. My kids says hi back, equal in tone. Once she’d passed entirely, with back to them, that peer turns to the group, says something, they all laugh, harshly, glancing at my kid before laughing some more. Again, I was caught off-guard, again I was shocked, embarrassingly so, because one new group member, I’d thought, was my child’s friend. I wondered when that had changed. And how.

Fast-forward to today. Same pool. This was not witnessed first hand, but told to me by one of my other kids. Above scenario, almost to the detail, except one or two of the Other Kids had been replaced by one or two more. Same hello. Same whisper. Same laugh. (Apparently, my child who shared the story spoke up, called the Other Kids out, and basically got a “whatever.” Same child hugged his sibling, and said the Other Kids were a bunch of jerks. I had to kiss them both.)

My child shrugs off these incidents when they are mentioned. My child is kind and forgiving. My child calls them still calls the Other Kids friends. My child is an optimist, always able to see the good side of any situation, of most people.

And even as my child shrugs, I see the ghost of confusion in the corners of the eyes. Even as my child is too proud to acknowledge the insult, I see the flash of hurt, quickly replaced by a smile. Even as my child would never say something bad about a peer, I see the slash, ever so slight, in the layers of the skin.

We talk, and we don’t talk. I speak in circles, mining for the heart of the matter, edging closer. I have to be careful; the ground is very unstable. Too much, and it will all cave in, closed off forever. This is how we progress. Talking, listening, subject changing, whispers in the dark of things that are too raw to say in the light of day.

School starts in a month. These peers, and others, will be omnipresent; it is a small town.

I wonder what September will bring for this child. Re-connecting with true old friends? Finding new friends? Real Friends? I don’t know.

But I will bring all that I have, including the sized-for-the-soul Band-Aids that, for the first time, I fear my child will need.

band aid heart

 

 

 

 

This was the Summer Dad Died, and it’s over.

Tomorrow school starts and no matter the official calendar, summer is over. It wasn’t the best summer for me, for my siblings, my mom, my family. Not by a long shot. Not in the vicinity of any kind of long shot.

But summer happened, and I have four kids, and despite the awfulness that will forever mark this summer,  I hope I gave the kids loads of happy memories during this summer they’ll always remember as the summer Pop Died. Forever they will remember Pop Died and This is Where I Was and What I Did. And all of that will be part of their process, part of their childhood, part of what defines them, in even a small way. As is should be, I’m told.

They loved their Pop so much. Oh, my god. They did. They haven’t yet begun to realize how much they love him and how much they’ll miss him. And holy cow, how will I be able to help them figure that out?

After it happened, I wanted so much to give them a regular summer, to be a mom who finished her work and did fun things instead of sludging from a puddle of grief to do something other than let the kids watch yet another marathon session of Psych episodes.

I think I did. At the best I got the kids out of the house for a few hours of swimming every day. We played some games. We went places. We hugged a lot. We all did our own thing sometimes. There might have been some random dancing. I only cried from time to time. Alright, a bit more than that.

My own memories of summer with growing up my family  have inspired me every day this painful season — if nothing else, I have remembered to smile and be grateful. Because that’s what summer means to me. Almost all of the best memories of my life are in the summer, and almost all of those memories involve my family.

The pain of losing Daddy is still raw. He loved every season for what each offered, but wow, how he loved summer (OMG, he was Olaf before Olaf was Olaf! But, not really, I guess.)

And he loved family. And since June 24 I’ve just spent time looking around and saying, dang. Daddy. This has been one fantastic summer. Not hot, not humid, an odd patch of weather for lower New England in the summer. Warm, brilliant sunshine, cool nights, perfect winds.

Then I realized — August has been exactly the kind of weather we enjoyed all of those summers in Mt. Lakes.  Which is a whole different post, I suppose. But, there it is.

Daddy, I’d like to say right now, school starts tomorrow. Mitzi is starting 7th grade and Cooper is entering 6th, both at the brand-new middle school Ray’s worked so hard at making a reality all these years. Ellie is already in love with her 4th grade class, and Joanna can’t wait to show off her ten-inches-shorter-hair PLUS her new cartwheels.

Me? I’m going to spend a couple of very early hours getting five people where they need to be. Then I’m going to take a shower, do some client work, revise some PBs (you’d like this one, I think, with all the puns and wacky sense of humor), and yes, I might take a nap, read a book, go for a run too. Well, maybe not a run, but perhaps a walk or maybe I’ll dust off my yoga mat. Or jut ride my bike around the block.

I’ll call Mom to check in, as it’s been a few days.

Daddy, how I wish you were here. I’d like to think that you’re “here” in the swirling netherworld of passed-on-ed-ness, and that’s good. Beautiful, even. I’m glad you’re at peace — I believe you are, because out of anyone I ever knew, peace is something you have earned, finally, and I have to believe that if peace is to be found, you’re right there.

