The Ants Go Marching

The ants go marching four by four, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching four by four, hurrah, hurrah
The ants go marching four by four,
The little one stops to shut the door
And they all go marching down to the ground
To get out of the rain, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

At 43 I am still learning who I am. Still becoming. Changing. Parenting four little ants over the years has taught me to place fewer demands on life and adapt better to unpredictability. Even so there are areas in which I’ve grown rigid, like an old man who plans his day in the comfort of worn grooves, who drives the same route, goes to the same stores. Days have developed into ritual. I live in a body that often contradicts itself, at one moment flexing more easily and at another resisting movement in any direction but the one I’m headed.

Then the weather changes. Days of ritual crash into a Rain Day, one of those days when plans get disrupted. And we have to flex. Summer is like a rain day for me. It disrupts my routine in the very best of ways.

Transition pulls back a curtain on my more rigid self. In the past, summer has brought a certain dread with it because it has forced me to flex in directions I naturally resist. Last year this time, knowing my sacrosanct hours of quiet were about to crumble in the wake of school’s-out-for-summer, I was busy creating an Ant List to busy my children. I knew they’d be about my quiet places, noodling their way into my space and agenda. (How selfish the school year makes me! How quiet quickly becomes god for me!) How, I wondered then, would I be able to get done what needed to get done and still create a summer for children who lead a school-year life dominated by the clock and books and activity? The Ant List was my answer to unpredictability, my attempt at restoring structure and order to what might just be absolute chaos.

But I feel anyone who wants to know deserves an update. It didn’t go all that great, honestly. You see I am a great planner and a terrible implementer. I did get work done, not a load of billable hours but at least some. And the kids did do some work, not a load of work, but at least some. I think summer was pretty good, frankly — not because my kids became expert house cleaners and organizers and cooks and filled their free time with creative projects and outdoor play. But because summer was summer: a mix of vacation, some chores, some sleeping in, some activities, some highs, some lows, and — yes, quite a bit of boredom (a lost art, in my opinion).

Today is the last full day of school. The remainder of this last week of school consists of half days that come with hefty lists for parents like sending in drinks or snacks, dressing kids in certain shirts or swimsuits, sending in board games or a G-rated movie, picking kids up early, attending awards ceremonies and keeping track of a high schooler’s exam schedule that has her at school some days and not others and at different start and finish times every day this week. Summer is at hand. This week of school (assuming we escape without forgetting a child in the chaos of “early release” days) is almost a wash.

I’m not dreading summer this year; I’m looking forward to it, ready for the chaotic schedule to grind to a refreshing halt. Ready for my “rain day.” Ready to retire my taxi service for a couple of months. Ready to turn off the 6:00 a.m. alarm setting on my phone. All those recurring appointments on my calendar, like piano lessons, acting classes and baseball games have disappeared with the advent of summer.

And the idea of last year’s ant list? It feels like a little too much structure for me to pull off this time around.

So in the spirit of “still becoming,” my “ant list” is shorter this summer. We’re going to work on tenacity and perseverance. Less dependency on electronics. More time together. And we have some great travel plans. No camps. No recurring appointments. Just the dog days of summer and a hope that boredom, once the kids have adjusted, will spawn creativity. And together we’ll, on a whim, embrace adventures yet unknown to us. We will flex with the needs of the day, place fewer demands, and enjoy the wiggle room for a spell.

And the ants go marching down, to the ground, to get out of the rain. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM!

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