Friday, August 28, 2015

Ready or Not

I am a girl who loves a list. I find great satisfaction in the finality of crossing an item out, marking it completed, checking it off the list. But I have given up on tidy lists these last days of August and started moving items to a jumbled to-do inventory for September, hidden in my day timer by the turn of a page.

No page is thick enough, however, to hide what is written at the top of next week. School starts Monday. I am not ready for this. And, yet, I am so ready for this, for a return to something like normalcy after a summer of tumultuous fun. Ready or not, here it comes.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve felt more often than not that I am flying by the figurative seat of my pants. My husband would guffaw at this. He knows I like to have a plan – along with a list. But with kids, you kind of need both: a plan of action and the willingness to amend that plan as it is implemented. In short, my plan is no longer so firmly in my control; sometimes we have to alter the course mid-plan to make a wardrobe change or clean up a mess or bandage a scraped knee.

I am getting better, by necessity, at going with the flow. At least sometimes that is true.

Right now, with the first day of school looming on the very near horizon, I feel as if I should have a plan. But I don’t, not really. I’ve been too frenzied to make one. Sure, my kids’ backpacks are hung from their hooks in the kitchen, filled with the supplies their teachers have requested for the first day of school. I have given some half-distracted thought to the snacks and I will pack into lunchboxes that first day. Everyone has sneakers that fit and a selection of clothes first-day-of-school suitable.

But I still feel like my world is spinning with summer diversions, sporadically completed work, and the household chaos that comes with having three kids home constantly – at least when we’re not out playing or exploring. The front porch is a jumble of beach towels and drying bathing suits. There are tennis racquets and golf tees thrown into the car, bikes and soccer balls and forgotten gardening tools strewn about the yard. Legos and art supplies and books litter every room of the house, mingling with my notes for this story or that, scribbled on scraps of paper and misplaced in the wake of activity.

There is no planning amid such chaos, and any list I manage to jot down is soon lost.

I am waiting for that time when the kids are in school, that stretch of hours each day, to regroup. Then I’ll take a good, hard look at my untidy list on that hidden page and figure out what to do first. I keep telling myself that once I can return to a normal schedule, I will have plenty of time to catch up – on the work that’s been piling up, on the clutter that has creeped into every corner of the house, and on making a plan for getting it all done. Of course I’ll also have to plan for homework help and dinner prep and how to keep two dozen kids interested and learning and having fun at soccer practice.

Next week we jump from wavering summer plans to more rigid fall ones. From barefoot soccer in the yard to shin guards and cleats and lined fields. From pure pleasure reading to homework assignments. From mostly hanging with the kids to packing them off in the morning and returning to my coffee and my keyboard – and an impossibly quiet house.

No matter how well packed the backpacks are and how carefully selected the First Day outfits, my children’s return to school always hits me like an accidental punch to the gut. Somehow I’m never quite ready for how much older they seem that first day of school than they did the year before, and how lonely it is returning home without them.

That quiet house is what I need to get back to crossing things off the list, but I’m also, just a little bit, dreading the quiet. I know from past first-day-of-school experiences that I’ll get used to it again pretty quickly, that soon I’ll settle into the school year flow. On that first day, though, I’m never quite ready. No matter; school starts Monday. Ready or not, here it comes.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the August 28, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.

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