We Need To Discuss Your Summer Plans

“Summer plans,” or – as I like to call them – “just another group of months with the same old shit only hotter” are steadfastly approaching, and I feel like we need to discuss them.

We were at the doctor the other day, my 15 year old was having her yearly physical. The doctor asked what our summer plans are and the crickets chirped. Summer plans? The concept is lost on me.

It’s been in conversation for about two months now.

It’s a woefully tiresome topic, because – inevitably – it becomes one of those instances in which I feel like I have to explain myself to people. Twenty minutes into it, I’ve gotten nowhere. Usually this is evidenced by whomever I am talking with clearly not understanding what I’m saying, and changing the subject with something like “well there’s always room for spontaneous summer plans!”

And herein lies the first problem I have any time people ask me questions: I can never just give simple answers. Somewhere along the line, I conditioned myself to always justify what I am saying. In reality, I don’t have to explain my or my family’s reasons behind what we do, or in this case don’t do, to anyone.

We don’t have summer plans. Why not? Because we don’t want to.

Because we homeschool, we might be a little unique. My kids are around all the time during the school year, so I can’t exactly identify with the whole you-people-are-driving-Mom-crazy-for-these-two-months-every-year thing.

My kids drive me crazy all year long.

So in terms of camps or classes, or special outings: there’s really no need for it. Why would I put my children in a day camp that is the older-kid-equivalent to daycare when there is literally no need for me to do so whatsoever? It isn’t like they’re getting bored and need to be kept entertained. Or they are driving me batty and I need them out of the house. Summer for other people is our lives, every day of the year (except there’s schoolwork in there).

This is the second problem, although I wouldn’t call it a “problem,” so much as a circumstance. Our circumstance, because we homeschool, is that my kids are around all the time. I don’t need to keep them entertained, or do all kinds of extra activities because they are driving me crazy in the house. These things (the stuff we do, including the fun stuff) is peppered here and there through the entire year, because we aren’t beholden to a school district calendar.

That’s just the way it is, and yet no one (and I mean no one) can seem to grasp that concept.

The third thing worth mentioning is my husband’s work schedule. One of the reasons we homeschool is to accommodate his career in film. It’s hectic, it’s unpredictable, and it’s overnight. Anyone that’s ever worked in the film industry knows that summer and holidays are the busiest times for them, so vacations around then are not always in the cards.

If I’m being entirely honest, vacation isn’t really something we normally do at any time of the year, either. He’s just usually too busy, and when he’s not busy he’s catching up on sleep. What kind of a vacation involves Dad sleeping half the day, and keeping everyone up all night because he can’t (and shouldn’t) change his sleep schedule for the couple of days?

(And also, if we’re being REALLY HONEST… film work doesn’t exactly cover the cost of exotic cruises and trips to Hawaii for 5 + my dad.)

At a tennis match the other day, the mother of a couple kids my kids play with told me that she’s decided since her husband is working a lot this summer, she’s going to maybe just do the craziest thing ever and take the kids somewhere on her own! Can you imagine?

I take my kids places on our own all the time. If we waited for my husband to be available, we would be waiting years behind our graves.

This, I think, is a suburban thing: that families should do it all together, and if they don’t there’s something crazy or exotic or weird about it. The reality of it is that there is absolutely nothing unique about our situation at all. So many people have so many different circumstances to their jobs/homes/lives, it just is what it is.

And yet… this is the fourth thing. I waffle back and forth between wanting to live my life and let my kids live theirs; and feeling the guilting and the pressures that our culture has me conditioned to believe, which is that we should all be patiently waiting to live our own lives with our hands folded neatly in our laps for my husband to be available.

Except that he’s living his life by working in his dream career. This is literally what he dreamed about in childhood, went to college for, and has worked all these years to achieve. So we should not live while he… lives?

Why do we worry so much about summer plans anyway? Maybe this is just some weird stage of life I am in, where your plans end up largely dictated by your children’s plans, forcing everyone into these specific time frames to create family memories and – oh I don’t know – live life.

Or maybe it’s something bigger. Like a status thing. I remember a movie once where the guy says in a snooty voice: “where do you summer… I SAID WHERE do you summer?” The concept is lost on me.

