This past week my daughter, Snowflake, started first grade. In regards to parenting, this is a huge milestone for most people. Unless you are homeschooling, this milestone represents the moment when you turn your children loose to spend almost as much time per week with teachers and classmates than they do with you at home. You may think this story is about her transformation into a butterfly. It's not. This story is all mine.
The advent of an unrelenting school schedule has forced this "roll with the punches," "c'est la vie" parent to completely alter a six-year-long parenting style. Over the short time since school started I have met a whole new me. This parent that I have suddenly become is wed to her schedule, is attempting to simplify her life from commitments and surprisingly even manages to get housework done with ease. In general, she is a much happier person.
Let me explain. I just finished enduring the second worse summer of my life. I posted earlier this year on the the worst summer of my life. Unlike the worst summer of my life, nothing changed, no one died and I didn't lose a job. Instead I endured a three-month vacuum of full-scale depression.
During most school years I work for Children's ministry. I put together programs, manage employees, write curriculum and work childcare for a quite a few different churches. I am surrounded by people day in and day out. I am too busy to think straight and certainly too busy to be depressed. I also spend my evenings as a dance instructor. When one works 7 or 8 small jobs with 3 small children it is impossible to ever sit down and stop moving.
Then summer comes. Summer, I have observed over the years, is the time when, although we all have more time that we could spend with each other, even the best laid, "Call me and we will set up a playdate" often goes unanswered. Summer is the time when each nuclear family pulls into itself and attempts to reconnect after the busyness of the school year. They go on vacation, they go to the pool, if the parents are working they put the kids in summer camp. But, either way, each family tends to go into its own cocoon, only to emerge in fall when the kids go back to school. This is the summer that my cocoon became suffocating but transformative. I was painfully and excruciatingly transformed into a whole new parent.
Last spring my husband approached me and told me, "If you don't get a full-time job, we are going to lose the house in 18-20 months." Well, that definitely got my attention. I started applying for jobs in April. Job application after job application went out. Six weeks later, the tidal wave of rejection letters started coming in.
"We are sorry..."
"Due to an overwhelming response to our job posting....."
"Under-qualified" (work experience)
"Unfortunately you will not be proceeding to the interview phase..."
Or, my personal favorite. Nothing. NO response, just a lingering curiosity if the application actually got to anyone or if they just couldn't be bothered to reject me.
The panic set in, I started yelling at the kids to go watch t.v, "Mommy needs to fill out this application." In the meantime, my husband, in attempt to help, took on overtime shifts. He took on a whole bunch of overtime shifts.
This led to me, at home by myself with the kids for 12 hours a day. No break. Three kids. No money to go anywhere to get a break.
It was fine at first. After the school year the two girls were excited to have time to spend with each other. They spent June playing elaborate games and making up stories and plays to act out. Then as July hit, the excitement wore off. The nothingness of every day started to wear on them and the fighting started. The girls would start in on each other the second their feet hit the floor in the morning. The baby was teething. One day Mr. Starman screamed for 6 and a half hours straight. Nothing I did helped.
The days started feeling LOOOOONNNNGGG and I would desperately count down the hours until my husband got home. This meant on some days I would let the kids stay up till he got home at nine because I was too tired to try and put them to bed myself. I felt like I was trapped in hell and I wished every day for a job so that I could escape my children.
The depression got worse. I stopped cleaning the house. The kids started running me instead of me running the kids. My husband, exhausted from working all the extra hours, started picking fights the second he walked through the door. "What did you do all day?" "Why are the kids still up?" "What is going on with you?" "You need to get it together!" At one point my Mom, who had become very concerned, asked if she should be worried about our marriage. I looked at her and told her honestly, "I don't know."
The only thing I could do was wait and count down the days until school started or a job came through. The idea that Snowflake would be gone 7 hours a day was like a mirage in the distance of the desert. You hope it holds the promise of rest and rejuvenation, but you aren't sure, so you just keep desperately moving towards it.
And then, before I knew it, it was here. It was with great joy, and absolutely no sadness, that I walked her off to her first day of first grade. And when I got home....there was quiet. It was peaceful. There was no fighting, no squabbling over who had the red crayon or who got to play with the pink-haired Barbie last. Raindrop sat down, happy to finally have time without her older sister issuing orders, and played with her play-dough for two straight hours. Starman took a nap. I sat down and had a cup of coffee and relished the silence.
And then, like a butterfly awakening from a long chrysalis I emerged from a scary two-month-long fog of stress and depression. I got up and started cleaning my house. The next day when she left for school I kept going. Soon I started organizing. When she got home she was too tired to argue and I fed them dinner and had them in bed by 8. I was suddenly following a schedule and I realized what parents have seen in them all these years. No longer was I the fly-by-night parent. Our lives had changed. My Snowflake had to get up each morning, eat breakfast, get dressed and go to school. Starman's teeth came in. The husband and I refinanced our house. I abandoned the job hunt. We took a breath.
I am now a parent of a school aged child, and quite frankly, if this is what it is like, I will take it! Suddenly I don't hate being home with the kids. I have fallen in love with parenting all over again. I can't wait for my Snowflake to get home from school so that we can talk about her day and do something fun together as a family before bedtime. Somehow having less time with her has made me appreciate her more. Now I am counting down 13 days until Raindrop starts preschool. I am even starting to think of projects I can do for me. The grinding daily neediness has subsided a little.
I am happy.
I am a butterfly.