Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Smile. Breathe. Learn.

The first day of school is less than eight hours away. The mystery is over. After two and a half months, we know who is in what class, which friends from last year, which new faces to get to know. It's a new school year and as always, I've been on the verge of tears for days. I might joke that the Staples back to school ad is based on my own gleeful skipping down school supply aisles (which I begin right after 4th of July). I might exchange eye-rolling glances with my DH as the energy level in the car borders on bursting out the windows, and not from the music being too loud. I might complain about the endless "I'm bored" and "what are we going to do today?" that have grown louder and more frequent as June became July and July is now August. But in reality, I'd like the summer break to last longer. Why, other wide-eyed climbing-the-wall parents ask me? And until today, I didn't really know, other than living vicariously through my kids' open-ended days.

But today, as we entered the school door and read the class lists, visited the new classrooms and saw how much everyone had grown over the summer, I realized why summer breaks exist and why we all need them, even if we only get to experience them through our children.

Summer is a letting down of the taut schedule that takes over our lives: school, homework, PTO, activities, religious school, rehearsals, performances and all the rest that make up the craziness that is the school year. I don't remember it that way, but then again, I went to elementary school at a time when extra-curricular activities involved hanging out playing tetherball and then going home to watch The Three Stooges and Speed Racer with my brother on Channel 52. Homework was something you did in junior high.

The letting down happens along with the lengthening of the days. If we let it.

Relaxation. Warmth. Sunshine. Farmers' Market. Ice cream. Swimming. Going to bed late. Sleeping in. Reading whatever you want for however long you want. Watching baseball. Planting a garden and eating the first tomatoes and romaine lettuce.

But that can't last forever, can it? Boredom sets in. Restlessness of how we're wired for progress, learning, whatever drives us forward to not sit still.

And is it my imagination, or do kids just grow that much more during the summer? Maybe it's the very act of relaxing that allows for the sudden growth, as if their bodies are just following the season's lead. That once all the holding it together from the school year is let go of, their bodies just open up like sunflowers.

Last week I felt the sun receding. I woke up at my normal early bird time of 5:15am and the sun had not beat me to the punch. I made my coffee in the dim dark and started to cry. Because I
knew the letting down was coming to an end.

You see, even if I couldn't step away from my job during the summer, at least my kids could step away from theirs (which is often what school feels like, right?) and at least a third of the household could relax. And I soaked it up, from the time I walked in the door until they careened into bed at past 10pm.

Don't get me wrong. I know that the ending of the endless summer is a good thing. Some of it is practical, some of it physical. All the growing has to be put to some use and it might as well be to get smarter. We wouldn't relish the long, warm nights if they were here 365 days a year.

But what can I take from this summer? To turn off and turn away from my computer. To make sure that enough ice cream is consumed in a given day. To delight in day-cations 20 minutes from home. To devote time to doing nothing. And to enjoy how much fun it is to be around my

Tonight, as I cuddled with my girls, I talked to each of them about their goals for the year. And I shared with them my wishes for their new school year. The wishes are deeply inspired by a prayer by Thich Naht Hahn, which my wise and loving mother-in-law, Lila Greene, shared with me:

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know it is a wonderful moment.

This prayer is how I can keep the summer inside me all year long. And how I can teach my girls to do the same. Here is to a peaceful school year, one with the shared blessings our teachers bestow on us, the ones we take in willingly and the ones the seep in despite our resistance.

Smile. Breathe. Learn.

How many first days of school do you remember?

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