My summer plans are the same as my every day plans. My kids do schoolwork. They do chores. They play tennis. The baby and I watch Story Bots and play with blocks. I cook. I clean. Sometimes we go to museums and libraries, some days we binge watch Supernatural.

And I think I’m much happier and more content than a lot of people. We don’t save life’s moments for special occasions or the summer months, when conditions are perfect. We live them every day.

We Are Putting Too Much Responsibility On Our Kids

I have three kids.

Most of you know this, if you are new to my blog …well now you know. Two are girls, aged 15 and 11. And my one boy is 2.

My 15 year old has been gearing up to get her drivers permit this fall, and thinking she would go for the driver’s license right away upon turning 16.

But as the months have inched closer to her written permit exam, she’s made a lot of other decisions with regards to her education that ultimately made her choose to put driving on the back burner.

That’s a long winded way of saying that she’s decided to graduate early and wait on driving until closer to 17. Maybe later.

Beyond having homeschooled since she was in 1st grade (so being pretty ahead of the game all along anyway), she really needs some time between graduation and life to figure out exactly what she wants to do and how she wants to go about doing it. We don’t live in a time where kids can just go off to college and everything works out perfectly …kids have high debts and shit jobs when they graduate if they don’t have a clear path in mind. And a lot of times, they do all of that to go into a field that didn’t even need the degree (and high debt).

Doing this will give her a couple years to figure out her real plan for college and/or beyond, and she can start that next step in life (whatever it looks like) at the same time as the rest of her peers. Because she’s a minor she can take some for-credit courses at the community college for free, she can explore volunteer and internship opportunities…and after years of homeschooling with minimal breaks and no summer vacations, she can also relax (for once). It’s a win, whatever way you look at it.

So the exam to accomplish early graduation as a homeschooler in California is administered the March after she turns 16. You guys see the timing is such that it really does make sense for her to focus 100% on that.

And after all, what’s the rush on the driver’s license anyway, right?

When I started mentioning it to people as they brought up her driving in less than a year, I got a backlash from a handful of people (3, to be exact) in one of two veins.

Either 1) they assumed it was really me saying she should wait, in other words sheltering her from the big bad scary roads and growing up; or 2) her not taking responsibility for herself.

People just can’t make decisions for anything anymore without someone waiting in the wings to criticize them.

I shouldn’t even reply to the first point. I wasn’t allowed to drive until I was 17, and in fact California has many laws that restrict what and who can be in the car with teenagers at the outset because of the high incidences of teenage deaths behind the wheel. I am not the catalyst behind her decision whatsoever; but if I were, it wouldn’t be abnormal.

And anyway, my kid my rules.

But to be clear: it was her decision. Hers. Not mine. HERS. 100%.

And it was a decision I found to be rooted in maturity beyond her years. Not all kids would decide on school and studying over the thrill of getting behind the wheel.

As to the responsibility.

Even if it were for fear or not being ready for that level of responsibility, what is this idea that kids under 18 are not still… kids? That their feelings or fears or concerns are completely invalid and they should just man up and grow up?

Repeat after me: they are still children.

And beyond that, has anyone taken stock – truly – of how much responsibility falls upon our older kids, today, as a culture? The shooter drills. The intense college admissions competition. AP exams. Competitiveness in sports. Plus looks, bullying, dating, peer suicide, all-time high incidences of mental illness…

Granted some of that is eliminated because my kids homeschool. But in many ways (because my kids are still very social, have relatively large friend groups, are out in the community daily, and have many of the same goals as their peers), they experience it all to varying degrees.

And in the case of my children, you also have to consider how much responsibility my two older daughters already have and take of their own accord around the house (which, I am sure, is common in other households as well as the business world molds and changes, and local, 9-5 jobs for parents have largely ceased to exist).

My husband works overnight shifts for a marketing firm that contracts with Disney. He’s an editor, so it means long hours, unpredictable hours, and a lot of overtime. When he gets home in the morning, he goes to bed and sleeps all day until it’s time to go back and start it over again. He works weekends and holidays often, and he almost never uses his vacation time. He basically is uninvolved in our lives unless he can actually be off for Christmas or Easter (but of course then he still sleeps half the day, either catching up or just on that different schedule).

