If you asked my kids what they did this summer (as I’m sure their teachers did today), they’d respond with the classic, “nothing,” and further elucidate that it was “fine.”
But let me tell you, their summer has been amazing. Stupendous. Chock full of memories galore.
Funny thing, though, just as we all begin flossing two days before our semi-annual dentist visit, I busted out the home reading books and sight words four days before the start of school.
And I groaned, and mentally chastised myself for letting the book-learning slip. My littlest child, for whom reading has never come easy, struggled through words that had stars behind them when he left his classroom on that final day in June. He grew frustrated and annoyed with my choice of books, and flatly refused to sit still, insisting that he’d read with me, “tomorrow” (which coincides with the day that my diet always starts).
What have my kids done this summer?
They’ve gone swimming more times that I can count. They’ve sailed down water slides, and turned over rocks looking for crabs. They’ve scooped up fistfuls of sand in a quest for clams, and took turns announcing theirs as the biggest, or most beautiful.
They’ve trapped jellyfish in travel mugs just to watch them pulse, and named them before setting them free. They strapped on lifejackets and paddled out into the surf in a kayak, one of them spotting a family of otters along the beach.
They’ve visited with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and even a great grandpa who refused to turn up his hearing aid so he couldn’t hear about great adventures, but warned us loudly (as he always does) to visit more, because he won’t last much longer.
They stayed up way past their bedtimes, and rode bikes and scooters in the neighbourhood with friends. They’ve bobbed around on lakes, and learned how to do backflips into pools. They’ve gone camping; they’ve eaten in restaurants and around fires.
I’ve ensured that they’ve experienced summer, its sunsets, its weird bugs and its skinned knees. They still smell of sunscreen even after they’ve bathed, or maybe they just smell of sunshine?
They’ve been healthy. There have been zero trips to the doctor, or late nights with big bowls. There have been no fevers, coughs, or stuffed noses.
But as the new school dawns I have so much guilt — not for the things we did do, but for the things we didn’t.
When our routine went out the window, so did the homework. Teachers ask us every year to keep up the great work, and to practice over the summer, but we didn’t, and that’s on me.
As is the case with so much of parenting, it’s easier to dwell on the activities that you didn’t do than it is to congratulate yourself for all of the things that you did. Contriving such amazing experiences requires boatloads of effort, and quite a bit of cash. Nightly reading and flossing is cheap by comparison.
But what does dental hygiene have to do with literacy? Guilt.
The guilt kicked in during a visit to the dentist last week where several cavities were detected. It was in this moment of handwringing that I began tallying up all the other ways I’ve failed my sweet children. Flossing. Reading. Probably not enough vegetables. They went to Sunday school with their grandma twice though, so that had to count for something.
How did I let this happen? Was it too many campfire marshmallows, and not enough gargling around the fire? Probably.
While looking into my child’s mouth the dentist saw the thing I didn’t do well enough, not the 999 incredible things I did. When my children head back to school this week, their teachers will sigh and see where I cut corners. They may even imagine my nightly refrain: “That’s OK. You’re tired. We’ll read tomorrow.”
And the guilt makes my tummy hurt.
So, here’s to the start of the new school year, the start of a routine that includes fewer campfires and jellyfish, and more vowels and fractions. Let’s give a cheer to those food groups we’ll welcome back into our lives again, and for the oral health that will once again take centre stage.
Mind you, if you were to ask my children what they did this summer, and they answered, “brush, floss, and practice sight words,” I’d probably get a failing grade also.
There’s no climbing out of this bottomless pit of parenting guilt.