Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Done with Summer
In the Northeast, the school year typically starts after Labor Day. I know that other parts of the country often start earlier, but we’re still a couple of weeks out. You’ll need that as context to appreciate the next statement.
The kids are actually starting to admit that they’re done with summer. They’re over it.
I can’t blame them. The Boy works part-time, and also does some volunteering, so he at least has some structure to his days. With the start of school looming, the cross-country team has started practices in earnest, so he even has to drag himself out of bed at a reasonable hour to exercise. From his perspective, if you’re going to be busy anyway, you might as well get on with it and be able to see your friends.
The Girl doesn’t have any of that. She’s thirteen, so she’s too old for many of the kid-focused summer activities, but too young for paid work. She picked up a babysitting certificate, practices piano, draws, reads, and hangs out with her friends. It’s not a bad existence for a while, but she has a hungry mind; for her, it’s a fine line between relaxation and captivity. When your mind moves a mile a minute, it needs fuel. She actually misses the classroom part of school, as well as her friends.
I remember the first time I realized that summer had gone from relaxing to boring. I felt betrayed. Everyone said summer is the best! I certainly didn’t mind the looser bedtimes and later breakfasts, and some of the days were great, but it slowly dawned on me that boredom wasn’t just an objective property of a situation; it said something about the person who felt it. I could really enjoy a night of watching tv. I couldn’t enjoy a string of nights watching tv.
The disillusionment in that moment went deep. If even something as awesome as summer could turn against you, what else could? Am I doomed to a lifetime of disappointment?
Yes, I actually thought like that. It’s amazing that I had friends at all.
It took a little while to figure out the other side of the equation. If something initially enticing could lose its appeal over time, the reverse might also be true: something initially off-putting or dull could grow on you over time. The trick was being patient enough during the initial slog that you could get to the good part.
I wish I had figured that out sooner. I walked away from learning music before getting to the good part; at the time, it just felt like drudgery. By the time I figured out that sports might actually be fun, I was so far behind the skills of the other kids that it just wasn’t gonna happen.
The Boy and The Girl are more disciplined than I was. The Boy has his mother’s conscientious streak, and it serves him well. (You don’t run cross country without some level of persistence.) The Girl has a bit of my restlessness, but when she locks on to something, it’s a sight to behold. I walked away from a musical instrument; she plays two of them, and does better with both than I ever did. She taught herself how to draw, almost as an act of will, and she has already made herself a better writer than I am. That’s not bad for junior high.
Kids are doomed, at some level, to the presence of their parents’ demons. Frankly, if the worst they can say is that we didn’t let them sit on screens all day, I’ll take it.
But I have to admit smiling when they told me, separately and unprompted, that they’re ready for school to come back. Good on them for knowing it, and for having the maturity to say it out loud. Here’s hoping those old demons managed to do some good, despite themselves.