That leaves me as the sole caretaker, housekeeper, financial planner, grocery shopper, child care provider, car maintenancer, schedule manager, meal, snack and every in between preparer, launderer, problem solver, medical care provider, educator, ride-giver…and so on…

My kids, being more responsible than some adults I know, have taken it upon themselves to pitch in for the sake of my husband’s dreams and my sanity.

It’s killing me to allow, and yet sometimes I feel I have no other choice; and even other times I realize that letting your kids have responsibility around the home has been proven in study after study to raise kids more capable of managing their lives as fully formed adults.

So my daughter doesn’t want to take on the “responsibility” of studying for taking the exam for her drivers permit, and the behind the wheel test and driving so soon, on top of everything else on her plate.

She cleans up my toddler’s toys every night when I put him to bed.

She helps cook dinner when I’m giving him a bath or nursing him (because, yes, I am still nursing my 2 year old).

She and her sister clean up the poop in the bathtub when he inevitably turns it into his large, personal toilet.

My 11 year old isn’t without added responsibility at home as well. She takes out the trash, regularly, when my husband has been too busy to change all the cans. She also helps keep the laundry moving, does dishes without being asked, and plays with her brother or feeds him breakfast when I’m driving my 15 year old to an appointment or tennis lesson.

Once a week, my kids and I spend hours going through all the laundry that has been done and sort, organize, fold, and put it all away. When my husband sees us doing it, he says “just leave mine on the bed.”

And this is the thing that I want to impress on all of you: my kids are not unique from other kids, and the amount that is expected of them today is phenomenal.

I get it. There was a time when kids did all of this and more. But there are two parents in this home, two adults responsible for it all, and my kids are at the very least helping to carry the load for one that is largely absent. Because they are already more responsible than a lot of adults I know.

So to suggest that my daughter needs to “start taking responsibility for herself,” and that the driving thing is just a sign that she isn’t doing that is – in a word – laughable. And this is what I am largely seeing happen with a lot of her and my 11 year old’s peers: that in the face of already doing it all and more, adults are still pushing the vice down even harder and demanding more of them.

And we wonder why so many kids have mental health problems now.

I feel like we have forgotten that under 18, they are still kids. And yet, at the end of the day, so many of them seem to have it more together than a lot of us did at that age. More together than a lot of us do today.

Yes, I Am Allowed To Take a Vacation. So Are My Kids.

Something really weird happened to me today.

My kids and I are on vacation. I know, shocker. Everyone else takes a vacation and there are photos and stories and Instagrams and Snapchats and canceled plans – “sorry, going to be in Cabo that week!”

I take a vacation and everyone acts like I’ve gone on a two week cocaine bender and spent the electric bill money on a balloon of heroin.

My kids wanted one thing for Christmas: a trip somewhere. Anywhere. We so infrequently leave the area, and having just about everything under the sun they could ever imagine or want, it’s what they naturally asked for. I had a trip planned that was drivable, in our Christmas budget, and would involve stuff they enjoy (shopping, tennis, waterpark, etc.).

Then as Christmas neared, it all sort of fell apart.

First, my dad had surgery on his hip and it was taking much longer to recover than planned. That meant he would need someone to stay home with him.

My husband was SWAMPED at work, I mean swamped; so a vacation was not exactly ideal for him either.

But the kids and I were still all about it; packing and getting those little travel sized bottles of our toiletries…we were just about ready and the day was swiftly nearing for us to leave, then my oldest daughter hurt her knee and rendered herself un-vacation-able.

The resort was nice enough to refund me our entire booking, and I quickly sprung into action to salvage Christmas. I filled the bottom of the tree with some basic gifts I knew my kids would appreciate, and started trying to plan a substitute vacation that wouldn’t require so much physical activity on her knee.

I mean…a trip was what they asked for, and had already been promised…

So I said I would take them to El Segundo to shop and stay for a few days before the holidays; that didn’t pan out because Christmas chaos got in the way. Then I thought *well how about Solvang for New Years.* Didn’t happen. My kids started getting that whole *things Mom promises never come true* air about them, though, so you guys can imagine my delight when both of their tennis teams got invited to the section championships…

…in the same exact place our original trip was planned for (only further out enough in weeks for my daughter’s injury to heal).

Easy peasy, right?

So I got back on the horn with our reservations and the plans; I kicked our activities planning and packing back into full swing. I had an entire bag of those travel sized toiletry things now. My dad and husband’s restrictions were still in place, but that wasn’t going to stop us this time.

