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Struggle and Reset: The Story of One Teacher Mom’s Transition From School Year to Summer

One of the perks of being a teacher is summer vacation, a time to declutter the junk built up throughout the school year. The offensive emails and student behaviors, administrative orders and staff grievances all held prime real estate in my prefrontal cortex, and were all simultaneously evicted on the last day of school, making space for more important things like:

  1. Constant weather monitoring in order to determine (see #2)

  2. Whether it’s playground or pool

To have the burdens weighed on me for nine months lifted in the ring of one final bell is a gift. And like many gifts, also a curse.

Because how much brain space can sun or storm, swings or slides truly occupy? I have no idea except that it’s not nearly the amount filled previously with planning and grading.

And so, while this time of year is filled with abundance – ripe raspberries and green grass, kids’ concerts and purple popsicles – there’s also an emptiness, colossal room for my mind to wander, and oftentimes, to dangerous landscapes.

As a Single Mom By Choice in her 40s with a three-year old, it’s difficult to encapsulate the terror I experience when I drift into the Sea of What Could Have Been and the Land of What Will Be, but it’s cathartic to document the journey in hopes of being a compass for other lost souls.

Even when it’s good, change is hard, and so it all began with a good, hard change. Overnight, the school year ended and my daughter, Autumn, and I went from strict structure – Mommy leaves, nanny arrives, Autumn wakes/plays/naps, Mommy comes home – to loosey goosey, and with it, from four hours together daily to pretty much 24/7. Even when you adore someone, that’s a lot, and an adjustment.

And then we took a small vacation, and she missed a nap. Autumn needs her naps as much as I need her to nap, and so, when she blew up in a public bathroom, red-faced screaming:

“I do not want to try,” I did not handle it well.

And then, when she scribbled blue marker on the carpet to get my attention while I attempted a yoga session, I again did not handle it well.

And on it continued – her rage foreign to us both – and slowly, it drowned my confidence, not only in mothering, but in every life choice I’ve made, as sometimes happens when your history includes depression. So many thoughts, like a racecar sliding on ice:

Why is my usually sweet girl acting so salty? Why can’t I give her more and better? She needs a sibling. I need more friends. How did I fall short in both arenas where I showed promise – not achieving big Hollywood credits nor big family life? How did Autumn and I get so derailed, and how do we get back on track?

I was worried. Decades ago, episodes with too much thinking and too little doing ended with upping medication and lying in bed, neither of which suited me in the present. And so instead, I proceeded to:

  1. Cry

  2. Talk to my therapist

  3. Text my sister, who forwarded an article called “20 Ways to “Reset” When the Kids Are Having a Hard Day”

  4. Skim article sent from sister

  5. Hire a sitter for a few hours

  6. Binge-watch Mrs. Maisel

And the next morning, when Autumn got softly emotional about going to camp, I relaxed my shoulders, bent down and said:

“Is it because I didn’t see you as much yesterday?”

Hugging me through gentle sobs, she said, “Yes. Because I love you.”

And so we spent time in a big, grassy field with NanaPapa, reading books, collecting sticks, and chasing birds. Just as negative thoughts and actions feed off each other creating more of the same, so, too, do positive ones; the next day, we danced silly, binged strawberries, and had way too much fun with way too much shaving cream.

As it turns out, my daughter and I didn’t need 20 ways to regain control. We just needed one that worked for us, and that one was stopping and reconnecting, getting messy and letting go.

And while there are no guarantees against us encountering other summer funks, I have every confidence we will always find our own special ways to reset.

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