I’m in the back-to-school rat race, which is different from the school year rat race because none of it is lasting. This two-week period, as most parents know, is a jam-packed mixture of squeezing out every last drop of summer fun while simultaneously reintroducing schedules and school supplies, setting up appointments with doctors and hairstylists, and fitting shoes, shirts, pants and backpacks. Every day is meticulously blocked from breakfast to dinner with either high-priority errands, or required, no-questions-asked FUN.
When parents tell you they’re looking forward to the start of school, it has less to do with really wanting to get rid of the kids and more to do with the absolute exhaustion born from requirements—whether actually necessary or self-imposed through guilt—that are completely unsustainable for a life.
But this is where I’ve come to learn over the years that mountain living can be an absolute gift. Aside from the fact that school usually starts a little bit later, or that the schooling environments tend to be a little lower-pressure, the environment and community of our mountain towns support in a way the city doesn’t.
Sometimes it’s the small-town feeling that lends itself, like “killing two birds with one stone,” and finding everyone you were trying to make plans to see at the same concert—a chance for everyone to hang onto summer and get the kids back together—all in one evening on one picnic blanket. Sometimes it’s nature, reminding you to slow down, return to the land, and find yourself nurtured—like how a trip to the public pool, though desperately wanted, would end up being less life-giving than pulling off the side of the road and dipping toes into the icy creek instead.
And sometimes it’s the quirks of mountain life, the things that, though irritating, are unique to the experience of living in a more remote area and reset perspective. For example, my internet has been out for two days. When my internet is out, everything is shot. I can’t even make a phone call. I had to drive into town with the kids in-tow and post-up at a coffee shop just to contact Xfinity. There was absolutely no explaining to the customer service representative that, no, I couldn’t go home and call her from my house so she could test my modem while I was there, because I would, of course, drop the call. (Just curious, does anyone have the ID number on their modem memorized? This was her next solution—for me to recite the ID number from memory.)
When we were finally able to agree that the only viable solution was for a tech to make their way out to my house, it was too late that day. The schedule was too full. I’d have to wait until the following afternoon, cut off from work email and messages from friends and streaming television.
It was heaven. The girls and I returned from the coffee shop, knowing there was no chance at connection to the outside world, so we all nestled into our own interior ones. It was as if my house transformed into a little artists’ colony. I wrapped-up writing without any social media distractions or interrupting phone calls. I worked so quickly, there was time to rest on the sunroom couch, feeling the breeze blowing into the house. I sketched, and I can’t remember a time in recent adulthood where I’ve felt the space to play like that.
My children, better acquainted with wide-open boredom and accustomed to limited access to technology, set themselves to tasks right away. We couldn’t stream music online, so they each took their turns playing the piano, singing along. I think one of them was actually writing a song. We read books outside and made dinner preparations and set up pinecones along the deck railing. It was as if, without hurry, without urgency, we squeezed out all the lasting bits of summer life—the best bits.
And when, that evening, I had no choice but to go right to bed without doom-scrolling or watching one too many episodes of a show I don’t even like, the last thought on the edge of my brain when I drifted off was a reminder to every now and again turn off my Wi-Fi and let nature take its course.