So on Tuesday, we headed out. And we are here now.

But I’ll be honest with you guys: I’m not really enjoying it.

We slept really late yesterday, and I woke up feeling like shit. Not like I was ill, but like I should have been up doing things.

We are on vacation and all I could think about was doing the laundry and wiping down the counters.

I took the kids to explore the town a little. We came four days ahead of the rest of their team mates, so we have time to kill and there is a lot to do here. Because my kids play tennis and we’ve never been to the BNP Paribas, I took them to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to have a look around. We headed out to the Living Desert Zoo. Then we ended our day on a local court so they could get in some pre-tournament practice.

I felt awful the whole time. Same thing: others are still up at home working, going to school, doing their chores. And we have the gall to be here enjoying ourselves?

Today – Thursday – has been no different. I woke up feeling unsettled. Like we needed to be doing things. Productive things, not enjoyable things. Not relaxing things.

Definitely not relaxing.

My kids homeschool, so they aren’t missing school or anything; and actually they worked on school all through the public school Christmas break. So while other people we knew were in Hawaii and Cancun and Cabo and Chicago and Bali and Thailand and Big Bear and Aspen, we were at home doing school work and canceling our own plans.

Still, I woke up looking for educational things around the area we could do. Because I just feel like I shouldn’t be taking breaks, from anything.

Why is that?

Then today it came to me, like an epiphany: I feel like shit because I am still letting others influence my feelings and thoughts.

I still let other people’s comments affect how I live my life.

I still let other people’s negativity impact my knowing that how I’m raising my kids is the right way for us.

In the weeks and days that led up to us leaving this past Tuesday, I found myself explaining over and over again to every person I saw just why, how, and what was the reasoning behind us going to the tournament early.

And to be fair, people often questioned or commented or even demanded answers.

“Oh I wish I could afford to go early” – from someone that spent their Christmas in Mexico.

“Wow, must be nice to not have kids in school so you can do whatever you want” – from someone whose middle schooler skipped the first week of school this year to go to Europe.

I counted a whopping 15 questions and comments as I sat here this morning, from people we have seen or talked to over the last few weeks, that were all along those lines.

This is my perpetual dilemma, and it’s weird and I’m tired of it. No one else feels they have to ask permission or explain themselves for the way they live their lives to me. So why do I?

Today I realized that it’s perhaps just the aftermath of all the years of me putting myself in this defendable position. The tangled mess of those years of opening myself up to the judgment and opinions of others won’t unwind overnight. For whatever reason, I still don’t allow myself to enjoy my life. Which is a shame, because I’m teaching my children to do the same.

I fell down in my quest to enjoy life unjudged and in peace this last week or two, when I apologetically explained and defended to everyone that asked just why we would have the gall to do something so heinous as go on vacation. But, I’m correcting that right now before it’s too late.


Something really weird happened to me today. I caught myself allowing old habits to creep up and ruin this experience. I am allowed to take a vacation. So are my kids. The details of it – where we are going, why we are staying there, how we can do such a thing when other people are at school and work – is just a fact of life.

(3 Things You Can’t Say To Me, 1 Thing You Can) On the Topic Of Homeschooling

Summer is upon us, which means everyone with an asshole and an opinion wants to tell me what I should be doing with my family come next fall.

My 11 year old is – technically – a to-be-6th grader; although, to define her as such in homeschooling terms seems very unfair. We don’t take breaks for summer (or Christmas or Easter or even weekends for that matter), because we take a much more well-rounded and un-schooled approach to things.

If I were to actually qualify her, I’d say that my 6th-grade-11-year-old is continuing on about halfway through 6th grade math, beginning 8th grade science, testing out high school level reading and language arts, and continuing on into a whole gamut of subjects that aren’t even covered in public K-12. Like metaphysics, Latin, ethics, art history, and growing up to not be a dick.

But I don’t actually do that. I never say things like “you are a 6th grader” or “are you ready for 6th grade??!” People often regret asking me what grade she’s in, because my response is typically “it’s a little complicated” and people don’t want complicated. They want something simple and they want a label for it, which is probably part of why they want us to stop homeschooling.

What’s important is that at her age, she should be starting 6th grade. In California, that’s when middle school begins. This means that everybody is all up in my business. Now is the time to get her back into “regular” school – what a great transitioning point!

