Nineties rap blares on the radio as the air conditioning blasts against the new summer heat. Chip and snack cake wrappers litter the front seat.
Is this a scene from an idyllic teenage summer?
Nope. It's just me — a bewildered mom — sitting kid-less in a Walmart parking lot after work, not knowing what to do with myself while my son is with his dad.
It never fails that, just as we're finally getting settled, our school year parenting schedule all comes unhinged with the transition to summer parenting. In our house — and in many homes across the country — this time means kids spend every other week with each parent.
This summer schedule is meant to give precious uninterrupted time, opportunities for family vacations, holiday celebrations and summer camps. But for me it brings in a season of discomfort, unease, anxiety and cream-filled cupcakes that I don't need to eat.
From the outside, my son being gone every other weekend may look like a break. At least, that's what I've been told. But I fervently disagree with it. I don't want a break from my kid. Ever. The usual pattern of the week's family time, baseball games, bedtime snuggles and stories are replaced with a feeling that I have no idea what to do with myself. The last few years I've been completely unprepared for this season, and it has rendered me a mess.
Planning helps ease my anxiety, so this year I've made a list of things I can — and will — do so I don't sit and weep under giant sunglasses in a big box store parking lot.
- Read. I have a giant pile of books on my nightstand and on my desk at work that I cannot ever seem to find time for. I will commit to reading at least one of these each week that my kiddo is with his dad.
- Write. My list of stories continues to grow. I will find a lovely spot on my deck and write until I can't write any more.
- Bond with my step-daughters. This summer, I plan to embrace the opportunity to spend undivided time with my stepdaughters. I will get very good at tea parties.
- Explore our town. Even though I've lived near Omaha my whole life, there are so many places I have yet to visit.
- Catch up with people. I plan to actually call and speak to my family and friends on the phone. After all, it works for talking, too. Not just texting or email!
- Organize. This is the place where the beast of anxiety is at bay for me. I will slay the garage and my sadness at the same time.
- Enjoy time with my husband. Instead of our quick logistics check-ins, we can actually spend time talking about our dreams for the future.
Oh — and I'm also stocking up on mini pies and Kleenex. Just in case.
Jessica Janssen Wolford is a mom and stepmom raising three kiddos with her husband, Eric. You can read more about her experiences on her blog, "A Step in the Right Direction." You can also follow her on Twitter @jessljwolford.