- Kimberly Harrington
When my husband and I moved to Vermont from Oregon 12 years ago, it was impossible to miss the frenzy of summer. It felt like a starting gun went off on Memorial Day weekend; every car we passed was bungeed within an inch of its life with bikes, grills and canoes. And that was before our kids, Walker, 11, and Hawthorne, 9, were born.
Late August is like the December of summer: So much to do, so little time, but how can you say no to anything? Responsibilities slide and hangovers (literal, emotional and professional) abound. So inevitably we make promises as the clock strikes midnight before the first day of school. I call them School Year Resolutions.
Last August I resolved to learn how to cook, a resolution I make every school year despite the fact that cooking is my straight up idea of hell. I resolved to take a break from all screens from the time my kids walked in the door from school until I made yet another horrible dinner. I resolved to work out. How many years have I made this promise to myself? How long ago was 1996, again?
The list stretched to an infinity point on the horizon, and it all added up to this: We will be better this year. We will slice through the week like a hot knife through butter. We'll make it to Thursday, at least, before we wash up on the shores of Pizza Night yet again.
But those annual promises — just like most New Year's resolutions — are often left in the dust within weeks. Months later, as the end of the school year approached, I was fully prepared to accept that I had failed. Again. But the experience I had with my actual New Year's resolutions changed my mind.
I made about a dozen of them and wrote them down, determined. Did I fulfill all of them? Nope. But the ones I did stick to had a profound effect on my year. I resolved to focus on my personal writing for the first time in two decades. And that one resolution sprouted a bunch of specific sub-resolutions. The results? My work was published on McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Huffington Post and Medium; one piece, "How to Talk to Your Kids About Bernie Sanders," went viral; and with a good friend I launched a new parenting humor site, RAZED. The New Year's resolutions I didn't uphold — and there were many — were a lot easier to let go of in the face of that success.
With that spirit of high fiving myself for what I had achieved (and letting go of what I hadn't), I looked back at my School Year Resolutions.
Learn to cook? Unrealistically ambitious much? But I did get clued into a couple of simple dinner ideas that made me feel like a legit mother who occasionally cooks for her kids instead of just being the Official Opener of the Box of Mac and Cheese.
Work out and look like a bikini model by June? Er, negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. Six years into freelancing, I let the expectation of working out during my kid-free days die for good. Despite having more energy in the morning than I have at night, I forced myself to head out the door to exercise once my husband returned home. Did I 100 percent drop it once summer started because, well, summer? You bet. But I know I'll get back to it once school starts because I finally figured out what works for me (and my work).
Did I take a three-hour screen break every afternoon? Yes and no. Once the year was rolling, my kids were busier than I was — with homework, piano practice, reading, chores. And that would have made my sitting around, staring at them with an expectant expression, kind of weird. Those times were perfect for responding to emails, invoicing, phone calls — the miscellaneous duties of a freelancer.
When we could swing it, we took off for the beach in early September, went for long drives, and picked sunflowers and raspberries. As the weather cooled, we hit apple orchards and stuffed our faces with cider doughnuts. In other words, when we could, we'd carpe the heck out of those diems.
As I work on my list of resolutions for this school year, there's one I'll be making for sure. It's to feel grateful for the frenzy. To know that it won't always be like this, life bursting with the mechanics of running a young family. To settle in, knowing half of my kids' years at home are already behind us. There are only so many summers left for School Year Resolutions.
So, together, let's resolve to embrace the wild ride. To make it a year to jump in, to feel like we're good at something, to cut loose what makes us feel like we're failing. To appreciate that the school year always goes by faster than we think, even though in February it feels like time starts to move in reverse.
Let's make it a year to respect work, because without it there wouldn't be any money for all of that summer stuff. A year to keep trying, to celebrate the small victories, to be ok with ok. And finally, a year that we'll all look back on next June and say, "Hey, not too shabby."