When I was seven years old I came home from Scandia Elementary School in tears because kindergarten was over. “Mom,” I cried, “I don’t know why everyone is so happy school is over. I love school.”
Two years ago I laid in bed with Kid #1 the night before he went off to kindergarten. We talked about all the exciting things he would learn and all the wonderful experiences he would have over the next 13 years of grade school.
“Did you like school when you were a kid?” he asked. I enthusiastically responded yes. “Why,” he asked. I couldn’t muster a detailed response so said I something ridiculously dad-like, “I just did, time to go to bed.”
Later, on the couch, I tried to remember what exactly it was that I liked about school. I couldn’t really recall any specifics other than a general sense that I liked it. I remember most days I walked to the bus, got on the bus, went to class, mostly paid attention, stared at girls, built my plan to emulate Larry Bird’s NBA career, ate a PB&J for lunch and spent my milk money on an ice cream sandwich, played a game at recess, probably learned something, got back on the bus, and went home. Lather, rinse, repeat. Routines make me happy and maybe that’s why I liked school?
I think both of our kids like school. We certainly encourage them to and always refrain from saying anything quasi-negative that might skew their views.
Kid #1 is now in the second grade in CMS and was excited to start class this week. Technically Kid #2 doesn’t go to school yet, she goes to daycare, or what parents who feel guilty about taking their kids to daycare call “preschool.” Next year she’ll start kindergarten, or what I like to call “government-supported daycare.”
Like any couple, my wife and I love the places they attend and love to hear about the experiences they have there each day. I love to hear Kid #1 come home and tell me what he learned in history, or about something funny that Kid #2’s friends did at lunch, or how Kid #1 for the third straight day left his camo boxer briefs in the bathroom, which is why Mrs. Teacher just popped up on my caller ID. I know I’m not supposed to enjoy the latter but I do.
It’s incredible to watch a young mind learn new things. Kid #1 reads me chapter books in this innocent and amazing tone of voice that is impossible to describe. Kid #2 is learning to write and comes home with letters like PELSSCH on a piece of paper, proudly telling me she learned to write her name. I don’t have the heart to tell her she’s not even close. Not close at all.
Watching and listening to them the last two years finally made me recall in greater depth why I liked school as a kid. Learning to do new things and have new experiences and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it all is an amazing feeling. Which is why I was a little shocked when I had a revelation this week after the first day of classes.
As a parent, I don’t like school. I mean, I like school and all the great educational stuff that goes with it. But I don’t like school. Maybe I should explain further …
I want it to stay summer forever.
(Side note: our kids go to camp and daycare all summer. If I was a stay-at-home parent I would think the exact opposite. In fact, if I stayed home with them all summer I’d probably still be a River Phoenix-esque bender that began Monday morning).
Aside from summer just being generally awesome, the entire season is just more convenient when you have kids. Kid #1’s summer camp doesn’t start until 8:30am so I don’t have to yell “wake up” and “get dressed and brush your teeth and eat all your food and hurry up and put on your shoes and where are your socks and when did you stop eating the pizza at school now I have to pack a lunch and I lost your sister and no you can’t ride your bike to the bus stop today because we’re late and somehow that’s slower than walking and who pooped without flushing and SERIOUSLY WHERE THE HELL IS YOUR SISTER?!?”
There are fewer logistics in the summer. If you boil it down to the essentials, you only have to make sure the kids are fed, sunblocked, dropped off at summer camp and daycare, don’t drown, and put to sleep as a reasonable hour. Or an unreasonable hour, who cares?
I don’t have to remember to refill Kid #1’s lunch account because the cashier won’t allow him to buy the cookies on credit that he’s not supposed to be buying anyway. I don’t have to make sure I pack the green icing in his backpack that I had to make the night before with white icing and green food coloring because the store doesn’t sell green icing, a product I volunteered to provide for the class Earth Day party because at the time I thought it would require the least amount of effort.
