If you see me around town these days, you may notice my crazed grin. You may notice an extra bounce in my step. You may notice that I appear to be missing two-thirds of my children.
This year, two of our three daughters are in preschool three days a week.
By mid-August, I was counting the days until school started. By mid-August, I was wondering whom I could call to put in my vote for year-round school. By mid-August, I was questioning whether school is really for children, or for their parents. By mid-August, I had realized two unforeseen benefits to living in Addison County: 1) the pre-Labor Day start of school, and 2) full-day Kindergarten!
Summer in Vermont is a magical season, and since this was our second summer here, we knew how to take advantage of the long, warm, green days: weekly trips to Lake Dunmore, berry picking in Charlotte, visiting the animals at Shelburne Farms, the Addison County Fair & Field Days, Festival on the Green, the almost-daily programs at the library, and plenty of creemees. We filled our glasses to the brim with summer, and it was wonderful.
But this summer, I also had a three-year-old and a four-year-old in the house.
The benefit of these ages: they’re old enough to play together for long stretches of time. My oldest daughters would hunker down after breakfast with Legos or Barbies or markers, often leaving me enough time to wash the dishes AND brush my teeth in peace. Small luxuries!
The drawback of these ages: they’re still too young to participate in most of the local summer activities, but they’re old enough to bicker. And bicker they did. Every day was punctuated by cries of, “She’s poking me!”, “She’s being SUPER-mean!”, “She hit me and SMILED!”, “Mom-MEEE!!!” By August 1, I was a huddled mass yearning to breathe free, and the first day of school was like Lady Liberty’s torch, beckoning me forward with the promise of freedom in 29 days.
A disclaimer is probably appropriate at this point: I DO love my children, very much. And they love each other, too. When my oldest daughter began preschool last year, I expected her sister, our middle child, to relish the extra attention. Instead, every preschool day was an endless cycle of: “I miss Sister,” and “When can we pick up Sister?” (I remind them of this every so often, when they’re pulling out each other’s hair).
But this summer, I learned that no matter how much you love somebody, you should never, EVER have to be with them 24 hours a day, every day, for three months. I mean, I love chocolate a lot, too, but if I ate it all day, every day, for three months, somebody would have to intervene.
When the first day of school rolls around each year, the annual back-to-school story swap begins; parents -- at the playground, on Facebook, in line at Hannafords -- compare notes on their children’s first day of school. And every year, many of the stories include lines like: “HE’S ready to go, but I’M not ready for him to go!” or “After we dropped her off, I cried until pickup time!”
I think those are lovely sentiments. I’m deeply moved by these stories. I secretly worry that these parents love their children more than I love mine. But I just can’t relate. When someone tells me a tearful back-to-school story, I smile sympathetically and nod politely, the same way I would if someone said to me, “Oh my, I’m just having SO much trouble managing all of my household staff!”
Then I hop into my almost-empty minivan, crank up the “Sesame Street” CD, and grin maniacally as I head off to run errands in freedom. Just me and my 18-month-old. It’s like a mini-vacation three days each week.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters, four laying hens — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.