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The Art of Getting Through it While Remembering to Be In It

va·ca·tion  [vey-key-shuhn, vuh-]

noun.  a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday: Schoolchildren are on vacation now.

I think the person who coined the term “summer vacation” must have been a fourth grader.  Surely the person who defined the 80 days between June and August as a “vacation” was not an adult raising children, because there is neither anything restful, nor are any of my normal responsibilities suspended over summer vacation.  Perhaps a more accurate term is “summer overtime,” considering that the hardest part of my job suddenly becomes 24/7 for what seems to me like an extended 80-day workweek.

Don’t get me wrong.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to be home with my kiddos when they get home from school and over their breaks.  I am lucky enough to have crafted the perfect part-time career as a freelance graphic designer, which affords me the luxury of working out of my home and mostly on my own schedule.  When the kids were little, this meant working during naps and after bedtime.  As they have gotten a little older, they’ve started school (although the naps have sadly disappeared).  This year, I had one child in school full-time, and the other one in a pre-K program that did three half-days and two full-days each week.  This translated to roughly 18-20 hours a week, during which my objective was to squeeze in an almost-full-time-job, volunteering in classrooms and on field trips, doctor appointments, exercise (when at all possible), laundry (occasionally) and the rare haircut.  I was able to do this with incredible finesse (if I do say so myself)… as long as no one ever got sick.

Perhaps I am alone in this notion, but for me, the paying job often seems a lot easier than the responsibilities and tasks associated with motherhood.  Motherhood offers few breaks and requires enduring stamina and patience.  It is at this time that I would like to introduce another vocabulary word:

week·endˈ  [wēkˌend/]

noun.  the period from Friday evening through Sunday evening, esp. regarded as a time for leisure: “she spent the weekend at the spa.”

I am also going to take issue with this definition.  During the school year, I do not consider the weekends to be a time for leisure.  They are generally filled with soccer games, dance recitals, and the traffic of my kids accompanied by neighborhood kids in and out of our house for pretty much the 48-hour duration.  In essence, weekends are a “mini-summer-vacation.” If weekends are by definition a time of leisure, I am going to say that MY weekends were actually Tuesdays and Thursdays over the last school year, as these were the days when no one was home but me.  Not that I was sitting around reading books, playing “Words With Friends” (although that is what my son thinks I do all day), and eating the proverbial bon bons.  No.  On the contrary, my Tuesdays and Thursdays were spent working for the most part – at my PAID job, which is (for me) the EASY one.  I find working on design projects in a quiet house, where the only sounds are my mouse clicks and the music of my choice piping through my ipod, far more relaxing than refereeing the World Cup soccer tournaments that occur with some frequency in my yard with several neighborhood boys, while the girls come and go in and out dripping all over the floor after playing with the hose, rummaging for things in the garage, looking for snacks, needing help setting up paints and other messy, fun projects, etc., etc.  Again – make no mistake – motherhood is the most rewarding job in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I just wouldn’t call it RELAXING.

And it’s not just because there are always lots of kids in and out of the house.  I mean, there are lots of kids in and out of the house most of the time – we are that house – but sometimes it’s just my two.  In which case, they want to play with me.  Which I love.  At least, most of the time.  At least, some of the time.  Surely I can’t be the only mom out there who feels like there are only so many games of Sorry!, Hide-n-seek and Candyland that a person can endure before her head explodes.

It is with these thoughts that I approach the last day of school and the beginning of summer vacation.  I am finding it all particularly daunting this year.  I do not feel the awaited anticipation of a long-needed vacation.  I feel anxiety over whether or not I can run a marathon for which I feel terribly unprepared.  I feel like I am approaching a workweek that is suddenly 80 days long.  And here’s another little monkey wrench – my 18-20 school hours of solitude have been whittled down to eight with a babysitter, with no decrease in the number of responsibilities that go along with the paid part of my job.  That will take some major efficiency on my part.  That’s summer-overtime, not summer vacation.

OK.  So, what’s the big deal?  Surely our family will work it all out – we always do.  Why should this year be any different than the last nine that I have had this parenting gig? I should be a pro by now.  And yet, this year I feel particularly troubled by the summer’s approach.  After a dark cloud had been looming over my head for a few weeks, I finally decided to ask my husband what he thought the problem might be.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Why do you think I am having such a hard time?

Husband: Well, that’s easy.  Because our little girl is going to kindergarten full-time in the fall.

Me: (Tears unexpectedly burning my eyes) Crap.  That didn’t even occur to me.

Husband: Why?  What did you think it was?

Me: I thought I was just terrified of the prospect of 80 days of summer vacation with very few “activities” planned for the kids.

Husband: Yeah.  That’s a little terrifying, too.

Me: Wow.  I am really obtuse sometimes.

Husband: No you’re not – I am just really insightful.

(This is true.  He is.*)

So there you have it.  Therein lies the difference between this year and years past.  I am consumed with the inner conflict of 80-WHOLE-DAYS VS. ONLY-80-DAYS.  I do not want to approach the summer with a strategy to just get through it – not when my days are literally numbered until my littlest one goes out into the big, scary world full-time.  I want to treasure the moments.  I want to laugh with my kids and see the magic of summer through their eyes, knowing how fleeting it is and how quickly it will have seemed to pass once September rolls around.  It’s just so hard to live in a blissful summer moment when you are constantly trying to keep the kids from fighting, and when you are combating repeated iterations of “I’m BORED!” on a daily basis.  So what is a girl to do?

Here are my “Daily Presents” recommendations for myself.  I am working on a strategy to get through my summer, while remembering to be in it.  It is a work in progress.  And if you have other suggestions, please feel free to comment.  I can use all the help I can get.

1.  Embrace the chaos. I am trying to just embrace the chaos both inside and out: the chaos that is our house and schedule over the summer, as well as the internal chaos I am experiencing with my mixed feelings of anxiety and melancholy.  It is what it is.  I am just going to experience it and try to appreciate it the best I can.

2. Breathe.  When craving solitude in the midst of chaos, I need to remember to breathe.  Breathe in “embracing the chaos” – breathe out “peace.”  Walk the dog and breathe.  Close my eyes and breathe.  Sit in the closet with the door closed and breathe.

3.  Ask for help, and accept it when offered.  I have this great husband who is magically capable of making my wishes come true so long as I just ask.  So I will try to do that when I need to without taking too much advantage of his flexible schedule.  I also have parents and friends close by who are more than willing to help when they can.  So I will try not to worry about how much TV they’re watching or video games they’re playing if I need a break and Grandma is willing.  What happens at Grandma’s, stays at Grandma’s.

4.  Enjoy. It’s summer.  We’re going to the beach for a week.  We have friends we will see that we don’t get to see as often as we like during the school year.  The sun is shining.  Birds are singing.  The work that needs to get done will still be there waiting for me once the transition into a new school year gives me new reasons to freak out.

That’s all I’ve got right now.  It’s a work in progress, but I’m trying.

Summer-overtime: Bring it on.

*I should point out that my insightful husband is also incredibly helpful, and his flexible schedule allows him to be very involved in the day-to-day raising of our kids.  However, as summer approaches I am indulging in a little hyperbole and self-pity.  It’s my blog, so I am allowed to do it.  It is my “daily present” to myself, just for today.