This Is Us

I Miss the 100 Days of May

Notes on parenting in the infinite present

For parents of school-age kids, May is filled with end-of-year concerts held in auditoriums with the acoustics of a school cafeteria, because it is the school cafeteria. These events are lovely and life-affirming, but they often start at nine in the morning or three in the afternoon or, occasionally, at the almost working-parent-friendly hour of six at night, which can still be impossible for anyone commuting during rush hour. May is also Mother’s Day, that special Sunday when your family insists that you not do the laundry or the cleaning, which just means you have more laundry and cleaning to do on Monday.

May means that every final project is due in every single one of your children’s classes, as if the teachers are unaware that the student has more than one class or that any family might have more than one child. And, yes, the projects were assigned in March or perhaps even in January, but my children have always waited until the last minute. And because they get this penchant for procrastination directly from me, it’s difficult to be mad about it, although I certainly have been mad about it for many Mays running. Because a person can only stand so many days in May being told by their children that they must be taken to the store right now to get poster board, and poster markers, and popsicle sticks. Will the side of a regular cardboard box covered in printer paper suffice? No, it will not. Will regular markers work or do you need poster markers? Poster markers. Obviously. Can you use the sticks I’ve been saving from the popsicles you’ve been eating since it got warm out? Mom. That’s disgusting.

And the point is not that I bought extra poster board last May, or that the markers I bought along with it should still work, if only my kids could remember where they left them. The point is that those things aren’t here now. And they need them now. Like right now.

And sometimes in May, when it is late on the night before the project is due, I take pity on them and offer to help. But they are wary of my artistic abilities and also the teachers have lectured them (and the parents, via email) that this is the student’s project and not the parent’s project and that the teacher will absolutely know if the kid does not do it on their own. So, many late-night hours in May, I just sit there and absorb the making-a-popsicle-stick-model-of-a-California-Mission anxiety like a sponge I will have to find another way to wring out at some point, maybe in June.

May is also the month of open houses, held at a working-parent-friendly time of 7:30 p.m., even though some of the parents, who have schedules that allow them to attend events at most any time of day, have started a petition to make it earlier, because 7:30 p.m. falls right in the middle of dinner time. If we are lucky to have our three kids attending the same school, May is when my husband and I divide and conquer the open house — though I always seem to be in the classroom where the roof of the popsicle stick California Mission has caved in, while all the other Missions seem to be not only structurally sound, but also so meticulously designed and well-crafted that everyone in that room knows they were not created by any third-grader. And especially my kid knows this, and that kid will ask me later why I just sat there and didn’t help him. Because I read the strongly worded email from the teachers about independent work on projects, I tell my child, who has already walked away.

May is the time for all the fake graduations — the preschool graduation, the kindergarten graduation, the elementary school graduation, the junior high graduation. All of these rites of passage leading up to the final graduations that, for kids scheduled to graduate from high school or college this year, won’t exist at all.

All that’s left of May is worry about the future and anxiety around finals and the AP exams being administered in their bedrooms on their laptops behind closed doors.

The 100 Days of May, we parents called them, exhausted to our bones by the performances and the projects and the brown paper grocery bags that come home full of our children’s work that would sometimes go directly into the recycling bin. But now, I would put on my mask and go to the store for a thousand packages of popsicle sticks if it meant one more brown paper grocery bag full of art, or one more evening in an uncomfortable folding chair for one more cacophonous trumpet concert. My kids are teenagers now; they’ve given up the trumpet and the flute and there are no more teachers asking them to make models of the California Missions. I was still anticipating 100 days of May this year, or at least 75 days, watching my daughter in her play and listening to my sons in their choral performance in the high school theater, which is actually a theater and not a cafeteria. The SAT was canceled, as were the trips to visit colleges. I’d been pushing my daughter to look at schools outside of California, where we live. New York City, maybe? Chicago? Now, not so much. Maybe it is better if she goes to college somewhere we can drive to, if she is allowed to go away at all. All that’s left of May is worry about the future and anxiety around the finals they still have to take and the AP exams being administered in their bedrooms on their laptops behind closed doors.

Because now the 100 Days of May is everyone still at home and reading news about more people dying and more news about more places opening up, anyway. May is every day reminding myself that my teenagers are not my friends and that they don’t enjoy hanging out with me nearly as much as I enjoy hanging out with them.

May is, “What is next? What is next? What is next What is next? What is next?”

May is wearing masks on walks in the heat and feeling like I can’t breathe, but also knowing that I’ve been healthy and almost everyone I know has been healthy or is healthy now and I have no idea what it really feels like to not be able to breathe. May is taking the day off from work at the job that I am lucky to have, but realizing I don’t have the energy to do anything besides clean hair out of the shower drain and sit around watching the dog dream. May is not knowing how many hours my kids are spending on Netflix/YouTube/TikTok instead of schoolwork because it all looks the same to me from the backside of the laptops and iPhones that are always in front of their faces. May is guiltily visiting my own mother and father while wearing a mask and keeping my distance and not giving them a hug. May is trying my best to let my kids feel what they’re feeling. May is telling my teenagers again and again, “I am so sorry that everything sucks now.”

May is, “What is next? What is next? What is next What is next? What is next?”

It’s a different kind of 100 Days of May. It is a thousand days and one hour because time means almost nothing anymore. No one knows what next May will look like. No one knows what the final week of this May will look like. We live in an infinite present. Even the dog is getting tired of always having everyone around. There’s a couch he’s not allowed to sleep on and we used to suspect that he always settled there as soon as the last member of his pack was out the door. But no one is out the door ever anymore, at least not all together at the same time. Will he ever get to sleep on that soft couch again, he wonders?

When all of this is over (if it is ever over), will I finally learn to be grateful for the gifts of the present moment? Or will I look back and think about how I had all three of my teenagers under my roof for months, with no social activities or friends or parties to get in the way, just them and their father and me together all the time, and still I felt sad for many hours of each day.

There’s a thing that every parent of babies and toddlers hears over and over again so many times that you stop hearing it at all — “the days are long, but the years are short.” I never say this to struggling parents of young kids, because I never found it helpful when I was a struggling parent of young kids. Instead, when I do see someone in the midst of those long days, I just try to make eye contact and form my face into an expression that says, “You are doing a great job, Mom or Dad. You will get through this.”

But who is there to make that face for me, and for the rest of us, right now? These days are long. And they’re so short. And I can’t seem to measure them at all. There is no one who has been through this, no one to assure us that we’re doing a great job, or that we’re going to get through this.

May is me trying to force myself to be grateful for what I have while still guiltily wanting more. I suspect that I will never learn to appreciate every stage of life as a parent — first steps, first words, the popsicle stick projects, the high school musicals, and the kids at college or whatever comes next? Maybe I won’t learn anything from this time. Maybe I won’t grow or accomplish anything significant.

“Be here now,” the people calmer than me say. But how exactly does one do that, I have always wondered. And why would I want to be here now, in this middle place where the past seems unfathomable and the future unknowable? I am allergic to uncertainty and I would rather be in any other place than now.

May is flattening the curve and herd immunity and new normal and social distancing and quaranteams and all sorts of other words and phrases that I will be happy to never hear again. Just one foot in front of the other, I suppose, and before I know it it will be June. Maybe I’ll mark the passage into the next month by letting the dog on the good couch, where I’ll sit next to him and watch him dream.

Senior Platform Editor, Debugger and OneZero at Medium. 👩🏻‍💻 Send me your Medium stories about tech and gadgets.

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