(If I hear the words “this would be a good transitioning point” just one more time, I may completely lose it.)

Ignoring for just a moment that a public school system where kids sit on the floor because they have no desks, bully each other to the point of suicide, and are lucky if the teacher even knows their name by the end of the year – ignoring for just a moment that all of these are actually considered “regular,” I usually indulge them with a smile and vaguely say “all things to consider.” Then I move on with my day and forget about the conversation altogether.

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And yet, I’m tired of slapping a smile on my face and listening to people’s opinions. People I barely know; people close to me. People I talk to once a year; people I talk to every day – everyone else seems to think they know better than I do when it comes to what is best for my family. Maybe it’s that this year I’ve heard a lot more of them, because of this whole middle school thing. Or maybe it’s that as time goes on, more and more people around me believe it’s socially acceptable for them to foist their unsolicited opinions in my direction.

Whatever the case may be, I’m tired of it and am resolving to no longer stand by and smile and nod and respond “all things to consider.” Because while I don’t think that’s the sole reason for all the unsolicited advice, I do believe that is perpetrating the problem.

This makes me partially to blame, and you all know how much I don’t like being at fault.

So here are 3 things you can’t say to me and 1 thing you can, on the topic of homeschooling. Nosy nellies, be warned.

Homeschool

You Can’t Say You Think Our Family Needs More Socialization

I’m not sure it would be physically possible to have any more positive social interaction than this family already has. While going to a “regular” or public school would, in fact, provide more in-person time with others, that isn’t to say it would necessarily be positive or even true.

When kids go to school, they don’t spend all their time sitting there gabbing and working together. In fact, as project-based learning has decreased in the public school system, individual learning and silent testing time has taken over. The time kids have with each other as actual, social interaction is typically confined to recess and lunch. Arguably, I make up for the lack of that ten-fold in other ways.

And then there’s the whole issue of bullying.

Usually when I tell people that homeschooling affords us more positive social interactions – through extra curriculars, homeschool groups, sports, friends, and family – they retort with some idiotic response like “but they have to learn to deal with bullies eventually.” As if extra curriculars, homeschool groups, sports, friends, and family don’t have their own fair share of bullies.

The difference between homeschool and “regular” school, though, is in the ability to deal with those bullies in a more healthy, controlled, and effective way.

You Can’t Say My 11 Year Old Needs Other Girls To Go Through Puberty With

Someone actually said that to me.

When I asked for a little clarification – not that I cared, only that I was dumbfounded – she told me that there was no way I could understand what my daughter is going through in this pre-pubescent time of her life. Moreover, she could go through it all with others if she were in regular, non-homeschool school.

I may not remember every, single, literal, detail of my puberty – when I started shaving my pits and what brand maxi pads I used for the first time; but I certainly understand what is going on. And what I know more than anything is that the most terrifying thing about puberty as a little girl is that everyone goes through it at a different rate, some even at entirely different age brackets. There is really no such thing as everyone going through it together as friends. And even if there was, I see this as having absolutely nothing to do with our educational choices.

You Can’t Say I’m Going Too Far Ahead

Remember how I said that we have a much more well-rounded, less restrictive, way of doing things? The result of this has always been that we’re well beyond the expectations of any given grade we’ve homeschooled through.

I cannot even tell you how many people have said I’m going too far ahead. People that have actually said to me in all seriousness that “there is such a thing as learning too much.”

You just can’t say that. It’s so wrong on so many levels – morally, philosophically, logically – you just. CAN’T. There is no such thing as learning too much – there never has been, there never will be.

That leaves only one thing. That 1 thing you actually can say to me on the topic of homeschooling. It’ll probably come as a shock to many of you, especially those that have been nosing up in my business and telling me why you think we should stop this little experiment already.

The 1 Thing You Can Say Is That WE ARE DOING A GOOD JOB.

The only people I have ever – in all these years of homeschooling – heard say to me that we’re doing a good job with this crazy, alternative lifestyle of ours is … you’ve got it … complete strangers.

A stranger sees us studying in the morning on a weekday at our local coffee shop…stops at the table to say we’re doing a good job.

A stranger hears us talking in a museum in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday…stops us in the exhibit to say we’re doing a good job.

