As the beginning of the new school year approaches, it has dawned on me as suddenly as a summer thunderstorm that I don’t just need to get my children back into their routine, but that I need to get them back into their lives.
You see, at the beginning of Kindergarten last September, I was on top of parenting. I knew that school was going to change things and I planned it ahead of time. We scaled back bedtime to 8 (from a previous 9pm because if the kids will sleep in, why not let them!?), we gave the 5-year old an alarm clock, taught him to read time, bought an organizer for the week’s school clothes, wrote a list of healthy lunch itemsfor the fridge, began small but important daily chores for him: fish-feeding, bed-making, hamper-filling, dish-clearing, toy-boxing. I knew I’d add a little to that list every year and I knew I’d have it planned a year ahead of time. So did he.
He had a small allowance he could use to purchase whatever crappy toy he wanted, or save up for whatever huge project he had in mind. He was beginning to understand the value of saving and not buying any gimmick toy.
I made *something* for dinner daily (though it had been scaled back from before children, it was always edible for grown-ups) and we ate dinner every night as a family. Each night I asked the kids how their day was, asked them to tell me one thing they learned, one thing they liked or didn’t like. And every night my husband and I discussed our days. The children sat and ate (albeit the one-year old at that time sat on my lap every night) and didn’t interrupt and didn’t get up and didn’t play with toys and didn’t use their fingers (much) and didn’t complain that it wasn’t pizza (often) and asked to be excused when they were done. They (even the one-year old!) cleared their plates and cups wordlessly when they were done.
They helped me to weed because they wanted to be with me while I did. They helped to rake because it was a fun thing to do. They helped make dishes for potlucks or create holiday treats or put up decorations because they wanted to help out. They planted the garden with me and vacuumed and swept because it was what we did.
And now it’s a new September and I’ve realized I don’t just need to get their sleep schedules back on track from a crazy summer, but that I need to get their entire lives back on track from a crazy year.
Approaching first grade, nearly every chore has fallen by the wayside, I’ve forgotten altogether about allowance, projects like gardening or painting or treat-making are practically non-existent, and when done the kids feel like it’s work, dinner is often inedible for anyone over the age of 7, the kids don’t sit still, they whine about the food, talk over each other, and forget to clear their cups.
The smack in the face is like coming home from a vacation (rehab?) and seeing the disaster of a house you left for yourself, that now also needs to be swept and dusted and vacuumed, has mold growing on the dishes left in the sink, fruit flies spinning over them, permanent wrinkles in the unfolded laundry and a nasty stench you can’t identify. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know where to start.
But I do know how it got here, and that is a start. I know that everything fell apart at once when the anvil hit me on the head last December, and I know that’s not unexpected. I forgive myself for feeling too overwhelmed to do the tasks around the house, and science experiments we’d always done, and educational hands-on projects for both kids I had planned months in advance. I forgive myself for putting on a dozen too many movies when I just couldn’t get my emotions under control enough to breathe. I forgive myself to being damn proud of my good kids when undertaking excessively long grocery shopping trips with a single mother who now has to be sure she’s not overspending her budget and rewarding them for it so many times that the occasional reward has become the expected end to any excursion out of the house.
I know things worsened when the pipes in the house burst in January and cooking was impossible, much
less sitting at the dinner table. I know that there was no way I could continue to have the kids pick up their toys when they were all soaked and the play room was pulled apart. I know there was no way I could tell the kids they couldn’t have extra cuddling when they were terrified that their lives would be forever changed and they’d have to choose between their mother and their father and their emotions were boiling as much as my own. I know that giving in to the request for candy or a treat or a toy because I couldn’t handle any more pain in my life was acceptable (if not good parenting.)
I know it’s hard to teach the kids not to interrupt when there is never grown-up conversation around them. I know it’s hard to tell the kids they won’t be able to do an activity because of their poor behavior when it’s me that wants to have the experience of that activity with them, and when it’s me that who knows that tomorrow is always Dad’s. I know it’s hard to tell the kids’ they can’t have a toy or candy or dessert when I fear that my time with them will be dominated by a break-down. I know it’s hard to spend our time together cleaning when we have so little time to begin with. I know it’s hard to tell them I can’t cuddle every night when I desperately want to hold them in my arms because I’m so afraid I’m losing them.
And I know it’s time that it all stopped. The house is back together, the kids’ have somewhat adjusted to the idea that mom and dad are still mom and dad even apart; the emotions inside me because of it all only boil over once a week instead of once an hour.
It’s time to remember that I not only love my children, but that I love parenting. I feel good knowing they’ve learned a lesson. I love watching their faces as they learn something new. I love explaining to them
the intricacies of vacuuming and finances as well kicking a ball or racing a Hotwheels car. I love teaching them about cooking and setting the table and loading the dishwasher as well as building forts or riding scooters.
For me as much as them, it is time for life to go on.
This post was written by Penney Blakely. Contact Penney at firstname.lastname@example.org
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