A couple of weeks ago, I was pacing the kitchen while making the kids breakfast. It was the first week with all four of them home on summer break and I was already frustrated with small things — the dishes still left in the sink, the mess that had accumulated on the living room floor, and the fact that I bought the wrong kind of sunscreen. I was anxious and irritated. I looked over at my husband, who was actively pretending not to notice my mental state, but calmly said, “It’s okay. You get like this every year at this time.” I quickly realized he was right.
I never get used to big transitions, especially the one between school and summer. No matter how many times I experience the same yearly shifts, I always need an adjustment period. Even when I am transitioning into something “better,” it always takes my nervous system a while to adjust. And it is especially difficult to gear up for a big change when it’s fairly short-lived, with another shift waiting on the other side. I finally get settled into the no-school routine — just in time for my anxiety to start amping up for the transition back into it all.
And so, as always, it took a couple of weeks of transitional panic to settle into the normal level of angst that I have today. I think it’s mostly because routines calm me. Even when we are switching to a routine that I prefer — I actually love summer! — any change makes me feel wobbly.
To be fair to me, though, the change from having three kids in school for part of the day to having four kids at home most of the time is a bit earth-shaking. And with the later bedtimes and relaxed schedule that these warmer months bring, it takes some getting used to for all of us. But just when I start to feel grounded and acclimated, I realize that summer is already halfway over and back-to-school looms.
So while I am really enjoying and loving these warm, lazy, family-filled summer days, I am already feeling anxious about the back to school transition and the reacclimatization into flustered early mornings, daily lunch packing, drop offs, pickups, and after school activities. I am tired just thinking about all of it. And I just know from years of experience that I won’t be able to roll with it. It will be like the rug has been pulled from underneath me and I will be floundering and frustrated for weeks until I regain my bearings.
So what can I do now, while living in the sweet spot, to avoid an upcoming transitional meltdown? Since maximizing preparedness seems like the most logical answer, maybe I should start easing our way into the changes a little early. We could set our alarms a week or two in advance to the start of school and start preparing for the big schedule shift. Ya know, fewer ice cream truck dinners and more pre-bed flashcards. But honestly, who wants to do that? Summer break is for wild and free timetables, fireside s’mores, dirty feet, and snoozy mornings. I can’t opt out early because of my own anxiety and shortcomings.
I think for now I will work to increase my own awareness of how these shifts affect me. I will notice when I am feeling off-kilter, frustrated, and impatient and I will recognize that it is just a sign of the seasonal times, rather than a sudden, mysterious decline in my mental health. And I will give myself time to adjust, before sounding the alarm that life is too chaotic to handle. Because it will all soften and calibrate eventually. It always does.
Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.