Last Year, This Year, and the School Year to Come

Yesterday I experienced some cognitive dissonance. I was going through my August 2013 blog posts to put them into my One Cobble at a Time book. I hit a set of posts which could easily have been written this week. They were all about GenCon and the impending beginning of school. Only I’d forgotten exactly how much more stressful all of it was last year, because GenCon was followed by WorldCon which was followed by Salt Lake Comic Con, all pretty much without a break. Also we took Kiki to college for the first time and all my kids were switching schools, I was carrying a giant load of unprocessed emotional baggage related to parenting and mental illness. And then there was the point of sale system, which I pulled together at the very last minute, not in time for GenCon, but in time to send that completely untested system off to WorldCon where I then had to perform long-distance tech support.

If I’d had any time to think about it, I would have hated last August.

This year I packed up that same point of sale system and sent it to GenCon. It has been tested across multiple conventions since. It is stream-lined and functional. It gives us lots more flexibility and reports. This year the system is reducing stress rather than adding to it.

I feel like I’m playing year to year comparison a lot in the last few months, and an extra lot this week. It reveals so much to me about myself. It makes me realize that I was not over-reacting or parenting badly, I was really carrying quite a lot. The thing is, I couldn’t tell. It felt normal to me, which is the sneaky-awful thing about stress. Unless it hits with a clear cause and onset, it starts to feel normal.

Today I went out and finished out the last bits of school shopping. I’ve never been one to completely re-outfit my kids if they have good clothes, but when I paused to consider the contents of my kids’ drawers, I began to see things. Like the fact that Patch doesn’t own any socks without holes in them. Or that Gleek has changed shape and thus needed new underclothes. Additionally, both my teenagers need a new shirt or two so that they can face the new year with confidence. Clothes help teens define themselves and both Gleek and Link are slightly different than they were eight months ago.

Last year the majority of my back-to-school shopping dollars went into college supplies for Kiki. Not surprising I guess. I’m not the first mother to splurge spend on towels for the college kid because I was afraid that I hadn’t adequately prepared her so at least I could make sure she had linens. I thought about that as I walked through the store today and saw all the displays aimed at parents and new college students. They had little effect on me this year. I wonder how susceptible I’ll be when the other kids leave, but that is a question for years from now. Thankfully.

Reading through last August’s posts was hard, not just because it caused me to relive some of the hardest bits. The thing is that I do have some of the same emotions that I had last year. I’m trying not to think about it too much, but a new school year means new stresses. I hope, hope, hope that three out of my four kids can simply have calm/good years where they learn things at a fairly even pace. Patch is destined for a rougher year, because of puberty, but I’m planning for that. Yet there is this little trickle of fear that lives in the back of my head, behind a door that I’ve tried to keep shut. Reading those posts cracked it open just a little. Because parenting can get really hard, so hard that my heart hurts every day and I can’t even tell that I’m exhausted because that feels normal. It feels like we won’t go there again. Logic says that most of the difficulty was because of a massive confluence of transitions and developmental stages. I’ll never have that again. But my imagination is very good, and I can picture new and exciting configurations of disaster. So I’ve been trying not to think too much about the coming school year and instead focus on the tasks each day brings.

There is one glaring exception: Link’s eagle scout project. I got very angry at Link about it a few days ago. It took a massive effort on my part not to just yell at him and require him to do it my way. I could have. He would have. What happened instead was that I acknowledged, out loud, how very difficult it is for me to not be in charge of this project. I left it in Link’s hands and I’ve done quite a bit of thinking since. I was pushing and trying to rush the project, because I’m afraid of the coming school year for Link. I keep saying that he’s lined up for a good year, but I’m afraid it will be more complicated and difficult than that. The last few months of last school year Link was really managing all his work. I want very much to trust that version of Link. I want that to be the school year we have. I’m afraid of how difficult it might be instead. So I pushed at the eagle project, trying to make it happen fast so that it would be out of the way before any of the school stresses hit. I don’t get to pick that. Instead I need to start doing what I’ll probably spend the entire school year doing: back off and let Link handle his own things even though the way he approaches tasks is so very different from my methods that it sometimes drives me crazy.

So, yeah, I’m scared about the coming school year. Even though I don’t want to be.