Several years ago, in her bestselling novel August, Judith Rossner wrote about the relationship between a totally psycho young woman patient and her fabulously screwed-up older woman psychoanalyst. The point of August -- other than that everyone in New York City is this close to going off -- is that it's during August, when all the shrinks go to the Hamptons, that bad things happen. I should know. Indeed, it was when my own personal psychoanalyst was enjoying his five-week-long August vacation in the Hamptons that I read August. With its simplistic yet sensational characterizations and thudding tone-deaf dialogue, it made me so angry that I ranted and raved about it for weeks on end, prompting old friends and would-be lovers to drop me as quickly as ice cream melts on a hot summer day. The point being: Bad things do indeed happen in August, and I wasn't even a mom yet. Yes, there's a reason the rabbis taught that from the beginning of Av, the Hebrew month that coincides with August, "we diminish happiness" -- and it's not just because it was during the month of Av that the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the Jews were expelled from Spain. It is also because it is during August that our children, if we happen to be blessed with them, are home. Indeed, August represents that no man's land between summer camp and back to school, between vacation and work, between relative sanity and gearing up for yet another round of test scores and admissions. It is a time during which even the most die-hard PBS-and-only-PBS-and-then-only-for-half-an-hour-a-day fans allow their children to watch back-to-back videos of "Power Rangers" followed by reruns of "Three's Company." It is the time of the Vortex. Let's take last summer as an example. My husband and I decided it would be nice to go on vacation. The trick to going on a family vacation is, if you're a woman, leaving yourself enough time to plan, and, if you're a man, remembering to show up. In other words, it didn't really bug me all that much when, on the day of our departure -- which is to say after I'd shopped around for low-fare tickets on an airline with good drivers, lined up a housesitter, put timers on every lamp in the house and then checked them about a thousand times to make sure that they wouldn't burst into flames during our absence, canceled the newspapers, schlepped to the bank, paid the bills in advance, packed for myself and my three children, left written instructions for our neighbors, and then checked and re-checked the house a billion times to make sure that everything was properly locked and turned off and put away -- my husband came home from the office, where he'd been "checking his e-mail," and said, "Let's move already! Jennifer, did you pack a snack?" Vacation was nice, I guess. Who remembers? We ate too much. And roughly two weeks later, my family and I climbed back inside a large metal vibrating container so that my children could take turns spilling tomato juice on me while I intoned, "Okay, Jennifer, breathe in, good girl, now breathe out, very good, that was just wind, just a little wind, flying is safer than taking a bath, big breath now." Though the airplane did not crack into two roughly equal pieces, ejecting me and my beloved sweetie pies into the ultimate nowheresville, we did have to board yet another giant tube of metal, wherein I came face to face with the meanest flight attendant in the world, a woman who would not allow my not-yet-3-year-old son to go to the lavatory, explaining that the seatbelt sign was on -- and that, additionally, "Every day mothers insist on carrying their children to the restrooms in rough air, and every day these children fly out of their mothers' arms and break their necks." Scooter, in the meantime, was howling that he had to make pee-pee posthaste, and he continued to wail until a man pushed past the psycho-stew and extracted a plastic cocktail cup from the airplane's "galley" for Scooter's use, after which everyone in the cabin burst into applause. The point, of course, is that all mothers of young children should travel with their own plastic cocktail cups, preferably filled with Russian vodka. The corollary is that our leave-taking and return trips were nothing compared with the twilight zone that was to follow. Now, we all know that many people consider Washington to be warm in August. But compared with South Louisiana, which is where I live, Washington is cool, dry and comfortable. South Louisiana is a very warm swamp upon which humankind was never meant to settle, and though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is drying up the land, what it can't seem to do, no matter how many whiny letters I write to Corps HQ, is save me from the end-of-summer Vortex. I mean, the very minute we were back inside our own house after summer vacation, all three kids began to wail, "Mom, I'm bored," and my husband, who didn't even try to conceal the relief on his face, announced that he was going to his office to check his e-mail. We were looking at 17 days until the kids were back in school. A lot of parents seem to enjoy down time with their kids, but I'm not one of them, and I think that's because -- like my eldest child, Sam -- I need to be kept channeled and focused. When Sam isn't channeled and focused, his inbred ya-yas begin to get the better of him, and he follows me around the house asking me questions that