The sun was still gloriously shining at 8:45 p.m. when I walked to the pool’s edge and completely killed the vibe. It wasn’t intentional—ripping them straight from their summer bliss with my announcement. Their looks of disgust from behind their goggles were exactly what I had expected though. It’s not easy being the bearer of bad news ,but someone had to do it. In hindsight, there was probably a better time and place to say what I said.
All I said was, “School is starting again next week, we have to start getting back into a good routine, you guys.”
I’m sure what they heard was, “Playtime is over! No more late-night swimming. No more staying up until all hours and sleeping in. No more fun!”
When they got out of the pool, you could see it had set it in already: those old back to school blues.
They dragged their sopping wet feet and begrudgingly wrapped up in their towels to shuffle past me. I even caught that nasty preteen side eye from my son. Oh, it’s chilly and cutting! Everything they did the rest of the night was laden with heavy, exasperated sighs. Luckily for me, they weren’t so out of breath with disappointment that they need to pass out on the nearest armchair in dramatic fashion. Every conversation was overshadowed by whiny, moaning tones and eye rolls so heavy I was surprised they didn’t fall over backward.
I get it! I was a carefree kid on summer break once too. I never wanted the long, warm, spontaneous days of adventure and laziness to end. I’m sure I did the same thing when my mom told me school was coming to strip away my freedom. I knew they wouldn’t have any pity for my shared experience, as that was me (a long time ago “in the 19s,” as they say) and this was happening to them now and it was just the worst thing ever. The statute of limitations for relevance was way past.
I showed them empathy as they got ready for bed “so early.” I tried to tell them how great it would be to see their friends and how sports were kicking off again soon with no success in turning frowns upside down. Even an offer of shopping for their favorite lunch box treats wasn’t enough to pull them out of their funk. All they heard was “routine, rules, repetition.”
Finally, I just gave in.
I told them they could own those feelings and that they were valid. It was OK to feel sad and be bummed out that summer was ending. We had a great summer and it was appropriate to grieve its end. We would be going back to “normal” and that can be bumpy, but I promised to give them some grace as we adjusted. I asked for grace too. I told them it might be a little hard, for them and me, but we would get through it together, just as we do at the start of every new school year.
Did that fix things and bring back smiles, s’mores, and cannonballs? No. Not it did not. Were they still grumpy and moody? Yes, yes they were. Have we been through this before and still made our way to that first early bell ringing to signal the start of a new year? Somehow, also yes. In the meantime, we’ll try to enjoy the last days of summer as best we can with the looming deadline of dread ahead of us.