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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

Back to School: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Categories: children, parenting, school, special needs kid, summer

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In the week before school starts, my Facebook feed is always full of wistful posts from friends who are mourning the end of summer. They recap the fun things they’ve done with their kids and share photos of successful summer vacations. They lament having to get back on a regular dinner and bed schedule. They are sad that school is starting.

I totally do not get that. At all.

I love the first day of school. I have never once cried on the first day, never once felt sad to be leaving my kids. I am never regretful that summer is over; I am ready to get back in a routine, back on a schedule. I have one kid who doesn’t do well — at all — with the lazy free-for-all of summer, which kind of takes the fun out it. For everyone.

Henry has an anxiety disorder. He doesn’t worry about specific things, like tornadoes or homework; instead, he is anxious, all the time, about everything — and, often, about nothing. I think he probably feels like I do after too much coffee — edgy and jittery and just not fully in the moment. Having a consistent schedule helps him to manage his anxiety; summer — or a holiday of any kind — just feeds it.

That last couple of weeks before school starts are especially hard for him. He is on edge after two months of relaxation and nervous about what’s coming next. It’s a terrible combination.

Our summer typically starts to fall apart about the time we go on vacation, which is usually in late July. Travel is hard for Henry because it throws him out of his comfort zone; he has to eat unusual things and sleep in a different bed and spend time with people who are not his normal companions. He is always excited about our vacations, but it is always a struggle to get him through the week. This year, he broke his earbuds on the first day and it took multiple trips to Best Buy to replace them with a pair that sounded exactly the same. And until we took care of that, it was impossible for him to enjoy the trip.

We came home from vacation (exhausted, stressed and, honestly, in need of an actual vacation, the kind where we sit on the beach and drink fancy cocktails and read magazines and just stare at the water, instead of driving to every electronics store in Albuquerque in search of exactly the right earbuds, the ones Sony doesn’t make any more, while listening to the boy rant incessantly about why CHANGE IS BAD AND EVERYTHING SHOULD STAY THE SAME FOREVER! — we came home from vacation and started getting ready for school. We did all the fun things from the summer — the pool and the snow cone stand and the trampoline place — one last time.

By then, though, Henry was so wound up that it was impossible for him to relax and have fun. He refused to go to the pool, he passed on hanging out with friends, he skipped karate. The day we went to the fancy trampoline park, he jumped for 15 minutes and then laid on the floor at my feet and complained for the rest of the hour.

That’s typical for us; every summer ends with some version of that scenario. Is it any wonder, then, that the first day of school looms on the horizon like like Mecca or Oz? If I can survive the journey, I will be rewarded at the end — with peace and quiet and routine.

By the time school starts, I am simultaneously over all of the fun summer things (too much pool, too many snow cones) and sad that we missed out on so many fun summer things (movies in the park, baseball games, exploring downtown). I just want to get back to our predictable routine.

This year, the last couple of days before school started were terrible. Henry had a series of panic attacks, a couple of which caused us to cancel our plans because we just couldn’t get out of the house. It was not a delightful, bittersweet farewell to summer; it was ugly and stressful and depressing.

On the very last night of summer, we wrestled the kids into bed early. My husband was in the bathroom with them while they brushed their teeth; they talked about what they had done over the summer and what they were expecting from this year of school and the book they are all reading and their plans for the weekend. I was folding laundry in the bedroom, listening to them talking and laughing together, and out of nowhere, I started to cry. I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss, by the knowledge that I will never have that simple, perfect summer, the one where everything is fun and we all eat snow cones together and they are the most delicious thing ever.

I will never, ever, not be glad to see school start — and see summer end.

Is back-to-school a holiday for you, or do you long for more summer?



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