Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Putting a Positive Spin on Summer

It is confusing to call this the last day of summer, as the kids here in New York go back tomorrow for only one day before getting off the rest of the rest of the week. Still and all though, today is the day school supplies must be purchased, that we must shed our lazy routines of summer, our "what's next for fun..." mentality and get down to business.

I face this day with great nervousness and excitement as I do getting ready for all new things. There is worry that the year will not be perfect, that I will not help my children be the absolute best they can be, but also a great deal of hope that so much will be learned, so much explored, so much good will arise out of the simple act of trying.

We are often so hard on ourselves for what we have not accomplished, what we did not do during the summer, instead of focusing on all the things we did do, even if much of that was simply relaxing and unwinding from what the more prescribed seasons require.

The first day of school can be so stressful for both parents and kids as people beseech you again and again, "Did you have a good summer?" We lucked out a couple years back and found our heads--unchecked all summer--filled with lice the first morning of school. Instead of joining neighbors in the first-day-of-school photo, tromping along with everyone to face the eager questions about the preceeding months' accomplishments, we were home, combing out our hair with Pantene.

The kids didn't seem to mind and I, for one, realized when appearing on far-less-stressful day two of school, that no one cared any longer about my summer. The question had been asked umpteen times of others, it was done. I was off the hook.

Last year, against my better judgment, we did go to the first day of school, having no legitimate excuse. But my mindset had changed. I realized that it was just a brief moment, a necessary but silly excercise to even ask the question "How was your summer?" let alone feel the need to answer. It is like how so many, even I, ask people, "How are you?" and don't really expect an honest answer.

I am terrible that way, very literal with language. I often feel I have to answer the question honestly. But I don't, or at least I don't have to dig deep into my soul to figure the ins and outs of my summer, the great and the terrible moments, just to respond to a fellow parent's polite inquiry.

As my older son, Eli, pulls together pictures and mementos from his summer with which to decorate his writer's notebook, I can look back and see all the awesome things we did. I laugh when I look at photos of the kids smiling and hugging knowing that I had bribed them with crusty baguettes to get them to stop wrestling long enough to pose sweetly in front of Monet's inspiring waterlillies. Reality often differs from that image we look to portray to others. I, for one, try to be cognizant of that, to marry the two as much as possible and not try to pretend everything is perfect when it's not.

But it is important to take a lesson from pictures, from the need to say a hearty "yes!" when asked if one's summer was good: there is so much to be grateful for, so much in one's day that is good  when we do our best to focus on it.

Gold stars go out to parents and kids for putting on a smile and a positive spin on summer in the first days back to school. Along with the No. 2 pencils and those godforsaken flair pens that I can never seem to find, a good attitude, an openness to trying, is crucial.

Check out my new weekly parenting column in The Brooklyn Paper, "Fearless Parenting." Tell all your friends!

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