As a stay-at-home-mom summertime is when my parenting involvement get kicked up to Big Top proportions. My world becomes a three-ring circus with activity levels ranging from elephantine slow to dizzyingly fast. Some parents carry off these two months with Ringmaster panache; effortlessly directing sports camps, playdates, vacations, pleasure reading, pool swims, out-of-town-visitors, hikes and outdoorsy mental stimulation. I don’t qualify as Ringmaster, but rather reside in the category of Human Cannonball. On the third week of June I’m rocketed into the great unknown, since of course I didn’t plan any solid activities in advance. I start with lots of general aspirations about making the boys wash the windows, hike up Poo Poo, finish three novels, and log 100 miles on their bikes. I know that coming up with a plan for summer would be beneficial, but summer never goes quite as planned, so I no longer bother trying to schedule much. I know it’s better to just let summer happen. The cannon will go off, I’ll be jettisoned into the air, and lots of fun things will happen. I know summer will zoom past faster than we realize, and like the Human Cannonball, I will land at Labor Day looking back on a summer that lacked in big accomplishments but swelled in satisfying leisure.
The giant net which catches the Human Cannonball is called “Back to School”. Bouncing into that net fills me with conflicting emotions of joy and longing, relief and contempt. I imagine you can hop right into my shoes with the first three: joy, longing and relief, but the fourth? Why would the Human Cannonball feel contempt about Back to School? That’s just my knee-jerk reaction toward the marketing machine that dumps all the pencils, socks, binders, dresses, and calculators into the seasonal lawn furniture section…in July, of all months! When I see the school bus décor instead of chaise lounge cushion replacements I go from happy clown face to big sad frown. Where am I supposed to find an umbrella to go over my patio furniture? Oh, right, I was supposed to buy that back in February when there were plenty in stock, and it was foremost on my mind. What I really need in the middle of July and August is a 70-pack of Ticonderoga pencils instead. Right.
Enough dwelling upon advanced merchandising madness and let’s go back to those first three sentiments. My heart pitter pats with a little joy when I hear “Back to School” because my children can go back to benefitting from our great education system. Joy that they can re-immerse themselves in making great music with the school band, learn academic basics from someone besides myself, and experiment with new sports.
However, self-contradictorily, I yearn with longing for the luxury of going wherever the wind blows us during the summer. There’s no bus arriving at 7:00am, no homework that needs printing out, no grades that need to be checked, and no steady series of games, performances or practices to attend. During summer I am the Human Cannonball just sailing in a long arc. Come late September, once school is fully in swing, I’ll look back on the summer with longing for its unstructured randomness.
But Labor Day brings relief, because order and routine will be reestablished – two things I’m not so good at orchestrating on a daily basis. Relief because deep down inside I like to be alone for a good part of the day and all my writing jobs require that my head goes wandering off into distant creative thinking land. That’s hard when there are two boys in my world who frequently inquire “May I have some money to go to TCBY?” or “Do we have any replacement arrows? I shot all mine into the woods and I can’t find them,” or “What’s for lunch?” These are all valid and acceptable questions, which, 9 months out of the year would be positioned between 3:00pm-7:00pm, not 7:00am-7:00pm. By late August I find myself singing Soul II Soul’s “Back to life, back to reality” every day with zesty relish.
When Back to School ads start rhyming and chiming, this Human Cannonball knows her forward momentum will soon be brought to a halt at the Labor Day net, but that’s okay because she has her helmet on!