Education Matters: Finding the balance
All three of my kids — and every single one of their friends — has announced this to me in the last week and a half. "We're out on Monday, you know, Jill," one of them said. "The elementary kids have to go longer. We don't!"
Monday morning of last week was normal routine. Tuesday morning saw one teenager up early for his first day of work, one soon-to-be sixth grader half-grumping her way off to school ... and one now official sophomore sleeping in. He had warned me the night before. "Mom, you know it is summer for me tomorrow. I am not getting up. No way." When I countered by asking if he intended to sleep away his whole life, he responded easily as he scampered off: "Sounds good to me!"
I love summer. I love the warmth, the long days, the relaxation of the constant demands on our time, the possibilities of spontaneity. I love the idea of saying yes to the kids, the joy in being able to hit "pause," the gift of those nights when we are all together as a family.
I start off every June with a countdown to the kids getting out of classes. Every year, I marvel how all of our lives are so controlled by the school calendar, regardless of how many years my husband and I have been out of formal education. Annually, sometime around June 15, I find myself shocked by how one day is "school mode"... and the next day just ... isn't. How does that happen?
I try — very hard — to relax with them, and to let them sleep in and be lazy-ish during the day. I even help by doing their morning chores quite often, so that they can have this time off, this change of pace in their lives that they so adore. I bite my tongue when I see them rising at the crack of noon. I say yes to many sleep-overs, all of which involve zero sleep until 3 AM. I allow more hours of television watching than I knew that someone's brain could possibly absorb at a time. I encourage the happy messiness of learning to cook and the resulting kitchen chaos by helping clean up. I don't yell when the milk from the smoothie runs over the counter top, down the side of the kitchen island and onto all the cabinetry, before finally pooling on the floor. I overlook the dishes piling next to the empty dishwasher, the clothes lying next to their hampers, and the shoes kicked off next to their assigned place under their cubbies.
I made it about three days this year before I couldn't stand it. Then, I begin to remind them that the shoes have a place, that dirty clothing needs to be brought to the laundry room, that books must also be read and unlimited hours of TV are just not allowed. I remind them that I am not asking for the moon here, that we are all part of a family, that this list of basic chores must be done before we can go do this other fun thing we want to do. I try, oh-so-very hard, not to be a nag, the un-fun mom who can't let her kids "just be kids."
But, I am not always successful. The pendulum has swung too far for me, and I go from "super laid back" to "you must be responsible!" mode. The balance in life has pushed to the kids' side, with no responsibilities for them, and we adults feeling resentful. (Well, OK, more honestly, at least one adult feels very resentful; the other is calmer.) I remind myself that the very next week, camps start, drivers' education classes begin, work continues, and the all-important athletic practices become more established for the summer break.
Father's Day fell only three days into the official summer vacation time frame this year. We adults were up shortly after 5 a.m., just like any other day really. We scurried about, packing ice coolers, gathering food supplies and sun screen. Everyone was out of the house by 7 a.m., headed down to Springfield, Mass., for a long, hot day full of lacrosse games for the two boys. It was a good day, although one given over completely and totally to the desires of two of the three kids. At this stage in life, that's just what happens. (Mother's Day has been spent at lacrosse games for many of the last five years, too.)
At supper, I changed my normal, nightly question. Instead of asking for "two good things of the day", I asked them to say "two good things about Dad." The answers were heartfelt — and funny. One of them surprised me, though.
"I like that Dad makes me work."
Maybe it's not just me, then. Perhaps the balance in life will be found as we all shift into summer mode for a few short weeks.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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