Monday, August 26, 2013

Confession #9: I Didn't Cry on the First Day of School

Last week, I received a much-needed bit of parenting advice from an unlikely source: my personal trainer (who has no children of his own).  Now first off, I feel compelled to throw out this disclaimer: I employ a personal trainer not for the purpose of looking svelte and well-toned on the beach.  I’m hardly that type of woman.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.  But, just so we’re clear, I pay a trainer who forces me to do situps, pushups and various exercises involving a kettle bell for only one reason: so I can enjoy some regularly scheduled peace and quiet away from home.  On Wednesday nights, I make a beeline out of my house for the sake of, ahem... exercise, of course!  

“Goodbye, boys!”  I usually holler as I hastily sneak out the back door before one of them realizes I’m gone.  “Hopefully you'll be in bed when I come home!”  
Chances are one of the boys is mid-sentence and halfway out the door (“But Mom, when are you coming back?  I need—”) when I make my getaway to the gym.

But I digress.  This past Wednesday, I casually mentioned to my trainer how excited I was that school was starting the next day.  “But I’ve noticed,” I remarked in between crunches, “that every other mom I know is sad about the first day of school.  So many women seem weepy and sentimental about how much they’ll miss their kids during the day.”
I took a deep breath, the mom guilt flooding over me, and confessed: “Either I am the worst mom out there, or my boys are menaces compared to other people’s kids.”
The truth is, the summer had lasted long enough.  The family took one big vacation and then spent the rest of the summer getting on each other's nerves at home.  Granted, our vacation consisted of visiting seven countries in over three weeks, and should have provided enough action to last the rest of the summer.  And while the trip satisfied my husband’s and my own wanderlust, the kids probably would have been just as happy spending three weeks at the neighborhood pool eating hot dogs and practicing their cannonballs.  
Case in point: The only memory my 4-year old has apparently retained from all of our travels in Europe is--not the view at dusk of the Eiffel Tower from the River Seine or the morning we ran circles around Stonehenge but rather--one wildly exaggerated story of how Daddy almost got his body chopped in half in a London Underground station.  I would explain, but the truth is a lot less exciting than the version he spins.
Then, of course, after returning to the States, the boys dawdled away the next two months by engaging primarily in the following three activities: (1) Bickering non-stop about who accidentally smacked the other first with the iPad; (2) Fashioning ninja stars and other weapons out of copier paper, and then waging battles that ended with scraps of paper (“scrapnel”) strewn all over the house; and (3) Coming up with “epic” versions of popular songs by replacing the word “poop” in the lyrics (for example, “Poopy Gangnam Style”, “Don’t Poop at Night” and this little gem that is performed with, um… dance moves, to put it delicately: “Everybody Poop Now”). 
And oh, the noise.  It was noisy all the time, every day, around here.  And I don’t mean the kind of giggly, happy kind of noisy that makes you feel sentimental about your kids growing up too fast.  The brand of noisy that exists in my house is the Guantanamo Bay variety that deprives you of all rational thought and makes you want to confess to being a terrorist just to stop all that high-decibel yelling and stampeding. 
So during the last few weeks of summer, I started feeling giddy whenever I thought about the first day of school approaching.  After all, it's not like I had managed to make that DIY water slide for the backyard that looked so easy on Pinterest, or put together a single picnic lunch like I'd dreamily imagined in the Spring.  I had reached an all time low by letting the boys binge-watch Disney shows on Netflix so I could sneak on my laptop for a few hours of solitude.  And last Wednesday, the singular thought of soon having quiet time to read or write during the day, made the stomach crunches all that much easier.  

But, unfortunately... the mom guilt kept bothering me.
“Should I feel sad?” I asked, mostly to myself.  “Is there something wrong with me?  Does this make me a bad mom?"
My trainer, who is part drill sergeant and part therapist, replied, “Let me ask you one question.  How many kids do these ‘sad moms’ have?”
I thought about it for a moment.  “I guess most of them have one or two.”
“Four,” he replied, holding out his fingers.  “Don’t forget you have four.  Give yourself a break.”  
I guess he meant we all need a little perspective when we're afraid we don't measure up. It's easy to forget this perspective while you're trying unsuccessfully to produce tears during the morning sendoff (when you're actually thrilled to have the next hour to play Words with Friends over breakfast). 

So, thank you, personal trainer, for the free parenting advice that came with last week’s ab workout.  My two oldest boys are off to school this week, my preschooler is about to start his half-day program next week, and I will resolve not to feel guilty about relishing whatever quiet time I can muster with the feisty 2-year old I still have at home.  It’s only Monday, and I already feel like a new woman.  The house is clean.  The baby is napping.  And I’m so recharged I might even break out in a few lines of “Everybody Poop Now.”