Well, there it is. The letter that just about sums up summer in our house. In case you're having trouble reading it, the note reads:
Dear Gigi and G'Daddy,
Thank you for the "Annie" movie. It is so, so awesome! It is kind of scary at the end because she gets kidnapped and it's kind of silly because that mother is kind of like our mother when we make bad choices.
Yes, that's correct folks. I'm Miss Hannigan. I mean, I have always thought that being compared to Carol Burnett would be a tremendous honor. But, in this case, I don't feel particularly flattered. Rather, it seems like a missed opportunity not to be day-drinking and/or fooling around with the laundryman.
So, here's the story behind the note: My newly five-year-old daughter is just entering Kindergarten and I asked her to dictate her birthday thank-you notes to me in the interest of saving time. (Note: If you've ever sat with an extremely verbose five-year-old trying to write down everything (by themselves) that he/she wants to say and he/she doesn't know how to spell any of it, you know that this is the verbal equivalent to pouring molasses out of a boot.) So, you can imagine how my eyebrows shot up when the phrase "that mother is kind of like our mother" came out of her sweet little mouth. For her, that was the end of the sentence. Period. Finished. Full stop. It took me by such surprise that I actually turned to her and said, "Really? [awkward pause] Really?" Then she smiled devilishly with a twinkle in her eye and added, "when we make bad choices?" I half-expected to hear a refrain of "I love you, Miss Hannigan!" after that exchange. And it was all I could do from replying, "Kill! Kill! Kill!"
To say that this summer hasn't gone as I expected is an understatement. When school ended in June, I was bright-eyed and excited to take my crew on all sorts of adventures. I had a list of fun places to visit nearby to create our own little staycation. I removed them from almost all of their scheduled activities and imagined a summer of unrestricted imaginative play, pick-up games of baseball in the backyard, expanded horizons at the many museums in our area, picnics, arts and crafts, and cleverly-worked-in academic enrichment.
If you were to keep a list of the things we did this summer, we look great on paper. We hosted three kids' birthday parties, a Fourth of July parade party, went to two different zoos in the area, made our own art (for free!) at the Art Institute, taught the older three to be comfortable in the water, cheered on our oldest as his Little League baseball team went on to the semifinals, took a family road trip to visit family in Texas, and did a lot of playing in our house and backyard.
Like I said, it sounds pretty good on paper. It would look great on social media, if I ever posted anything about my children (which I don't). What you wouldn't see is the screaming. Oh, the screaming. I feel like my ears are oozing from the burst eardrums of listening to any one of (or all) four children screaming from the minute they got out of school until the minute they went back. My youngest eligible-for-school child went back this week and neither of us shed a tear. It's been that kind of summer.
Last summer was magical. As a family, we had so much silly fun. I was super-pregnant, but totally enjoyed every day of it. I was so thrilled that it looked like my kids had found a rhythm and that it seemed like they had matured out of some of the temper-tantrum phase that we had been in during the previous year. When school started again last year, I was genuinely sad. I thought that if we didn't live in an area with such excellent schools, I would enjoy homeschooling them.
Oh, I was wrong. So, so wrong. The summer has proven to me that I am not qualified to be a teacher. My patience has worn through. I feel like life has beaten me down. The kids have officially broken me. Every day, I would start the day with a perky smile and talk to my kids about our plan for that day. And someone would immediately declare this plan to be the worst thing they had every heard of in their life. And why couldn't they just play with their friends? And why do I have to ruin everything? And why are you the worst, meanest mom ever? Essentially, it felt like I walked into the room in a pretty little summer frock and someone "Carrie"-ed me with throwing a bucket of pig's blood on my head. Every. Single. Day.
By the time we were ramping back up to go to school, I felt like I was in my own version of "The Shining" with crazy, crazy mom eyes. It reached its peak at the Kindergarten Mom-Daughter Meet & Greet. I should have seen it coming. My almost-Kindergartener didn't want to go just with me. She wanted her Daddy. (Because, let's face it: When Daddy's home, I'm pretty much chopped liver.) I asked around and a few other families were going with their whole families, so I thought it might be nice to all go to the park together and avoid yet another screaming fit about how I am the meanest mom ever, not letting her have fun with her Daddy. So, off we went.
Of course, what happened was totally predictable. Because her Daddy was there, she didn't speak to a single other soul at the park. In fact, I don't think anyone even heard her voice. Until we did. We all heard it. In the form of a shriek. An ear-piercing scream that would rival that of a Ringwraith. An screech that didn't stop and only grew louder and louder until, as she ran across the playground to my arms (as I stood there looking totally aghast and dumbfounded), she sobbed, "[My sister] bit my nipple!" Yes, friends, I met a whole bunch of people I had never met before and then promptly became (and will probably always be known as) the mother of the nipple-biter. Of course, the little sister ended up in time out in the stroller after a firm reprimand and the loss of her favorite thing. This meant that she was now also screaming and crying. It was a total disaster. We were absolutely that family.
I think my favorite, most honest moment, was when another mom, trying to hold back a giggle told me that she wasn't happy that my daughter had gotten hurt, of course, but that she was so glad it was me and not her for once and that it could have just as easily been their family. She and I might be future BFFs.
The worst part is that I don't know what I could have done differently/better. I have replayed some of the more disastrous days in my head and I'm coming up with nothing. My oldest is working hard to push his boundaries and assert himself as the ultimate ruler of his destiny. (Read: He's acting like someone that you'd meet at a Ryan Lochte Fan Club meeting.) Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to grasp the concept that his mother (and father) don't play that game.
We expect excellent behavior. We expect empathy and kindness. We expect that our family treat each other with love and respect. My children seemed to totally forget all of these things. I have witnessed selfish, entitled, disrespectful behavior from one or all of them every day this summer. And consequences have been given. Every. Single. Day. And the woe and despair that comes with those consequences is gnawing on my sanity. I am exhausted by all of it. But there's not another option. Because you don't get to take the summer off from trying to be a responsible parent and raise good human beings.
So, this week, I sent the last of the old-enough-to-know-how-to-say-no kids off to school. And when I watched her walk into school, with her backpack (almost bigger than she is) bouncing with each step, I sent up an extra prayer for all of the teachers out there. I definitely couldn't do what you do. Thank you, teachers for your patience with my children. Thank you for doing the work that I am totally unqualified to do. And thank you for continuing my work in the classroom, molding my kids into kind, thoughtful adults.
And as for me, I'm going to kick back with a glass of wine tonight and toast the end of summer. Thinking more about it, Carol Burnett is pretty genius. Maybe I'll take that comparison after all. After all, she says it best herself, "I'd have cracked years ago, if it weren't for my sense of humor."