There are a series of hilariously familiar memes on Pinterest contrasting packed lunches on the first day of school versus the last. They all follow the same theme: Kids begin the year with exquisitely assembled bento boxes of fresh fruit, charcuterie and fancy sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and end it with half a cheese stick, a smushed donut and the remnants of the last bag of chips.

It’s not that little Timmy and Tiana’s parents care less about their children by the middle of June. It’s that they just don’t have crust-cutting energy anymore. You’re lucky you got a whole donut, son.

“I used to iron my kids’ clothes. Now it’s, ‘Let [them] throw on sweatpants and a wrinkled shirt. Let’s just get out,’” said Rev. Lauren Harris of Hanover, who’s looking forward to her two children being home for the summer. “It’s like, ‘I forgot to go to the grocery store. You don’t have a juice box? They’re going to have water to drink there. You’ll be fine.’”

As I literally count how many bags of snacks we have left in the house versus how many we need until the end of the school year, I empathize with every exhausted fiber of my being.

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I know that by the time August rolls around, I’ll be ready to pack my son off and personally escort him to the school doors. But it’s been an exhausting academic year of checking homework, making sure those khakis and polos are clean and that the crumpled field trip permission slip that’s been living at the bottom of the backpack gets signed. Just typing that sentence made me want a nap. I am a single mother who is ground zero for everyone’s stuff; if I don’t get up on time, nobody does, and the responsibility of that is stupefying.

So I feel comfortable speaking for Harris and a lot of relieved parents that we need a break. A lot of teachers feel the same. Emphatically.

In an 2017 HuffPost essay, writer Lori Ferraro expounded on things she wasn’t going to miss as a parent when school ended, including not navigating an obstacle course of book bags and shoes, or sorting out packed folders and binders. “Come Sunday late afternoon,” she wrote, “I can think of better things to spend 40-something bucks on. For a project that’s due. Tomorrow.”

My son wants a pause and so do I. “I think we’re all equally looking forward to it. They’re exhausted and I’m exhausted. We’re all exhausted,” Harris told me. “We’re not even going on a vacation. Vacations take planning. I’m planned out.”

I remember my son’s teacher explaining to him on the first day of fourth grade that every year was going to be tougher academically than the year before, and I’ve found this isn’t just true for the student. I thought that the older he got, the more autonomous he’d be. But with his increased amount of work and activities, my responsibilities have increased as well.

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“When they were younger, washing them up in the morning, picking out their clothes and making lunches” were the main tasks, said Harris, whose son is on the autism spectrum and just finished his first academic year without an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and is now in an advanced science curriculum. “Now the demands are helping manage their time and their schedules, to remember to practice for the test, and the due dates. The demands haven’t increased, just shifted.”

She admits that even parsing the emails and messages about various assignments and activities feels like a full-time job on its own. She works from home, so once school is over, “I can wake up at 8:30 or 9, I don’t have to get dressed or do anything. During school, I have to wake up at 6:45, making sure they get out the door. But when the summer starts, I’m going to woosah” — meaning take a deep breath and decompress — “and maybe go sit by the pool and gather myself.”

It’s not like I’m planning to send my child to some faraway camp for the summer and jetting off to a spa in Fiji. He’s going to be with me A LOT between a few weeks of day camp and travel, and just normal days where I’ll be working from home and he’ll be sleeping in, or reading, or playing on the block with his buddies, with no schedule. Which means I’ll have less of a schedule as well. That’s going to be a relief for all of us.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my kids and not always having to be going, going, going,” Harris said. “It’ll just be spending time with them. And more sleep.”

Because sleep you don’t have to schedule is the most refreshing sleep of all.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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