As I sent my children off to school last Friday, I stood on the front porch with a pasted smile on my face as I waved enthusiastically to them as they left. “Have a fun last day!” I yelled to my daughter as she skipped down the street. “Enjoy your last day as a seventh grader!” I shouted to my son as he hopped in the car with my husband and headed off to middle school. “Live like there’s no tomorrow,” I muttered to myself as I went inside, “because it is your last day of freedom for 89 days.”
I went inside and sat on the couch to enjoy my last few hours of silence. I reflected on the family tradition we follow every fall and spring in our house. On the first and last days of school, our children stand on the front porch and hold up a handmade sign that says, “Last day of (please fill in applicable number here) grade!” and I take a photo that will preserve this annual memory forever (or until they run out of room in their closets). On the first day of school, their smiles are forced and plastic because they know what’s ahead of them: nine months of studying vocabulary words, diagramming sentences, dissecting sheep’s eyeballs and frog’s digestive systems, and worst of all, getting up at the crack of dawn every day. On the last day of school, their smiles show more teeth than I think is legal as I snap the photo. “Wooo-hooo!” they shout as they run out the door. “We’re FREEEEEEEEEEEE!”
For the past few years, my husband has taken a photo of me on the first and last days of school in an attempt to preserve my feelings for an eternity (or so he says). I think he’s saving these photos in a box somewhere to use as one more piece of evidence when he tries to have me locked up in the Looney bin someday. My smile on the first day of school makes Tom Cruise look like he doesn’t even know what a grin is. “Holy cow!” my husband exclaimed the first year he took the photo. “I didn’t even know your lips could stretch that far!”
“Oh, I’m really sad,” I attempted to convince him. “I’m just putting on a good front so the kids don’t worry about me today. It is the first day back to school – they have a lot of stress.” I gave him the thumbs up sign.
“Good try,” my husband answered as he rolled his eyes and watched me mouth the words, “I’M FREE!”
On the last day of school this year, my husband said cheerfully, “Say cheese!” as he waited for me to pose on the front porch.
“You can stick that piece of cheese right up your … oh, hiiiiiiii kids!” I said cheerfully to our children who just stepped out on the porch for their own photo ops. I turned back to my husband and grimaced for the camera.
“Do you need some Metamucil, honey? my husband asked, “because that look on your face right now makes me think that things are really backed up in the old digestive system.”
Just as I pointed my finger at him and yelled, “TAKE THE FRICKIN’ PHOTO!” my husband pressed the button and there I was, in all my last day of school glory, preserved for eternity with my mouth wide open, my eyes bugging out of my head, and my two children standing behind me, aghast at my use of the forbidden word “frickin.”
Summer vacation is hard on mothers. We really do love our kids, but after hearing, “I’m bored” over 4,000 times; “I’m hungry” approximately 2,750 times; “He hit me!” about 1,430 times; and “I can’t find anyone to play with in this whole neighborhood of 650 kids!” about 263 times, we start to check off days on the calendar and then torture our children with the accumulated data.
Around August 1, I start the countdown. “Only 15 more days of summer vacation!” I spontaneously announce in a cheerful voice one morning during breakfast.
My son throws down his cereal spoon and starts crying. He puts his head in his hands and says dramatically, “Why, oh why, Mom did you have to bring that up? I’m just trying to E-N-J-O-Y my vacation. I have soooo much stress during the school year,” he sniffs for emphasis.
“It won’t be long and you’ll have to HIT THE BOOKS!” I jump up and down as my daughter stares at my antics with disgust.
“Mom, you’re not going to high-five all the other mothers in the school supply aisle at the discount store again this year, are you? Please tell me you won’t do it again.”
“I can’t promise anything!” I say with a smile.
“Just don’t hug the girl in the checkout line again, okay?” my son begs.
“I do accept bribes,” I joke as I skip out of the kitchen while singing, “15 more days, la, la, laaaaaaa!”
Payback can be painful at my house, but after all, it is an important part of our annual tradition.