Life in Progress, Part 1: Why I wasn’t looking forward to school starting

Since July I’ve dreaded the back-to-school process.

The reason is probably not what you’re thinking. In fact, I’m almost positive it’s not.

My dread wasn’t because of early mornings, extra-curriculars, or the busyness that the school year brings.

It wasn’t because of the car payment’s-worth of school supplies, or the homework packets.

It was the question. The one I had no idea how to answer, but that everyone would be asking.

“How was your summer?” 

Parents, how  many times do we hear that during back to school time? Like 72,000, that’s how many.

It started a week before school began when I was helping out on my kids’ campus. “How was your summer?” another parent inquired. I thought I was ready for it, but I still had to think carefully about my answer.

“It was good,” I replied. “Pretty low key,” I added, lying.

When I was young I’d read those books that allow the reader to choose the outcome of the story. “Go to page 62 to find out where Mr. Buffalo hid the key to the treasure,” OR “Go to page 109 to learn whether Mr. Buffalo really does take up skeet shooting.”

That’s how I feel every time someone asks me how my summer was.

I could say “Fine,” OR I could say, “John and I went to Oregon for a few days.” If I pick the latter, the next question is surely, “What’s in Oregon?” I could say “We love it there” (which is true) OR I could respond with “Family” (which is sort of true).

I can’t say the thing though. The thing that made this summer hard and life-changing and eye-opening and breathtaking.

When someone asks me how my summer was, I don’t feel comfortable replying, “My mom died.”

Yaquina Head Lighthouse; Newport, Oregon
Yaquina Head Lighthouse; Newport, Oregon

That is not — not! — what people want to hear. Many people only ask about summer break because it’s the equivalent to chatting about the weather. If they really are interested, that answer is a serious downer.

What I’d say next, which would probably freak people out, is “It’s okay though!!” waving my hands around to smooth over the awkwardness. “That’s not even the big part!”

Then I’d have to explain the story. My history. And that takes some time.

I’d have to explain why I’m faced with grieving two different people. My mom, the one I was estranged from for the last 18 years. The one who fought psychological demons for a lot of her life, and most of my childhood. And the mom I didn’t even know. The one who, in the last several years — and unbeknownst to me — found love and peace and community. And faith. She found faith. There is no grieving competition, but if there was, I think I’d score high.

But like I said, her death isn’t even the big part. To understand her end, you’d have to know our beginning, and that post is coming.

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