But I miss you. I am not satisfied with the spiritual. I long for the tangible, not the ethereal. I wish you were here. Every day, for this whole perfectly beautiful summer, I have wished you were here. To see the kids’ backflips, the hands-free biking, to read the stories written, to listen to the newly crafted jokes. To witness the cousin love when we all get together, to watch the bonds forged, to see the miracle of ties knotted. To allow yourself to know, for real, that you had a very, very large part in the miracle unfolding before your eyes, that whatever else you think you didn’t do all that well, THIS happened.  To remind you to relish in the immense family you helped to build.

Aw, Daddy. I’m a writer. All of that is true. But mostly the whole point of all of this is — I wish you were here because I would sure like a hug. Or just to hold your hand for one more nanosecond. I wasn’t ready to let you go. I’m still not.

Daddy, I just miss you so much.

And holy cow, I bet you’d love to see those backflips at the pool.

 

Spring cleaning and a March Madness update

Obviously, A Mom’s World has a new look. I do this from time to time and hope it’s not unnerving to my readers. But I haven’t yet wanted to take the plunge into paying for a designer or a premium theme here, so until I do, I keep switching the look, hoping to find one I love. An illustrator friend of mine has generously offered to design a banner for me, but as she’s swamped with her actual, you know, paying work, I don’t know when it will happen. I am more happy to wait, though — her talent is more than worth it!

Here’s the March Madness update — Joanna and I were all set to have our day out last Friday, but a surprise snowstorm caused school to be first delayed, then cancelled altogether. She insisted on taking Monday off instead, so we did. Unfortunately, as it turns out, a lot of stuff for kids is closed on Mondays! We had a great breakfast out, but couldn’t get a lane at the bowling alley (a seniors’ league had overtaken the whole place) and the arcade wasn’t open at all. Neither of those bits of information were on the websites, which we checked on Sunday night. There’s little to do at the YMCA midday — I mean, kids aren’t really expected, right? — so we putzed around with errands and lunch and games and a stop to the dollar store, where I bought her a bunch of plastic stuff she would’ve won at the arcade anyway. She seemed content, especially when I promised I’d take her to the arcade when no one was looking.

The local bowling alley

The local bowling alley

Ellie asked for her day to be Wednesday. We also started off with breakfast out, and were lucky to get an alley for bowling. I refused to take her to the arcade, knowing how hurt her sister would be. Wednesday was an unusually beautiful day — sunny, mid-50s — and we played outside quite a bit. She said it was the best day ever! Cooper and Mitzi are already planning their days.  Hopefully, dollar store purchases will not be on the agenda.

So far, the experiment seems to be successful. I still find it amazing and a little embarrassing that I have to go to such extremes to find alone time with my kids. But that’s the reality right now, and I guess embracing it is better than ignoring it. Right?

You only get so many chances to make a child feel special, and you just have to make each one count.

March Madness, family style

One night not too long ago, as I kissed her good night, Joanna whispered in my ear: “I really miss being in kindergarten because I used to get to spend so much time with you.”

My heart sort of broke a little.

It’s true that with our town’s half-day kindergarten program, we did spend a lot of time together last year. We didn’t do anything special — lunch, stories, a game, and an hour of quiet time (she watched TV and I sat on the couch next to her, listening to Caillou or Max and Ruby with my eyes closed). It wasn’t exciting, but it was just us two, alone. And in a house with six people, alone time is pretty rare.

I gave Joanna another kiss and promised that soon, soon, we’d find some time.

I’m still looking.

Lately I’ve been feeling that everything is moving too fast. The days are filled and busy and fun and go-go-go, and we try to have family time in the form of playing board games or watching movies, but I can’t help but somehow feel like my kids’ childhoods are just slipping through my fingers like sand.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know them that well any more.

March MadnessSo I decided to put an end to it, starting this month. I’m calling it March Madness (well, of course), because my idea is really, truly mad.

This month, once a week, I’m keeping each of the kids home from school for the day, so I can spend that entire day just with that kid. I don’t know what we’ll do — get out into the world, go to the Y or to the park or the movies or out to lunch, to the craft store or the rec center or wherever that kid wants to go. I’ll take the day off from work and writing and Facebooking and Twittering, and even from the Blueboards, and start to get to know that kid all over again.

It’s sounds almost embarrassing to write it down, that I’d need to do this. But, I don’t know. Four kids, busy days, nonstop life. I find pockets here and there for each one (bed time, errand-running, any chance I get to make each of my children feel special and unique and well-loved and well-liked), but it doesn’t seem like enough, not right now. They’re not far from being teenagers, and then they’ll be even busier and more outwardly focused, and somehow it seems that if I don’t start now, later will be too late.

I plan to make March Madness a seasonal thing (October Mayhem? January Blizzard Buster?), so it’s not once a year that a child sees Mom for a day, alone, especially at this age when spending a day with Mom is actually a fun thing, not an annoyance. A day just for that child to stand out, be special, a day when a child can pretend he or she is the only kid on the planet, the most important kid in the universe.

I’m starting this week, and I’m starting with Joanna.

Let the madness begin!

Have you done anything like my March Madness with your family? How do you find “quality time” with your kids?