This summer, more than any other, I love to see my teenagers doing nothing. Not to say that’s all they do, but seeing them chill on the couch makes me smile. Having just finished their freshman and junior years in high school, they desperately needed the break that summer provides.
I consider myself a busy mom. Juggling a demanding job, a fitness regimen and a social life, all while taking care of three children, a husband, a dog and a house, leaves no downtime. However, the speed at which my teenagers’ lives moved this school year made me look like a slacker.
They would wake at dawn, often weary from either working late at their part-time jobs or doing school work into the wee hours. After a little bit of primping, off they would go to the high school. Seven and a half hours later, they would emerge, much work still lying before them.
Most days my athlete would have practice for several hours, and my artist would be off to dance or music lessons. Other days they would go straight to work to earn their pocket and gas money. They would arrive home exhausted, have a quick bite and begin their homework. Their challenging courses provided an endless stream of assignments. There were nights on my way to bed, I insisted they stop working.
Numerous times, the academic workload was so heavy they had to get their shifts at work covered, or worse, miss their practice or lesson that day. These days would be especially frustrating because their extracurricular activities are where they find their greatest joy, their release from the pressure.
Weekends would usually include some socializing and chilling out in front of the television, but would often include 10 to 15 hours of school work.
For the high school junior, there was the added stress of taking the SAT several times throughout the school year. The desire to go to a competitive college put the pressure on to get a good score. This meant fitting in tutoring sessions to an already full schedule.
As a junior and an aspiring athlete, my daughter wanted to make her mark on the field. In her sport, scholarships and positions on college teams are awarded early in the senior year, based on the junior year athletic performances, SAT scores and the cumulative grade point average from freshman through junior years. This doesn’t mean she will be able to take it easy during her senior year if she commits to a college in the fall. The schools also require she submit her course selection for senior year, just to make sure she continues to challenge herself.
By the end of June, my high-schoolers were completely burned out. They frantically anticipated summer break, eager for a lull in the demands and the constant busyness. My heart went out to them. Whereas in past summers, I found myself quickly irritated by their sleeping until noon and binge-watching Netflix, this year I couldn’t wait.
Now that we are well into summer break, the mental tension has been erased and they are at peace. Sure, they work their shifts, do their assigned summer reading and practice or train when they want to, but there is so much free time for them to just be. My artist plays her favorite instruments every day just for fun. She draws for hours and discovers off-beat musicians on YouTube. The athlete works out when she wants to between lunches at Moe’s and trips to the lake.
I have read that giving your mind a rest, whether it be a nap, a nature walk or meditation, encourages creativity and increases production. Whether or not that’s true, taking a mental break clearly has its benefits for my teenagers. They move at a slower pace and smile easily. They have time to chat and to connect without rushing. There is color in their cheeks and a skip in their steps and, when September arrives, I imagine they will be ready to take on the world once again.
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