There are certain things in life you never should do.
Some you learn as a child: Don’t play with matches. Don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Don’t put aluminum foil in the microwave.
Others you pick up as an adult: Don’t step on the scale directly after you return home from vacation. Don’t send money to the Nigerian prince who emailed that he wishes to transfer his substantial royal funds to you.
We know to avoid these things. But there’s one more item we should add to the list:
Don’t judge your parenting based on the month of August. Just don’t. Don’t go there.
After many years of experience, I’ve accepted that if there ever was a month when I’m least likely to receive a parenting award (if such an award existed), it would be the month of August. August is a beast.
I sludge through its hot and humid days feeling adrift, like I don’t know what to do with myself, and languid like I wouldn’t have the energy even if I knew what to do. By August, I’ve grown weary of applying sunscreen. Popsicles no longer thrill me. My physical and emotional reserves for outings—to the pool, to the playground, even to the children’s library—have been depleted. For three months, I’ve uttered “close the door behind you” Every. Single. Time. my kids have entered or exited the house.
During August, I have no desire to cook, anything, ever again.
Traditionally, my kids have languished throughout August, too. Even though they’re unable to fully articulate their subconscious thoughts about the weight of the pending school year and their concerns about whether they’ll be in class with friends, be able to open their lockers, or find their way around the new building, they act it out with charming tendencies like heightened needs, intensified outbursts, more frequent bickering over minor offenses, and propensities to overreact.
You see, August is like a month-long Sunday night. Your primary posture is waiting for what’s ahead.
Add to this the fact that there’s no graceful way to end summer. You simply hover in the space between summer and school, your toes curled over the edge, waiting to take the plunge, but when you finally reach the moment of departure—when you’re finally ready to release the kinetic energy and pounce—everything happens so quickly, like someone unceremoniously pushed you into the deep end.
Perhaps this is why August surprises me anew each time I encounter it. I vaguely recall the pattern from summers past—this is the time of year when my kids get weird about folders. This is the point when I struggle to perform simple adult tasks, like serving a dinner that’s not chips and salsa—but as soon as September hits, I’m so deeply immersed in our new routine that I forget how long we were poised at August’s edge, warily waiting to leap. We instantly revert back into being a Family With a Schedule, hedged in by routine, rather than a family whose mother invents errands to fill up the endless wastelands of time that make up the bulk of August afternoons.
Yet, year after year, as if by magic, the wearisome aspects of August get erased from my memory.
Perhaps this happens to you, too.
You forget the clumps of grass that hitchhike their way to your bathroom floor on the feet of kids who spent the afternoon careening down a Slip-n-Slide doused with dish soap.
You don’t remember the irritating mosquito bite behind your left knee.
You forget how your kids squabbled and perpetually needed to be fed. (Snacking is the preferred pastime of the bored, after all.)
You forget how your house was strewn with plastic wrappers from ice pops.
You no longer recall the extended bedtime routine prompted by the late-setting sun.
You overlook the August-version of internal parenting doubts (Are my kids getting too much sun exposure? Too few structured activities? Too much TV time? Too few baths?) and replace them with the next season’s parenting doubts.
You might even forget that you’re not the best, most pulled-together, on-the-ball, go-get-‘em version of your parenting self during August.
And that’s OK.
You’re not getting a parenting award this month anyway because, as you remember, parenting awards don’t exist. You mostly will remember that your kids were happy kids, even if they sometimes were sticky or irritable.
So, add an entry to your list of don’ts. Tuck it somewhere between “don’t attempt to pull on a swimsuit that’s already wet” and “don’t make a spontaneous decision to get a drastic haircut on the most humid day of the year.”
Don’t judge your parenting based on August. Your memories of the month eventually will reveal that you did much better than you think.
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