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Corbyn Hightower Headshot

Beasts of the Northern Suburbs

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This is a tale of grim survival.

It's been a long, hot, messy, under-scheduled summer. I need to make it through one more week -- one more! -- and then all three of my kids will blessedly, finally be in school. For our youngest, it's the start of kindergarten, so this is a big deal for us. Several years ago, my husband and I realized that it would be fall of 2012 before they were out of the house, at least part-time. It seemed unthinkably far in the future, and you know what? It was. People said "the time will fly by," but it didn't. It crawled on sticky feet and grubby hands, pulling down walls of books and bins of toys in its wake. Like prisoners with Stockholm Syndrome, we've been concurrently loving and delighting in our captors at the same time we rock back and forth in our cells, making hash-marks on the wall to record time-served. And it's not over yet.

Because I work from home, we decided with staggeringly-foolish optimism that we would let the kids range freely during these endless summer days, freeing us of the financial strains of camp or classes. I had forgotten to factor in several things, though: number one, they are kids. Number two, we're outnumbered. Number three, there isn't enough wine to make up for the forces they're capable of unleashing. Oh and also, no matter how many times you step on a damp, bouncy "Orbeez," you will ALWAYS think it's an eyeball and shriek.

I knew things had taken a turn for the weird when I asked my 6-year-old son, Zeke, to clean a little for crying-out-loud, and he told me that he didn't want to pick things up because bending over might cause him to go into an involuntary somersault. "And no one," he told me, "likes a surprise somersault."

This summer has been one surprise somersault after another, and I'm exhausted. I'm bone-weary enough that I stop minding when Zeke and my middle-schooler, Rainer, sit in front of a laptop and play an inscrutable world-building game called "Minecraft" for hours at a time. Truth be told, my husband's addicted, too. Like the elderly woman I've clearly become, I can't even really see the game -- it's a cubic world, built from blocks made to look three-dimensional -- but when I look at the screen, all I see is a confounding assortment of pixelated geometry. I nod and smile, pretend to appreciate "the circuit I made from red-stone!" I assuage my guilt at using a techno-babysitter by reading online articles about its educational benefits. I've managed to convince myself that Minecraft is basically Ivy League graduate school. You're welcome, kids. Can't say we're not achievers.

Thanks to some incredibly awesome family friends, the kids got to take a weekend trip to a cabin at Lake Tahoe while my husband and I worked. They emailed me photos of the kids, solemnly holding marshmallows to toast over a flame; of their small bodies in huge life vests, faces smiling from the peaked front of a speedboat. They've had a summer, replete with pleasures both humble and archetypal.

I look around this house that has at times been a dark hot petri dish of irritable adults and children, blinds closed against the barbaric blaze of 16-hour days. Periodically we make an effort to clean, but the assault from the kids is relentless. The best we can hope to accomplish is to push everything into piles, creating a levee of Barbies and LEGO bricks to block further overflow from the great tides of toys.

Today Molly and Zeke have put on their grandparent-bought backpacks and are wearing them all day, empty and with the tags still attached. Rainer went to the middle school to pick up her textbooks and schedule, texting me with her reaction to various teachers. I've stepped on another Orbeez. There's an air of expectation. I think we're ready.

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