Today is my least favorite day of the year. The day before school starts. The end of summer. The beginning of homework and drudgery.
The end of fun.
Jack has been dreading this day for weeks. He angsts. He frets. He worries about things to come instead of basking in the remaining moments of his freedom. He is, after all, his mother’s child. I do my best to distract him, to cheer him up, to reassure him he will love it once he gets there. But I am pretty sure he can see right through me.
Don’t get me wrong – I love learning and I love school. Hell, I went to school for 19 years.
But I don’t love the restrictions and routine that come with the school year. I hate having to take real showers instead of convincing myself that swimming in a chlorinated pool is entirely sufficient. I hate having to be on time. And I really hate having to be up early.
Most of all, I hate losing my babies. I know plenty of moms who gleefully look forward to the first day of school as if it’s Christmas morning. But I’m just not one of them. On summer vacation, we get to go to museums and parks and beaches. We spend every afternoon fully submerged in the water playing games. We go boogie boarding and berry picking and fishing. We spend lazy mornings building forts and reading books. These things are awesome. They are, in fact, the best things ever. We happily spend every moment of summer together and I hate when it ends.
This year, I feel the impending gloom more than I ever have. Perhaps it is because we have lived in a little bit of a bubble this summer. After my dad died, we moved in with my mother. In her house on the water, with her pool, and her fun treats, and her enormous backyard full of trees to climb and sticks to collect. It is every boy’s dream. It was so easy to pretend, in this idyllic setting, that nothing had changed. We sheltered each other and loved each other and kept each other company 24 hours a day.
But the night before school, we moved back into our house with the good intention of getting the boys back into a routine for the start of the school year. And a big part of me is worried that we will all start to realize that everything has changed.
Tonight my mom is by herself for the first time in 8 weeks. No longer distracted by the chaos of having 5 extra people in her house. There’s no chatter at the dinner table, no mock fighting over who gets to do the dishes, no sound of little footsteps coming to the top of the stairs to ask for more water, no beagle eating Oreos out of the pantry. There’s no one to make her a Diet Coke.
Every night for the last 43 years, my dad made my mom a Diet Coke to take upstairs to bed. It’s not that she was incapable of pouring a drink for herself or that she liked to be waited on. It was just one of the things he wanted to do for her because he loved her. Because he was always finding ways to show her he loved her. Even after 43 years.
The night he died, as we were all sitting around in stunned silence, I looked at my brother and said “Oh God, who is going to make mom her Diet Coke? It sounds stupid but that’s all I can think about…”
He looked at me and said “It’s not stupid at all. It’s everything.”
Tonight, mom made her Diet Coke herself and she survived. Tomorrow, Jack will go to school and we will both survive.
But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.