Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back-to-School Conundrum

The clock is ticking down. Summer comes to a close in four days. Well, not technically. Autumn doesn't start till September 22nd, and Labor Day Weekend is still a week away. But for all intents and purposes, the season of extended warm-weather play ends on Wednesday, the first day of school in our town.

As it does every year, the first day brings a mix of emotions for parents. I am sad to say goodbye to sleeping late -- well, trying to anyway as one of my sons still gets up in the six o'clock hour, even when there's no school, grr -- the liberating feeling of not putting pressure on myself to accomplish much work-wise, and the ability to take off on guilt-free mini-vacations to camp or visit friends.

On the other hand, I am so ready to get back long child-free days. The boys' day camp ended two weeks ago, and I had to use one at our community center in another town a few times on a drop-in basis. Aside from that, I'd barely gotten a break from my sons since early August. And as any parent knows, the intense togetherness for an extended period of time can really wear on you!

"When does school start?" you want to scream.

The first day of classes means the weather will soon be getting cooler, for better or worse. No more dreadful heat waves (till next year, fingers crossed) during which my home reaches above-90-degree temperatures. September is traditionally a beautiful month in New England that actually suits me much better than those sweltering dog days of August. I have spent many great days at the beach in September enjoying smaller crowds and boogie boarding in the still-warm ocean.

The onset of the school year means it's time to buckle down once again after giving myself a much-needed pass this summer. In the early part of the year, I felt increasing stress that culminated the week I hit a deer on the road. (See "Hitting the Deer," 5/6/13.) That jolting experience caused me to pause, step back, and pay closer attention to what was going on around me. My mind was clogged with a lot of issues, not the least of which was the seemingly contentious relationship of my sons and how exhausting and frustrating it was for me to deal with singlehandedly. The accident did not bring me equilibrium -- more drama was in store the next day (when it rains, it pours, right?) -- but it did set me on a more positive path.

Indeed, two days after being shaken up I received news I'd been waiting for a long time. Charlie had been allowed to stay in a modeling agency he'd just been accepted into before having the Photoshoot From Hell. Two days after the Boston bombings -- and with helicopters hovering over a courthouse in lockdown only a mile away -- my seven year old incurred a freak accident of his own while returning to the photographer's studio in between outfit changes. He had completed one-third of the shoot when suddenly he tripped over the scooter he was half-carrying/half-riding down a cobblestone pedestrian walkway. (The scooter was being used as a prop.) I should have been paying closer attention since he was right in front of me, but I was chatting with the photographer.

My bad.

So down Charlie went, cutting and scraping his bare knee in the process. The injury was very painful. Hence, my son had trouble calming down. Eventually, he managed to get through the second-outfit shoot, though without smiling, before time ran out on us.

As I sat crumpled on a curb with my eyes averted, the next client -- a bubbly blond girl in a pretty spring dress -- skipped up with her excited mother. "How's it going?" she chirped.

"Fine," I gritted through my teeth.

The photographer had to take the chipper duo because it was now their time. But he very kindly finished with Charlie later in the day between clients. By then Charlie had eaten lunch and was feeling much better. He had a good third-outfit shoot. Still, I couldn't watch. I was just beside myself, knowing how much money, effort, and time had been put into this risky venture.

After speaking to an agent and sending her a photo of the scabbed knee one week later, it became clear that my son's status in (or out of) the agency would depend on how the photos turned out. The proof would be in the pudding, in other words. So you can only imagine my surprise, delight, and relief when three weeks later I received a call informing me that Charlie's pictures had come out "GREAT!" The people at the agency loved the shots and Charlie's look. "If he can take shots like that when he's upset, we definitely want him in the agency!" she exclaimed.

OMG. I could have cried tears of joy.

Coming when it did, the happy outcome did so much for me and Charlie because he knew what was going on, too. He understood that the photoshoot had gone very badly. He understood that I was very upset. And he understood that I was under a lot of pressure from many directions, and this situation was only adding to it. Indeed, a huge weight was lifted from both of our shoulders when I answered that wonderful call.

However, it was much less about Charlie being able to model as it was about something (anything!) going right for me/us at that particular time. This was the child whose behavior at times toward his brother at home and in public causes me so much grief. Charlie had come through! So very proud of ya'. I don't know how you did it, but your moody photos evoke a cool-dude seventeen year old posing for Polo Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie & Fitch.


Getting a welcome resolution after being on pins and needles for three solid weeks parted the proverbial clouds of my stress-laden funk. I felt at peace and so much more content the rest of the school year, though it is always something of a pressure-cooker toward the end.

When our summer vacation finally rolled around in late June, I knew exactly how my family would spend it. We would have FUN because we all needed a break, and we would focus on US as a unit because our relationship to each other required it.

Fast forward two months: we achieved our goals. We made the most of our vacation, spending close to two weeks in Maine camping and attending a camp reunion of mine -- storms and heat waves be damned. We canoed, kayaked, and climbed small mountains. Christopher did a high-ropes course and tried many new sports: bumper tubing, ziplining, and stand-up paddleboarding. I tried the latter two for the first time. Charlie could have also but elected to play ga-ga with new friends in a large sand pit and build a stick tepee instead. Both boys auditioned for several modeling and acting jobs. (Christopher, in typical no-drama fashion, was also accepted into the agency.) Moreover, each landed a couple of acting gigs, paid or unpaid.

The dynamic between the brothers at home has drastically improved. They love each other yet have opposite energy levels. They clash when one wants to do something that the other doesn't. For my part, I can gauge what types of situations or activities likely lead to problems, so we can just avoid them. Or, by properly anticipating what might happen, I jump in to separate the boys before a conflict escalates. It's an ongoing learning experience for me and them, but we are definitely making good strides.

For being such a short summer, it was quite a satisfying one. I guess I am prepared to plunge into the school year. But please don't ask me to cut off my rope bracelet just yet!