It’s May.  I have figured out what puts the may in MAYHEM: school. These end of the year events are not optional. Our kids love this stuff and they want us to love it too. You cannot skip the kindergarten animal parade or the second-grade choral recital. You cannot opt out of the two day soccer tournament or the fourth dance recital, the sports banquet and team barbecue, field day, prize day, or the umpteenth dress rehearsal. And while we celebrate all things and test all knowledge, we begin the summer routine. Afternoon swim team practices, mock meets, tennis clinics. Lord help you if you did not sign up for summer camp back in February.  Last March, I could not believe my luck when I found an art camp near my house sponsored by the city parks & rec department. It runs from 9-4, accepts all my kids ages and costs a mere $80 per child. When I jumped through the hoops of registering my family by submitting water bills and possibly a social security number, I knew for sure we would get three spots despite my delay because the process was so hard. Two days later I was notified we were numbers 76,77,and 78 on the wait list. Did I mention there are only 20 spots available to begin with?  Sometimes I wonder if A.C. Moore is competing with Lowe’s for how many trips to the same store one family can make. School projects versus yard work. Felt versus mulch. Glitter and paint take on flowers in an epic throw-down. If December becomes too much we simply say, I am going back to the reason for the season- skipping the cocktail party, cookie exchange, midnight shop-o-rama. But you cannot do this in May because it’s all about the kids. We need to support, cheer, revel, in the celebration with them.  May is pedal to the medal toward the finish line. Our kids get put on display for all they have accomplished throughout the year. Somewhere, someone decided to reward all our hard work with, well, more hard work. And on top of the parties that require $5 for special pizza lunch and enough memory to sign-up, purchase and then actually get 42 plastic spoons to the classroom by some magical date, our kids are being tested: projects, EOGs, AP exams. It’s a merry-go-round where the horse sends you up and down, round and round all while getting no where.

I cannot believe I have stolen a moment to view facebook in this month when all the “school wrap-up” makes Christmas look like a vacation. But two of my girls have had the throw up bug -not acceptable in May- and I have been chained to in the house for four days. As an extreme extrovert, it is hard to be home with someone who doesn’t have the energy to sit up let alone talk to me. So in order to avoid the vacuum (I don’t want the sound to disturb my patience patients)or clean out my closet, I visit with my virtual friends. And I see lots of the markings of MAYhem. I am a major culprit in this department so please do not accuse me of being judge/mental.  But these visual timelines sometimes feel like we are reinforcing the notion: we are what we do. Or worse, we are what our children do.

KIDS ARE NOT SUCCESSORIES! Kids cannot be worn on your forearm like the latest purse trend you just got off the internet. Kids are people in process. They are trying new skills, new math, and new feelings all at one time. They are tired and hot and thirsty. They are learning about falling short or making the team. They are trying to remember those reading skills they learned back in October when they were jacked up on Halloween candy. They are learning how to say sorry or how to let a friend go -either because they are moving to a new city or they are just moving on. They are molding, defining, choosing who they will become. This is huge stuff! As adults, we know life is a series of peaks and valleys, successes and failures, ends and beginnings. Of trying again or trying something new. We own our destiny. Hopefully by now we have learned the measure of who we are is not what we get in life but what we do with what we are given (thank you Marshall Waterman).  We know failure is often the beginning of something better. But sometimes, particularly in May, it feels like we are more proud of what our kids do than who they are becoming. Perhaps it’s because who they are cannot be pinned down in a photograph. Or maybe it’s because we still have so much hope for our kids and their future.

About a week ago, we were crammed into the stinky school gym like circus animals on a train. It was hot and listless and most who had a chair had a child sitting on their lap. A nice clear aisle was maintained and some of the students were sitting crisscross applesauce waiting to see their friends perform. One Dad, who was over six feet tall, decided he would have a better view for his camera if he stood in the aisle, about four rows back from the stage. Before the program began, another Dad decided to be the conscience the photographer had clearly left at home. In a not-so-nice way, he told the culprit to move to the back. When the photographer rudely dismissed the request, audience-cop stood directly in front of his screen. For a moment, we thought it was going to come to blows. This was going to be a better show than I came for! After the first song, a Mom (okay it was me) said “I can’t see my child. Would you please move?” Audience-cop shouted: “he is too stupid to move!” Now I was in the middle of the testosterone test. I said “I doubt that but it would sure be great to see my child sing.” Photographer complied and filmed from the back of the room. Crisis averted.

Sometimes we get so concerned about recording a memory, we lose the moment itself. And we lose our common decency. We opt for “been there, done that, got the tee shirt” in order to move on to the next thing. Our plates are  full and our gas tanks are empty from running around town picking up stuff and dropping off people. I am not sure how my Mom did it without a phone to tell her where and when to be or remind her what she offered to bring. As we race through May, I think about the kids who don’t have the support systems showing up for them. I wonder what summer will be like without school, where they are fed and nurtured and loved. And I feel sadness for the parents who want to be there but can’t because of a demanding job or not owning a car or being controlled by a drug habit.  Our kids are watching us as much as we are watching them.  They are seeing how to act under stress, when to let jerks be jerks, how to cram it all in, how to smile while working hard, how to be your best or when to choose good enough. When to be five minutes late instead of running the red light.  They are learning where to spend their energy.

As we race from event to event, plastic spoons in hand, cameras left on the kitchen counter, remember you are not defined by your kid’s college acceptance letter. We are not defined by their arabesque, their soccer dribbling, or even by how many books they will read over the summer. Neither are the children. These are simply events to accomplish and/or enjoy. We are defined by how we treat one another and how we build community. If we don’t want our children to be embarrassed by the minivan in middle school, then we better not judge them on how big they smiled on stage. Because in a few years they will be in the driver seat, literally and figuratively. They will choose friends and media and freedom. That is what this grand show has been all about. Getting our children ready to fly in the great big world. Preparing them for mistakes without a safety net. Their success and failure will be all theirs. And we will have to make our own successories, the ones about us and the gratitude we shared. Enjoy the MAYHEM and remember to keep your eyes on the prize; not the blue ribbon, but the ones you get the privilege of watching.

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