I always have a wistful feeling when the end of summer approaches, and I know the family will be transitioning back into the school year, after several idyllic months of sun, sitting by the pool and enjoying a slower schedule.

But about five minutes after I wave goodbye to the kids on the first day of school, I’m doing the back-to-school happy dance.

See, as a working mother with a flexible schedule, I feel like I walk around all summer with a giant question mark hovering over my head. I love that my work-from-home ministry as a writer and speaker allows me to arrange for a lot more family time in the summer, but that doesn’t mean all my projects and deadlines go away! I can say no to some projects, push off others until the fall and cut some down to “summer size”… I can arrange for camps, grandparents, play dates and babysitters to give me some work hours … but the reality is that all summer long there will still be writing deadlines, conference calls and meetings interspersed between tie-dying T-shirts, water balloon fights and long movie-watching sessions.

Summer is just a teeny bit schizophrenic. Wonderful, but schizophrenic. Can you relate, or am I the only one who puts every day of the summer together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and hopes that I won’t find a major piece missing? (Bowling today, friends over tomorrow … and I hope their play date won’t get cancelled Thursday so I can go to that meeting …!)

Normally, it’s so important to keep boundaries around my work life, so that when I’m working I get that work done well, and when I’m with the kids I give them my full attention. But all those good intentions seem to just explode when the “flexible” summer schedule hits. I love going with the kids to the pool – but the kids know that (unlike during the school year) if my publisher calls while I’m with them, I will need to take the call. I love being able to take multiple weeks out of town so the kids can hang out with their cousins and I can see my parents and brother — but it means that I will need to spend some hours working on a book deadline most days while we’re there. Or, yes, I can go with the family to the museum for the day – but since that magazine article is due, I’ll need to be typing away on my laptop in the front passenger seat while my (very understanding) husband does the hour-long drive there and back.

For moms with flexible work schedules, summer is all about the unstructured chaos of trade-offs and juggling – even more trade-offs and juggling than we normally do, which is saying something.

But then…school starts. The calendar is about to return to structured chaos, instead! There is some predictability coming; I can almost taste it; it’s just around the corner.

I walk the kids into their classrooms on the first day, grin to myself as I watch their excited nervousness, watch them hug friends they haven’t seen all summer; then like a lot of other moms and dads around me, I wave goodbye and turn away to walk back toward the car. Tears prickle my eyes as I think of how they are growing up, as I thank God for what a wonderful summer we had, and pray for God to give them an amazing year ahead, with great teachers.

I walk back through the parking lot, and catch the eye of another couple of moms who are also sniffling just a bit. We give each other wistful grins … and then break into the back-to-school happy dance.