Family life

Glad your kids are back in school? Well, I'm not

After a holiday break spent bonding with her four-year-old daughter, Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is surprised by her reluctance to return to their routine.

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Tara-Michelle and Anna enjoy a much-needed break from their hectic schedule.

This is how I envisioned my four-year-old daughter’s holiday break playing out: She wakes up each morning at 7 a.m., drives me crazy with her constant requests for activities to do, and we juggle playdates and other plans while the dishes pile up in the sink. I fully expected that, by the end of the holidays, we’d be eating corn chips with melted cheese for every meal, while I let Anna watch extra-long movies every morning just so I could sleep in for an extra hour.

In reality, we had a great break. Anna stayed up late on most evenings, and we slept in almost every morning. We enjoyed taking our time making meals together without a rigid school and extracurriculars schedule to stick to. Anna didn’t visit her friends as frequently and, as a result, I was more well-rested and less stressed than usual—not to mention more open to doing a variety of activities with her throughout the day. We went to the movies, visited the aquarium and I even got some time to myself when Anna spent a couple of days with her other parent. We read together a lot. She watched both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music all by herself during the two mornings where she actually did wake up early. (She enjoys musicals, and watching things on repeat. I’ve joked that The Sound of Music is my co-parent).

I didn’t miss the general chaos of our morning routine, including waiting for busses and nagging my daughter to walk faster, stop touching everything, and to hurry up. I did not miss packing food for the next day’s school lunch. I did not miss asking Anna why her sweater was in her backpack instead of on her body or why she only ate one fifth of her lunch as opposed to the whole thing. I did not miss making small talk in the schoolyard with other parents, or Anna’s endless recaps of her day—which usually just consists of her tendency to tattle on her friends.

Our moods softened, our dynamic shifted and we grew closer as mother and daughter without the added pressures of school and extracurriculars. We had post-breakfast cupcakes one morning (on New Year’s Eve) and a mid-breakfast intermission to paint our nails. We may have had dinner around her usual bedtime a few times, but it was always a healthy meal. I also taught Anna a few card games, and she got back into the habit of helping me cook, rather than being after-school exhausted while zoning out in front of Arthur.

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Anna and Tara-Michelle ring in 2015. Photo: Dana Baitz

As the clock ticked down towards Anna’s return to school, I tried to mentally prepare myself for lunch preps and setting out clothes days in advance. I expected to be good and ready for her to go back. Instead, I found myself anxious that it would interfere with what had turned out to be a great thing for us both. My stress level was low and I’d enjoyed the time we spent together. Anna also had mixed emotions about it. She’s a social butterfly and likes school, but I also know she enjoys our one-on-one time. I also have no doubt that she picked up on my being more relaxed than usual.

Now it’s a couple of days in, and my stress level has already risen, while dark circles have returned under both our eyes. But now I’m left wondering: If I’d had a more introverted, less social child, would home-schooling—and ultimately more time spent together—be in our future?

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.