In the summer I don’t have to wake up in the pre-dawn hours to bang out an hour of work to make up for the time I lose getting them ready and out of the house in the morning. I don’t have to have everything ready by a scheduled CMS bus time that is always more of a rough estimation than an actual time on the clock. Why not drive your kids, you ask? I don’t do that.
In the summer if they don’t have any clean clothes I tell them to put on the least dirty ones. They’re going to summer camp and everyone smells like two-day-old pizza by 9am anyway. With the exception of the summer, Kid #2 has to wear a uniform to daycare, which every mom will inexplicably tell you is easier because you don’t have to argue with your kids about what they have to wear. You know how you don’t argue with your kids about what they want to wear? Let them wear whatever they want. This summer she wore a bathing suit, tights and an Eloise robe to daycare one day. I honestly don’t care if my kids look like we live in The Plaza Hotel or underneath it. It’s just not worth the effort.
And then there are the evening hours during the summer. I pick up Kid #1 at summer camp and my wife picks up Kid #2 from daycare. We typically arrive home about the same time and at least three out of the five weekdays we bike down to the pool to feed them dinner. No dishes, no food on the floor, no asking them ten times to finish their meals because we don’t have to. They know they can’t go back into the pool until the food is gone. Baths? I have a strict no bath rule as long as you jump in the pool for at least 15 minutes. My wife and everyone else in society thinks it’s disgusting. I don’t care. Removing bath time from the nightly equation makes things exponentially easier.
In the summer they watch less TV because we stay at the pool late and get home at bedtime, which means no arguing with them because they want to watch the PG-13 movie that someone else let them watch at their house. During summer we read them a book and they’re asleep in 10 minutes because on any given day they cover the same distance on foot as Meb Keflezighi.
Evening hours during the school year?
My wife’s work schedule gets busier and I work out of the house so I often pick up both kids. Homework. At least three wardrobe changes for Kid #2. Dinner inside sitting at a table resulting in so much food on the floor that you wonder if anything made it in their mouths.
And bath time. Mother effing bath time. This week my Facebook feed is a bizarre passive aggressive rift between dog owners and kid owners who can’t just be ok with another person being proud of his or her respective animal (human or canine). You want to know what experience we can all bond over? Bath time. Bathing a 25 pound blond girl is the exact same thing as bathing a 120 pound Bull Mastiff.
Next comes time for bed. Good luck trying to get your elementary school kid to fall asleep when the only exercise he’s had all day is the walk to and from the bus stop, 20 minutes of recess, and the hour he ran around in the backyard after dinner. That’s at least eight less hours of exercise than he gets per day in the summer. Seriously.
I know, I know person with the teenager and college kid. Someday I’m going to look back on all of this with fondness and I’ll forget the challenges. It all goes by so quickly, I hear you say all the time. Just wait until they become teenagers, you mutter with the same foreboding tone I use when talking to people about to have their first child. “It doesn’t get easier, it just gets different,” is the common refrain.
Except it does get easier. It gets easier every June when the final bell rings and the bus rolls into our neighborhood for the last time. That night we stay up late watching a movie, catch a few fireflies and set them loose in the kids’ rooms at bedtime. In the morning we eat ice cream for breakfast to celebrate the start of the three-month break.
Alas, it’s September. The fireflies are gone and with them went the summer.
Amid the chaos of the first morning of school, I was reheating some frozen pancakes for breakfast that I made the night before in bulk. I yelled upstairs for the fourth time for Kid #1 to get dressed and get downstairs so he had time to eat before the bus took him to his first day of second grade.
Kid #2 – wearing only her underwear and pink crocs because she took off her uniform in protest – dove into the freezer drawer and pulled out a nearly empty container of rocky road ice cream. She held it high over her head and asked, “Daddy, can we have ice cream for breakfast?”
“We sure can, honey. We sure can. In 281 more days.” Ugh.