The winter of my discontent. Except it's not winter yet, and I'm not really feeling discontent so much as displaced. But every winter brings with it thoughts about where we are going as a family.
Having the kids in school forces us into a daily rhythm that I just do not like. They are exhausted and have no time to do what they would like to do. Some nights they have three hours of homework already at the ages of 12 and 14, and some nights they take three hours to complete one hour of homework because they are burned out and tired. They are also starving. I mean starving. Not being able to really eat during the day, when they are most in need of it, they come through the door at 3:15 literally famished. It's all they can think about. I can tell them not to eat and to wait until dinner, or to just have a light snack, but that's like watering wilting flowers with an eye dropper.
In order to get up early enough and be able to function, they need to be in bed by 9. After dinner and three hours of homework or homework avoidance, there isn't much time for anything but showers. They both take outrageous amounts of time to get clean every night. We nag, we take away reading privileges, we explain the logic of fast showers equalling more free time. But the more I've been thinking about this, the more I believe that for them, the quiet of the bathroom and the very simple purpose of getting clean is the first time of the entire day that they get to be with their own thoughts. When they emerge and discover that there is no time to play a board game or write on their stories or build with their legos, they are severely disappointed. Yet the understanding that fast showers equals more free time doesn't seem to be able to transcend the urge their brains have for quiet at the end of all the chaos.
The school year progresses like this until winter break, when the kids have two weeks out of school. At first they sleep late and catch up on their eating, the same way they do on the weekends. Then the excitement of the holidays and aftermath keeps us busy until school starts again. The return from winter break signals the beginning of the real trudging. Summer is so far away it doesn't exist, and they've been in school long enough for all novelty to have worn off. After spring break, everyone is looking to the summer break like the Holy Grail.
Summer always starts out rough. The kids aren't used to being together all day and there is a lot of bickering. But after they even out, that's when I feel like I get to truly see who my children are. They dream up projects, they read voraciously, they play with their little sister. They ride their bikes around the block for hours and hours. They stop bickering except for small incidents. This summer they actually got tired of visiting with their friends, as I was arranging all kinds of pre-teen and teen get togethers that no one ever did for me. But in late August, they both told me they just wanted to hang out and have some time at home.
They get to be with their own thoughts. We get to relax into being a family.
Last night at the dinner table, my youngest, who is currently resisting preschool with everything she has, announced that I am always mad at her lately. This could possibly be true, because most of our interactions are either me trying to cajole her into attending preschool without me there, or peeling her off of me around the house. She is regressing. She uses some baby talk, wants to be in my pocket more than normal, feigns inability to do simple things for herself like taking off her pants. Her personality has always been very Mama-centered, but lately it has reached a pinnacle previously unseen. So we are conflicting all day. For what? I don't know.
My husband's job is ramping up and today he is on another one-day business trip where he leaves the house at 4 am to fly to California to rent a car and drive to the facility for a meeting. Then he drives back to the airport and waits for his flight, grabs something for dinner, and after the hour long drive from the airport, walks in the door around 9:30 pm, just in time to tell the big kids goodnight (who should already be asleep). They wanted him to be there all 5 days this week, but because of Garrett's birthday, he wiggled out of that and took two one-day trips. The time lost in travel is causing extreme fatigue and a serious backlog of work, which causes extreme fatigue by itself. It is November and he still has two weeks of vacation we didn't have time to take yet. If he doesn't spend it before Dec 31st, he loses it. No carry over. But how on earth will he make up those two weeks of work into an already bursting schedule? What will life be like on both ends of the vacation days?
Meanwhile, I run the backstage. I make sure the bills are paid and the papers are filled out and the cupboards are full of stuff to take in lunchboxes, I nag people out of the bathroom, and some days I am so wiped from the emotional struggles of all this that I can't make a better dinner than frozen pizza and apples, but I'm not really seeing it as a means to an end. We have no end. There is no cemented family goal that we are working toward. Right now, we are all working to work. Our full time and energy go to recovering and getting ready for more of the same the next day. We are so empty by the weekend that not much happens except a lot of lying around. And laundry.
I'm just not sure what to do. I think we need to do this Family Mission Statement, to find out exactly what it is we are all working toward. Why are we attending school, why is my husband sometimes working 17 hour days, why am I forcing preschool on the little one? Are we doing this out of fear? Fear that we will not be able to keep paying for this house, fear that we will not have health insurance, fear that our kids will not be able to go to college? Surely there are other ways to gain security in this country. If this is all so that the kids can grow up and find well paying jobs that suck all their energy so they can have big houses and two cars and two weeks of vacation time and nag their kids relentlessly monday through friday so they can send them to college, then I am not sure that we aren't being hoodwinked.