A stranger is on a walk and passes us on one of our weekly scavenger hunts…says as we cross paths that we’re doing a good job.

These are the people that have said that we are doing a good job. Not the people around me – the friends and the family who think it’s their missions in life to convert us to the regularity of compulsory day school.

Support. It’s simple. It’s positive. And if you learned anything yourself in whatever education you’ve had, you know it’s the smartest thing anyone can do.

Well, that and minding your own business.

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Saying Goodbye to Summer

I don’t mean “saying goodbye to summer” as in it’s nice and cool and you can all break out your Uggs and seven-layered scarves and crap. No, no – as I sit here and think about changing my shirt since the boob sweat has now soaked through – no, I don’t mean that.

I mean that all these little bastards are going back to school somewhere between the end of this week and the Tuesday after Labor Day. This is a blessed thing, in my book.

Now before you all get huffy because I called your precious cargo “bastards,” please keep in mind that I don’t actually mean to say all kids are bastards. Just the majority of those in my community are. And we’ve all got to admit that some kids just are not the little sweetie-pies kids are supposed to be anymore. I think video games, television, and the culture of entitlement really ruined it for everyone.

Being a homeschooling family, I don’t usually get a sense of “back to school” time. I know when the kids are back to school, because those little jerks aren’t running their scooters into my car and letting off fireworks outside my bedroom window anymore. They aren’t screaming at 6:30 in the morning to each other. Their parents are back to work too, rather than overcompensating for their lack of involvement during the school year.

I think you know what I mean, though, when I say we don’t really get a sense of “back to school” time. We are in school all the time.

There will be no “back to school” supply shopping for me because homeschooling is done all year in this house. Sometimes I take advantage of the back to school sales – because, quite frankly, homeschooling ain’t cheap – but if I don’t really need anything at the time, it usually comes and goes with no notice. This year, I already had more than enough of everything and had planned through the end of December of this year.

I will have no overachieving parents to contend with whose children are in the same class as mine. I won’t have to stand around at the bus stop and chit-chat with mothers who don’t know my name, no matter how many times I’ve told them. There will be no carpool to deal with. No pick up/drop off lines. I won’t have to dread the return of the P.T.A. or P.T.O. or whatever the school calls them now. The “back to school” carnival will have no fish for us, because we won’t be there. My husband won’t be worried that this year he will finally have to volunteer for the carnival’s dunk tank. And when the Halloween party comes, I won’t have to take a Valium to prepare for the parents yelling at me – the room mom – for not presenting the baked goods in a way that properly highlighted them.

There will be no volunteer hour requirements to once again meet. There will also be no fundraisers. There will be no auctions that I have to make baskets for. There will be no bake sales. There will be no cookie dough orders and gift wrap sales. There will be no bills for funds not raised and hours not volunteered.

Summer may be coming to an end, but my sleeping until 9 in the morning every day won’t.

Summer may be coming to an end, but trips to the museum whenever we want won’t.

Summer may be coming to an end, but the added traffic and lines and public hassle sure will.

At the end of the summer, I usually celebrate the return of school by scheduling all of our really fun stuff. This year we’re going to Catalina Island, although there will be very few people there. We’re going to Disneyland and there will be no lines. We’re heading to the Angels/White Sox game – in the middle of the day on a school day. No one will be around, but we will and this is so awesome words cannot describe.

There are plenty of reasons why I am envious of the end of summer for many of you. You get showers again. You get “me” time again. You get order again and eight free hours a day to sip your coffee or tea or whatever until it’s time to get the kids and start on the homework. You don’t live and breath school, which is exactly what we do.

There will be no day that comes and it is suddenly quiet in my house. There will be no quiet shower in the morning; uninterrupted by questions and complaints and “I’m hungry”s. There will be no eight hours of uninterrupted “me” time, when I can go to the spa or mop the floor in peace. Shopping will still include a stop at the toy store as a bribe to get the rest of the shopping done with no issues.

But on the note of shopping, we will have no “school clothes shopping” day, where I am suddenly confronted with dress codes and the rising cost of uniforms.

In the end, I still prefer my end of summer much better. Without the hassle of supply shopping, and the drag of getting out of bed before 7. Without the jerk kids running their scooters into my car and the overachieving parents forgetting my name. Saying goodbye to summer is saying hello to pretty good times for me.