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Springing forward and one step back
March, proving that it's indeed my least favorite month. Plus, ramblings on summer parenting and the continuing surprises of empty nesting.
Time right now is a paradox, more so than usual. I want the days to slow down as much as I want the next few weeks to speed up. What is it about March that makes it the least favorite month for so many? Obviously, the weather, for one. New York City barely got a dusting of snow this winter. This has been the story for the last several years—which isn’t typical by the way, but the abnormal is becoming the norm. I remember when the kids were younger, having to scramble to buy snow boots early in the season to avoid being caught unprepared for the dirty city slush that we’d inevitably have to trudge through at least a few times a season, but we haven’t had to pull our snow boots out of the closet at all. We did get some pretty miserable wintry weather recently when a Nor’easter blew in and dumped a foot of snow just north of us, but the snow didn’t make it down to the city. It was enough for me, however, to profess that I was officially done with winter.
Notes from my sabbatical/not sabbatical
I’m writing this on the first day of spring with so much anticipation of warmth, light, and new life, except that it’s still cold outside because it’s March. Even though I kind of hate the twice yearly daylight savings ritual, when 6pm rolls around and I’m basking in the sunlight that’s streaming brilliantly into my bedroom at this hour, I sing a different tune. I’m also reminded today, the first day of spring, that I’ve now been writing again for an entire season. In rereading one of my very first newsletters, I wrote about the moment of clarity I reached when I realized I was happy on one of my daily walks on a particularly foggy, drizzly day. I ask myself today, four months later (and it’s is apparently International Day of Happiness!) if I still feel the same. The answer is…sort of?
For one, I have gotten busier. Back in December, time felt like a luxury that I finally got to claim back. Being able to look at an empty calendar and just meet life’s basic needs for 6 weeks is the bright side of having your full time job suddenly go away. Having the time to recover from burnout feels like a rare gift, but also culture shock if you’re used to sustaining a high level of productivity. But you eventually do acclimate to the slower pace, to the point that when you need to ramp up again, everything inside you screams in protest, why are you doing this to me?? I really liked it here!
Maybe I cut off this time of self care too short and even this compromise of part time and contract work feels a little like cheating (also, is part time work really part time? 🤔). Somehow, time is feeling crunched again. I feel stress levels rising, headaches returning, sciatica pain persisting from too much sitting, sleep going to shit. I’m struggling to catch myself from falling into old habits. Am I doing this slowdown right?
March, when the year starts feeling real
March is the start to a different kind of energy in the year. There’s the busy-work and sometimes anxiety towards planning the rhythmic change that summer brings, mixed with a tinge of the tiniest bit of guilt that starts creeping in. Guilt because we’re past any sort of acceptable grace period where putting off our good intentions for making this year better! new! different! is excusable since the year only just started. Maybe you’re facing your resolutions and promises head on and realizing that after all that new year fanfare, life is just more of the same as it was last year (which, is also fine sometimes?).
I rarely make resolutions because I learned not to fall into the trap of setting myself up for disappointment. Who needs that kind of self-inflicted pressure? But I came into this year knowing that it could be different. The impatience of waiting for something in the magnitude of an epiphany, a sign, anything, is an unrealistic expectation I need to self-check. Because some people, myself included, are conditioned to always want more. More time so I can cram more projects in. More projects so that I can earn more money. More money so that I can squirrel it away to buy more time. More time so I can figure out how I want to spend that time. It’s its own kind of circular hamster wheel. I set out this year with the intention of learning how to be content with less. It continues to be a work in progress.
What hasn’t changed is that as a parent, March is the turning point in the academic school year when we start scrambling to make summer plans for the kids because it hits us that there are only a few more months of the school year left. When the kids were young, this entailed piecing together the puzzle that is summer childcare for working parents, which often ends up being a patchwork of various camps, summer programs, travel, and taking time off from work to scramble for those blind spots of summer’s end when camp finishes and school begins. Ten weeks is a long time to account for when you’re working. This all gets set into motion pretty early in the year because camp fills up as everyone is trying to get their shit together and figure out this game of Tetris that is summer childcare. Because you know that the last three months of the school year will steamroll ahead with remarkable speed once spring break is over.
