It all started with a few bored 9-year-olds hanging around on a hot August day by the plum tree laden with overripe fruit -- and a bucket of water balloons I helped fill earlier in the day, thinking this would be a harmless way for the kids to cool off.
Around dinnertime came the knock on the door from our childless neighbor, his business suit looking still crisp after a day in an air-conditioned office. My husband answered the door and was the recipient of the news: someone had thrown plums and water balloons at the side of their home, could this possibly be our kids? One culprit was caught on their video cameras, we were told. Our neighbor had "viewed the tape."
I wish I could say I handled the episode with perfect calm. (Shouldn't I be able to do this by now after all the parenting books I've read?!) I wish I could say that when it came time to discuss this incident with the kids, I brought wisdom and perspective to the conversation from my own childhood pranks (crank calls, ding dong ditch, teepeeing houses). Instead, after our neighbor left, it turned into a messy interchange with some tense words, tears and recriminations, ending with a letter of apology to the neighbors -- and a few hours later, my own verbal apology to the kids for overreacting to normal shenanigans. (In my defense, I did have one empathetic thought in the heat of the moment: "This unfortunate generation has security cameras to worry about!")
Of course, this seems to be the over-arching theme of August for me -- my shortening temper, impatience with my kids, feeling the stress of what's to begin in just a few more weeks -- and worst of all, that feeling that I've failed to enjoy my children this summer to the extent I really wanted to.
Summer started out so promising -- the lazy mornings, long days without the burdens of school and homework, sports and driving. But as the months passed, the honeymoon began to wane. Kids picking on one another out of boredom, my husband and I becoming irritable as we try to get work done with kids and pets underfoot, my broken-record reminders to the kids about their chores, turning off the TV, applying sunscreen and getting out of their pajamas before noon. For every moment that I adore the freedom of summer and the unfettered time it brings as a family, it feels by August like an endurance test. And I realize with a tinge of regret, as I do each year right about now, that while the kids have enjoyed their halcyon days of freedom, my summer days have slipped away amidst clients, loads of laundry and the responsibilities of parenthood.
Today's failings felt all the more profound because I'd just finished writing a tribute to my mother for her 75th birthday commemorating -- no joke -- her ability to live fully in the moment as she raised four kids, for being someone who truly embraced motherhood and gave us the freedom to enjoy our childhood and flourish. My memories of summer are glorious, with no recollection of my mother interfering with our fun. Talk about a tough act to follow. (Although I'm not sure this is even possible anymore, as we were the last generation of "free range kids.")
Tonight, after the kids were asleep, I emailed my friend Sophia, needing to confess my guilty thoughts to someone I knew would be sympathetic. Sophia juggles more than I do: three kids, multiple pets and her successful non-profit. Las August, when I bumped into her husband Greg on the first day of school, he said to me laughingly, "The kids are crying, the mothers are celebrating!"
My email to Sophia read:
I think I am screwing up as a mother. And my kids are starting to drive me nuts. How many days before school starts?
Sophia responded instantly:
I have had 3 emails like this today. End of summer -- the kids are supposed to be super bored, even bored by video gaming, and u r supposed to scream at them wildly until they hate you and then they can't wait to go to school. It is all part of the grand plan. We're all screwing up as mothers. Worst case scenario: we can share the therapy fees. Must be that time of year, the moon or the weather. Or maybe just the end-of-summer rush where we have all this back to school stuff to do and anxiety about the upcoming year, schedules and new demands, and truly I don't know how we manage but we do. School is almost here. Routine, scheduled sports, actual bedtimes, no more visitors. Life back to overdrive. Hang in there. Talk soon. Sent from my iPhone.
God bless iPhones, mothers and caring friends who give me absolution. I'm putting my hair shirt away... at least until the school year starts.