Thursday, May 24, 2012

Because I Said So: Freedom best part of summer parenting

Is there anything more anticipated in our relentless, 365-day marathon than the end of the school year? Christmas, maybe. Birthdays, perhaps. But even as adults, we can sense an excitement in the air as the seasons change and the days on the calendar tick down to summer vacation. In all the years as children, with each lesson and rule being hammered into us until we don't have to think before we multiply or label a part of speech, this time of year has become second nature as well.

I felt it last week on the last day of school when I picked up the kids and we stepped off the curb of school property for the last time. I was giddy - giddy! - with the knowledge that we could sleep in the next day and lounge around, and not have to think about homework and lunches and school uniforms. Sure, I have to keep working as I always do, but it's a far less stressful day knowing my kids are playing and relaxing nearby.

I also looked back at the school year as I stepped off that curb, and I think I did a pretty good job. The kids made it to school every day (not perfect attendance, but really, really good attendance), they had something to eat, their uniforms were clean, they had two, matching shoes on their feet. All in all, not too bad.

In this week's Because I Said So column, I actually grade myself. I do this before my kids can do it for me, and I declare myself: average.


Freedom best part of summer parenting
The school year is over, and it was a good year with advances made, focus maintained and lessons learned. The grades are just beginning to roll in, and I could not be more proud. I've given myself a solid B-minus in School Year Parenting for 2011-12.
It wasn't perfect (it never is), and I'm no show-off, but I did manage to prepare just north of 750 sandwiches since last August. I found socks, washed uniforms, located shoes and walked the kids to school. I napped. I read to my daughter's kindergarten class once. OK, sure, it was only once, but one is more than none, and that's good math. I also helped my kids with some math homework.

My weakest subject was probably handwriting. Specifically, in putting my handwriting on the many forms that Memphis City Schools requires for our kids to take part in any activities. There was a mountain of paperwork in my inbox, and no way to get to all of it, not with all of those sandwiches to be made. So some papers were late, and some never made it to school. Or they made it there, but were tardy.

There were forms for field trips, for projects due and projects done, graded homework, quizzes to be signed and notices of fundraisers. I put these things off, set them aside and forgot all about them.

The first rule is to always show your work. Well, here it is, beneath this pile on my desk, still.

There were tests, too. Spontaneous questionnaires by people I'd run into at Lowe's or Kroger -- "Papa quizzes," if you will -- and I was expected to know the answers. "Sixth-grade ... baritone saxophone, Japanese and Spanish, soccer ... 14 years old ... TCAP ... peanut butter."

School-year parenting is different than summertime parenting, isn't it? During school, there are rules and regulations to adhere to, time schedules, adults standing at the front of the room telling you what is and is not acceptable. But in the summer, I can do what I want, when I want. Mostly. As long as the adult at the front of the room says it's OK.

During these 10 weeks of summer, we will sleep late and eat at all hours of the day. We'll go outside when the sunshine calls and come in for television and naps when the shade begins to vanish. I will still make sandwiches, and I will still walk with my kids, but I won't have to sign the forms to say they can go to the zoo, I won't have to wake them before sunrise, and they can spend whole days with no shoes for all I care.

Summertime Dad will get an A-plus. I can feel it. I've been studying for this since late last year, somewhere around sandwich No. 220. I've memorized the formula, I've solved for X and found that X marks the spot. And that spot is poolside, where I'll be with a cool drink in my hand and working on a passing grade at passing the time. 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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