Finding Meaning in May Madness

Five years ago I wrote a blog post discussing what I call “May Madness,” which I am fairly certain most parents with school-age kids can relate to right now. Here is how I defined this “magical” month when the school year winds down and spring catapults us toward summer:

“I do understand that the NCAA coined the term March Madness for the flurry of college basketball games played throughout the month, however, I do not think this kind of madness holds a candle to the madness that most mothers feel in May. For one thing, if you have any kids who attend summer camp, the stacks of camp forms (which include needing up-to- date physicals) are due. Spring sports are in full swing and this year, between my two boys (one of whom was rostered on four baseball teams, yep four) we were at a field, sometimes two, almost every night of the week and on weekends. My youngest daughter plays soccer and because they weren’t going to be able to have a team for her and her buddies if no one stepped up to coach…well, sure, I will figure out how to be a soccer coach two nights a week even though I’ve never played soccer a day in my life.  And then if you happen to have high-schoolers like I do, it is finals prep time (and in my house, finals freak-out time), and if you happen to have a high school junior like I do, let’s throw in the SAT or ACT tests this month as well!

Then there is a sprint for the finish at our kids’ school with end of the year events that never existed when I was a kid: portfolio day, field day, staff appreciation day, 4th grade graduation, closing ceremonies for lower school, middle school and upper school (all on different days), baccalaureate (where the first graders—yep, I have one of those too—sing to the outgoing seniors). And, my daughter’s birthday party was also in the month of May, as well as my mother's 70th birthday. And oh, that Mother's Day in May idea...yeah...sure.”

This post went on to include details of losing my father-in-law to pancreatic cancer that May as well, followed by the recounting of how after my kids’ last day of school I took them and their friends to a nearby pool, and within an hour of us being there, we witnessed a tragic accident. I can still hear the shrill sound of lifeguard’s whistle, and see all the kids hastily making their way out of the pool with petrified looks on their faces. All of the kids except for one—the six-year-old boy who was pulled lifeless from the bottom of the pool.

Nicolas. His name was Nicolas.

This May I remember Nicolas. I remember my father-in-law.

This May, I am grateful that all four of my children under my roof, which is only a temporary arrangement until my recent college graduate moves to the east coast and my second oldest heads back to the west for his college junior year after the summer. My two middle kids are anchored at home. For now. A high-schooler and a middle-schooler. Can we please slow this all down?

The fragility of life hit me hard this year. I turned 50. Everything seems to be moving at lightning speed. I feel like there is so much more I want to get done in this life. So much more I want to experience, read, write, create, learn, teach, work, and give. And yet, one of the most profound lessons I have learned while living on this planet for 50 years is that there are no guarantees. None. The late and the beloved Amy Krouse Rosenthal reminds us of this in her letter “You May Want to Marry My Husband” (you must read this if you haven’t already).

Dani Shapiro touches on this in her new book Hourglass:

“How do you suppose time works? A slippery secession of long hours adding up to ever-shorter days and years that disappear like falling dominoes? Near the end of her life, Grace Paley once remarked that the decades between 50 and 80 feel not like minutes, but seconds. I don't know yet if this is the case but I do know this: the decades that separate that young mother making her lists from the middle-aged woman discovering them feel like the membrane of a giant floating bubble. A pinprick and I'm back there. But is she here? How can I tell her that her lists will not protect her?"

This May I am reminded of how the decade that separates my oldest and youngest child complicates the bubble for me—recently witnessing my oldest graduate from college and preparing for youngest’s bat mitzvah next month. My lists are long right now, but very different than were a decade ago. They still contain many kid-focused items and tasks, but are more inclusive of my hopes and dreams—the two new books I am working on; the new business I am starting; places I want to see with my husband; experiences I hope to have with my family and friends. And now more than ever, they contain the knowledge that every day is a gift; that I might not have enough time to complete all the items on my list; that we all have an unknown expiration date; and that sometimes the list needs to be tossed aside so we can fully embrace what is happening right in front of us.

So, as this year’s May Madness is in full swing with a full house, a full calendar, a sink full of dishes, a laundry room full of dirty clothes, and a mudroom full of shoes, my heart is also full. Full of firsts and lasts. Memories of love and loss. And a plethora of gratitude and hope.

I wish all of you great amounts of love and strength as you head into the home stretch of May Madness and we all make our way to the brighter, warmer (and hopefully somewhat calmer) days of summer that are filled with laughter and joy, and of course, lots of self-care.