Summer for older kids in high school is a similar but different beast of tetris-ing (is that a word? I just made that up) together summer programs, internships, and jobs. Childcare isn’t the main challenge anymore, but how you spend your summers can end up on your college apps. Now that acceptances (and my god, the rejections—the stats seem to get worse every year) are rolling in for the class of 2023, we are squarely in college application season for my high school junior.1 And so, this is the situation that we’re currently in right now: my teenage children are waiting to hear back about summer programs and internships and busy applying to things, and I have given up on trying to make any sort of vacation plans that will work for the four of us.
It used to be that as early as December I would start looking to book airplane tickets and other travel arrangements because our life was ruled by school schedules. Fifteen years between two kids, and we were bound by what the NYC DOE determined were our days off. Even though it made life very routine and unspontaneous, there was comfort in the predictability of knowing exactly the weeks we could plan around. Last year was tricky as we had one transition to college, but this year has proven even more so.
I was warned by friends that if you have one kid in college with younger kids still at home, trying to find a week or two when everyone is free is a new kind of challenge. This has turned out to be absolutely true. High school and college breaks do not overlap except for 6 weeks in the summer and a week in December, but at some point, jobs and internships start becoming a priority because the rat race starts early in life, apparently. By the time summer activities wind down for NYC school kids, college students head back in mid-August.
The golden era of family vacations may already be behind us
I wrote that the golden years of outings with your children are those elementary school-age years (and middle school if you’re lucky). It kind of escaped me that family vacations are on its own ticking timetable and we may have already sailed past the golden era. Friends, you warned me, but I didn’t really get it till now.
I don’t really make it a habit of doling out advice, but my advice-not-advice would be…take those trips and travel if you have the means to do so! Aside from the fact that the pandemic stole a few years of travel including at least one very disappointing cancellation of a very anticipated family trip overseas, I wish we took the money and traveled more. We were never that family who skied every winter and vacationed at a beach resort for spring break like so many around us do, but we did our best to make our summer travels memorable, even if it was mostly spent in the Pacific Northwest with family. Those trips within our trips where we’d spent most of August bopping around the West Coast may be a thing of the past as a new era of tetris-ing (I’m running with this new word) summer plans is here. Uncooperative schedules aside, this is the part of empty nesting that I did not anticipate.
Speaking of empty nesting and the paradox of time, I was standing in the middle of the living room the other day alone in the apartment when it hit me that my youngest child is going to college next year. I started to feel a bit of panic swelling up inside my chest. This is the other thing that starts to happen when March rolls around. That familiar flutter in your stomach that signals that the end of the school year is in sight as both parents and children move on to the next level in the game of life. Yes! I totally did just use this cheesy metaphor, but I’m standing by it because that’s exactly what it feels like sometimes. The next academic year will be our very last year in the NYC public school system and sometimes the finality of it hits me like a truck at various random moments. Perhaps it all sounds dramatic, but I don’t care. I’m allowing myself to feel whatever I’m feeling because it’s real.
If you’re still here next year, reading words on a page that I type out every week, you’ll be experiencing this in real time with me as I grapple the next chapter of empty nesting. In some ways, since we had a younger child still at home, last year’s college transition felt more like a dress rehearsal. Judging from the scene earlier in my living room, I don’t think this next chapter is going to be very pretty.
Enjoy spring and the warmth, friends. 🌸
Some recent reads that have helped me make sense of what I’m feeling these days
The Pandemic Forever Changed How We Think About The Future
Even though the women profiled in this article are younger than me, there is a lot I can relate to.
‘Am I useless now?’ Aging women in the workforce face a crisis of confidence and experts say they simply deserve more
Two articles that helped me understand my current state of being (oh yeah, there’s a reason behind all this!)
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I have a lot to say about the insane college application process, but we are so in it right now for the second time that I don’t have the distance required to write about it objectively. Soon, though (maybe).