Back to School (Not So) Blues

Stress

Stress (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

My son went back to school on Tuesday, and I actually allowed my worries about getting back into the school routine to taint my last few days of summer break with unease. I wasn’t walking around in a funk, but I certainly did stress some. Part of that could be remembering the meltdown I had the day before Peter went back to school last year. And then there are all the questions. Can I get everything done in the mornings? How will my younger son behave without the distraction of his elder brother? Will my house ever be clean again? When will I read and write? Instead of looking forward to autumn, which is my favorite season, I focused on the little things that get under my skin.

I guess the problem is that my summer was just too good. I really enjoyed the freedom afforded me this year. I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever been so productive, as far as writing goes. I wanted to publish my latest story on Smashwords (I have another story, “Stranded,” published there already), and I did finish editing it right on schedule. But I decided to try my hand with the children’s literary magazine market instead. This is a new venture for me – and a new way to get rejected. Still, I figured it’s worth a shot. Maybe the story will end up on Smashwords anyway, just not as soon as planned. I also wrote blog content weeks in advance, something that I’ve missed this week. Plus, I loved the slightly later bedtime for everyone in the house. I found a nice rhythm of getting laundry done, cleaning the house, and cooking the majority of our meals from scratch. With things going so smoothly, the looming prospect of shaking everything up was daunting. “Disciplined” should be my middle name because I almost always have a plan for everything and generally stick to it. My problem is that when things don’t go as planned, I’m liable to have a conniption.

What I discovered this week, however, is that it’s kind of like what they say about riding a bike. And I haven’t even fallen off yet, which is a plus. Peter and I went to visit his kindergarten classroom on Monday, and I was immediately swept up by the school bug that made me want to volunteer and substitute teach there to begin with. It’s like Disney World for elementary school (and if there’s anything I love, it’s Disney). After only two days back on the get-up-at-4:30-and-out-of-the-house-before-7:00 schedule, I wondered why I was so worried. Yes, I have less time to clean the house, less time to relax, less time to write because, during the school year, when I’m either substituting or spending my days at my parents’ business. But since I’ve been at work every day, I’ve gotten to see my parents more, and work hasn’t piled up like it did over the summer, when I only came in a few hours every week. My younger son’s nap time has adjusted about two hours earlier, so my productivity during his nap is simply at a different time and station. I carry my laptop with me everywhere, typing and researching in my spare moments. And it’s working.

I wish I could say it will always be smooth sailing, but there have already been days when I’ve gone to bed with too much left to do. If I have a new goal, it’s not to stress out too much about it. And another nice perk is that the guys (well, my husband and five-year-old – not so much the toddler) are pitching in, too. The things that I often did myself over the summer, like cleaning and cooking, are shared responsibilities now. Why in the world do I have to be supermom? I can adjust, if only I’m willing to be flexible, and if I can just let go of my usual I’ll-do-it-myself attitude and allow myself to be satisfied with things that aren’t one hundred percent my way, I’ll make it through just fine.

Time, That Fickle Fiend

Time flies–unless it stands still. Time is kind to some, cruel to others. Time supposedly heals all wounds (although that’s a theory I don’t want to test). And even the staunchest of pacifists kill time.

My grandmother used to have a saying, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” Well, if that’s true, then there are times when I am sure that my demise is near. But, to temper that, I have some days that feel like they last for months.

Do you ever remember, when you were a kid, how long everything took? Summer break or my birthday or Christmas were always forever away. Or, my personal favorite, I was convinced that it was a four-hour drive from Jacksonville to Disney World until I was a teenager and realized it was much closer to two. Excitement and anticipation made the waiting both painful and delicious.

There were other times when my own dread of something stretched time until I couldn’t see past the obstacle of the moment. Piano recitals were the worst. The day of was terrible, but usually that whole week, there was nothing for me to do but dread my performance. There might be birthday parties to attend that weekend, family coming from out of town, a trip the following week—none of it existed as long as that piano recital was in the way. Then, the recital itself was almost an out-of-body experience, during which someone else’s hands flew over the keys, and at the end I stood and bowed, wondering what had happened. After a few minutes of disbelief, I realized that it was over and my life could continue.

How interesting it is that time fluctuates like this, yet it’s a static thing, in as much as a minute equals sixty seconds and an hour equals sixty minutes and so on. Even when we tamper with time by either falling back or springing forward, we don’t actually gain or lose time. It’s not as if a vacuum swallows that precious hour in the spring and spits it out again in the fall. Rather, we re-label the hours that already exist, and during the adjustment period, we often feel like we’re running late when it’s suddenly sunny at seven in the morning.

Adults are very protective of their time. It is a precious commodity of which I, at least, am very protective. I know that I never seem to have enough. Few things will set me on edge or make me lose my temper like running late. Or what about working on the computer for hours, only for it to crash? That’s time that I’ll never get back, not to mention that I can never exactly replicate what I lost.

And I have to split my time between all those things that I want or feel I need to do and my children. I have to remind myself that they are only little once, to enjoy every moment. I look forward to each new stage and achievement, but I will never get back those moments already past. They grow so quickly, and they’ll be in college before I know it, or so I’ve heard. On the other hand, when I was pregnant, I thought they would never get here. Why is nine months so long on that end of the pregnancy, yet after the baby is born, nine months fly by (except for those moments that drag when the baby doesn’t sleep, nor does anyone else in the house)? It was bizarre during my second pregnancy to both watch my first son grow and develop at a lightning pace, but to also feel like I was mired down, barely changing. I was convinced that baby was never going to come. Like the piano recital, I couldn’t see past his birth, which seemed to be years away. (Yikes, can you imagine how an elephant feels?)

My fascination with time extends into books I read and shows or movies that I watch. Right now I’m rereading Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox. I just got through the big reveal, where all the time pieces fall into place, and I am still amazed/flummoxed at how author Eoin Colfer pulls it off. And how can I forget my first awe-filled readings of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or A Wrinkle in Time? I think it’s in my blood be attracted to stories like this, even when they make my head spin. Although I hesitate to call myself a Trekkie (we never went to Star Trek conventions dressed in unflattering, duo-toned bodysuits, although I did buy my dad Hamlet translated into Klingon one year), I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and later Deep Space Nine. Despite their corniness, the episodes or movies that I remember with fondness all, in some way or other, deal with time travel or getting caught in a time loop. Other favorite movies are Click (I cry every time), MementoDéjà Vu, Meet the Robinsons, and of course the Back to the Future trilogy. And even though I’m not into romance, per se, I love the two Outlander books that I’ve read so far. The writing and story are good, but the time travel quandary itself is what attracted me to the series.

As for my own writing, I haven’t tackled time travel yet. It’s so mind-boggling that I’m afraid I wouldn’t be up to the task. Of course, I never thought that I would write young adult fiction, either, until I began reading so much of it that a young adult story began to blossom within me. I guess that means I’m just going to have to sacrifice and read some more time-related literature if I want to pursue the precarious time continuum in my own writing. What a shame.