After Kate passed away in January, the school year provided much-needed structure for the next six months. I probably needed it more than the kids. A few hours of silence each day allowed me to work, sort through the admin of life, and try to define what normalcy would look like for all of us. The school also provided the boys with a necessary routine.
As days turned into weeks, Easter and semester breaks came and went, I began to see summer vacation as a kind of promised land. Everything would be fine if we arrived in July. Every morning during the final weeks of school, the boys asked how many days were left until summer vacation. Seven, six, five, four… The countdown was enjoyed. Soon the tyranny of the school would be over for her. And the drudgery of preparing school lunches every morning would be over for me.
The children were tired. I was tired. I’m sure the teachers were tired. It was the first full year for everyone after lockdowns and homeschooling. We hobbled to the finish line. On the last day of school, when the last of my boys got out of school and the five of us went home, I gave them a hug and said, “We made it.” I said it again and it came out as sobs. We made it. But what now?
Any parent of young children will tell you what comes next is purgatory. Sure, it can be punctuated with camps, activities, and holidays, but it’s a limbo nonetheless. The boys were totally reluctant to go on vacation – the grief has made them stay at home – and were similarly flabbergasted at all of the camps. So I gave them a free pass. It was an uneventful summer.
“Kate was always better than me at giving boys the emotional padding they needed for school or other activities they were resisting. She could make the everyday exciting’
Now it’s back to school. I’m excited for a routine to return, but I expect it to be a battle – or a series of daily, draining skirmishes.
I prepared the boys for the return to everyday school life. A plethora of textbooks arrived and, to her dismay, were displayed prominently on the kitchen table. Daily information such as “We need new shoes for you” and “Are you excited about your new teacher?” are greeted with howls of dismay. My mother-in-law took each of them shopping to buy new shirts, pants, and sweaters. She sweetened the deal with hot chocolate and treats like only grannies can.
But I worry that big transitions like going back to school require a lot of feminine energy. Kate was always better than me at providing the emotional padding needed to build the boys up for school or other activities they resisted. She could make the mundane exciting. She gave the children confidence or, failing that, big hugs while listening to their concerns before shoving them through the school gates. I hope I have the time – and energy – to do this for each of them.
Each of them faces different challenges. There’s separation anxiety, homeschooling issues, and a refusal to wear certain elements of the uniform, resulting in unique outfits some mornings. There is also homework. I made her do homework from January to July. But it will be back with a vengeance in September and that will be a struggle. I also need to return to extracurricular activities like swimming which have been taken off the agenda. This will also be a challenge for them.
And for me? What I will miss most is someone to share concerns about academic progress, discipline, and school records. Kate worried – she called it planning. I was the calm one who said, “It’s going to be okay.” Kate read and reread reports and became more involved with teachers. It was easy to outsource many of my concerns to them.
Yes, I have support from friends and family. The teachers at both schools were proactive and understanding, and the false intimacy of talking to parents at the school gates is more supportive than you think. But I’m still not used to being a single parent.
I will also miss the logistical support of having someone to share boring schoolwork with. Someone else who does the school run now and then. Someone who does the washing of the uniforms now and then. And someone else who cooks those damn school lunches every morning.
In support of the quality palliative care services at St Francis Hospice, Raheny and Blanchardstown see: sfh.ie/donate
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/a-widowers-diary-back-to-school-im-looking-forward-to-the-return-of-a-routine-but-im-expecting-a-battle-41942973.html Diary of a widower: “Back to school. I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine but I’m expecting a fight.