Another summer over, another to-do list undone

My four girls all started back to school today. It’s a delightful year in which the two older ones are both now at the same high school and the two younger ones are both at the same elementary school. (Next year, though, the oldest will be at college and the three others will all be in different schools.) It’s the last year of free, living-at-home education for my oldest, and I dread her flying the coop. But for now I have her for this one last year. All in all, good things.

Again, as always happens come August, I am relieved to have the school break over with and my children back at school. Honestly, they are too. They had a fun summer, but they really do enjoy being in school. They enjoy the learning and the socialization.

But I find myself with mixed feelings. I’m not just jumping up and down that my kids are no longer constantly underfoot. I feel regret about not having done anything I’d hoped to do with them (aside from the trips we planned to take and actually went on). Even though I know in reality my best shot is just to get through two and a half months with four children always around with my sanity mostly intact by the end, I still foster these high hopes of doing extra things for and with them.

For instance, this year, as I also had thought of last year, I wanted to teach the oldest and the third one, who’s ready for it, the rules of grammar. They’re great at English and always do well on tests because they naturally “know” how everything should sound and be, but they have no idea what most of the rules are. I don’t think schools are really teaching that so much anymore, so I’d hoped to go over some rules and even do some sentence diagramming. Did we? No.

I’d also hoped to take a little time here and there to introduce some basic piano concepts to my youngest. She’s not ready for real lessons, but I had thought I could teach her some basics. Did I sit down at the piano with her once? Nope.

I had thought I might take some time to learn a bit more about how best to grow herbs here in our area and finally successfully grow a few out my back door. Did I grow a single one? No, indeed.

I think I actually had fewer expectations and plans for this summer than I did last summer. But I still feel I got absolutely nothing ticked off that fairly short but apparently grandiose list. As always, I just survived. I feel so much happier and can do more (including more with my kids) when I get regular blocks of time to myself. And it’s so much harder to get any time to myself during the summer; it’s so hit and miss and not nearly enough. I need regular refills of time and when I don’t get them, I am running on empty, and it’s not a pretty sight. You can just smell the burning.

With a lot of summers under my parenting belt now, you’d think I’d learn from the experience not to have any expectations for doing anything cool with the kids. It’s sad, but it’s true. We went on our family trips, and we went to the library every week. We read together. I made breakfasts and dinners. I made them a bubble table (which they used for about a week) and bought them a bunch of paints and rolls of paper (which they used for about two weeks). That’s the extent of my mothering fabulousness. But I’m just not one of those moms who relishes every single moment with the kids and who loves to get down in the dirt with them or … whatever looks so great on someone else’s Facebook wall or Pinterest boards. I enjoy them sometimes; I do cool things with them sometimes; other times, I just want to be left alone. And that’s OK.

Perhaps next year I’ll finally ease up on my expectations for myself. But, knowing myself, I probably won’t. But I guess it’s time to just let my regrets go and just start celebrating the start of a new school year and some very welcome and necessary time for myself.

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

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