“Love is patient, love is kind.”
I Corinthians 13: 4
I adored having my three kids around the house all summer. Their muted footfalls fluttered through the house like a scattering of rose petals. Their sunny voices asked, "Is there anything we can do to help you, Mother Dear?"
Welcome to Fantasy Island.
I know why Labor Day is at the end of summer. It's the day mothers question whether the fruit of their labor pains was worth the price. Ask us the question on Memorial Day and we'll bore you with sentimental memories of our child's first tooth or our wistful tears as they trotted off to kindergarten. Ask the question on Labor Day and we'll growl, "I'll give you three for a buck-ninety-eight. Will that be cash, check or credit card?"
School days, schools days, dear old Golden Rule days . . .
The Golden Rule is mentioned in those lyrics to remind our children of the existence of rules. You know. Those guidelines parents set up in June, revise in July and throw in the trash compactor in August?
You may not go swimming until one hour after eating.
Here, take a sandwich with you.
Come inside when the street lights turn on.
Here's a flashlight.
Be sure to lock up.
To be fair, the summer holiday involves compromise on both parts. I was used to eating Snickers for lunch and the kids were used to pestering an adult who is unaware of their wide repertory of juvenile cons. So, I stocked up on peanut butter and pot pies and the kids became buddies with the retired couple who lived down the street. (I sent the couple an anonymous thank-you bouquet every Monday, signing the enclosure, Your Eternal Friend.)
Summertime proves to be costly for those families where both parents work outside the home. Day-care expenses make you ask: Not only are the kids out of school but I have to pay money for the privilege?
Those of us who work at home dream of day-care. It's a bit hard to concentrate when there's a trail of mildewing beach towels bisecting the house, the smell of burnt cookies wafting out of the kitchen, and the pulse of Meatloaf (the singer not the dinner) making me contemplate the construction of a stockade in the back yard. (I wonder if the library has a how-to book, perhaps shelved under child psychology?)
I should clarify. I love my kids. Cross my heart and hope to . . . but they make me tired. Lethargic. Catatonic.
I considered buying three season tickets to the Royals. Let's see . . . 81 home games at four hours a game equals 324 hours when my darlings won't be asking me The Question.
And what is The Question? Come on parents, you can ace this quiz.
Is The Question::
A. We're tired, Mom, so what can we do now?
B. We're hungry, Mom, so what can we do now?
C. We're bored, Mom, so what can we do now?
The Question is: All, or any of the above depending on the barometric pressure, the peanut butter deficit, and the number of neighbor kids glaring at me from the doorway.
On average, I hear, and attempt to answer The Question two hundred and eighty-three times. I started the summer with good intentions – and good answers.
"Ask Erin over. Play school. Read a book."
But around the seventieth asking (during Day 4 of summer) my answers, and my patience, began to show signs of sanity withdrawal.
"Are you sure Erin's parents don't want another child? Go pick the lock on the school. Watch Forensic Files."
I answered Question #274 with a primal grunt. In response to Question #275, I snarled. Intent on testing their mother's new vocabulary to the fullest, my children continued through Question #283 when they noticed my incisors appeared to be sharpening. I never heard The Question again. Hey, I don't raise no dumb kids.
As the end of summer glows on the horizon and the aura of back-to-school entices, I realize there will be a time when I'll give anything to hear the thud of elephant feet and the wails of, "But, Mom, do we have to?" I'll look back on these chaotic summers with a bittersweet reflection. Guilt will sit on my shoulders until I admit my insensitivity.
Ah, what the heck. I'll risk it.