I can't possibly answer about what life was like before cable television. Likewise, I tend to have anxiety attacks whenever I hear George Will's name mentioned, or consider the fact that I have to get up in the morning. Hanging out, in other words, is something I can't do unless I'm very, very drunk. And the problem, as most moms and dads know, about hanging out with your kids is not that you're not doing stuff -- inactivity, of course, often leading to depression -- but rather, that you're doing a million different things at once, but not one of them consists of having a complete thought or completing a single sentence, not to mention DIDN'T I TELL YOU NOT TO INTERRUPT ME WHEN I'M WORKING FINE THEN NO TV FOR A WEEK I DON'T CARE IF ALL THE OTHER KIDS WATCH "HOME IMPROVEMENT" I'LL TELL THEM YOU LOVE BIG BIRD AND . . . So last August, facing, as I was, more than two weeks of being a full-time mom, I decided to not even ATTEMPT to get any work done while my kids were home bored out of their minds, but rather, I turned to the example of my own mother, who was a full-time mom for 30, 40 years, and yet seemed capable of carrying on adult conversation, especially when we were sleeping. And how did she handle the Vortex? Every summer, Mom took us kids to the Langley swimming pool. In fact, looking back on it, it seems that we lived at the Langley swimming pool, at least during daylight hours; and when we weren't at the Langley swimming pool, we kids were lying in the fragrant grass of the back yard, watching the lightning bugs, planning our escape from the SS, and deciding which of the aunts and uncles we should flee to. (I always voted for my Aunt Jane and Uncle Frank in Scarsdale, reasoning -- rightly so, I think -- that they'd provide access to both good shopping and good psychiatric care, should I choose to avail myself of either.) Indeed, we kids had a mother who actually enjoyed hanging out with us. Another way of putting this is that we didn't have a mother who sat around all day complaining about the anxiety attack she was having because at the rate she was going she'd NEVER get around to writing her novel, because my mother, unlike my children's mother, was saving up all her mishegoss for one giant midlife crisis, something people of my generation don't seem to have, preferring to string it out over the decades, starting at around age 21. So I knew that though Mom had done a great job with us, I was neurobiologically incapable of following her laid-back example, and thus resolved to get through the dog days by doing all the stuff that I'd been transcribing from "to do" list to "to do" list since the first year of my marriage -- the kind of things, unlike work work, that one might reasonably expect to get done with help from the kids. I imagined myself surrounded by my children, as they helped me fold laundry or put family photographs in the photo album that I'd been meaning to buy for the past half-decade. And other fun things, too. This way, I figured, I'd remain a reasonably calm person, my kids would have the sense of satisfaction derived from assisting me, and, as a bonus, I'd discover what, if anything, was under the pile of clean-but-not-yet-folded laundry that I keep in the corner of the bedroom. I didn't save last year's "to do" list, but I am willing to humiliate myself in public by revealing the contents of my current one. Here it is, my summer 1997 "to do" list: pay bills write bestselling literary novel color hair dentist appointments for kids put baby pictures in photo album buy photo album contact acct. re: 1996 taxes -- did we remember to pay? clothes to Goodwill learn Hebrew car inspection unpack wedding gifts fold laundry pile Obviously, I didn't get everything on last year's list crossed off, but that was only because, in the midst of studying it, it suddenly dawned on me that Sam's school had sent a back-to-school supply list to me sometime back in June, and this list, which was somewhere in the pile of junk on my desk, had to be attended to. Thus the kids and I found ourselves in the back-to-school aisle of Wal-Mart, which is not a good place to be if you tend to have anxiety attacks. I was looking for such things as "2 plastic Duo-Tang pocket folders with brads," "1 pair five-inch Fiskars," and "1 blue sharpie"; and though I wasn't serious when I told my kids that, unless they stopped torturing one another, I'd invite Dick Armey to their birthday parties, people were giving me REALLY mean looks. All of which gives rise to the question: What in God's name is a sharpie, anyway? I'd always thought that sharpies were somehow related to wiseguys, also known as crooks, also known as your democratically elected state representatives. The point is: In the back-to-school aisle at Wal-Mart, where women were passing out in front of the giant displays of Crayola crayons, I realized that I wasn't really cut out for motherhood. Only by then, of course, it was too late. Long story short, it took me only two more trips to locate all the supplies that my three kids' teachers said they needed for the start of the school year, which by this time was less than two weeks away. Now that I lived approximately 2,000 miles away from the nearest psychoanalyst, I resolved to (1) not have a nervous breakdown, (2) not have a nervous breakdown, (3) not have a nervous breakdown, (4) not have a nervous breakdown, (5) not have a nervous breakdown, not to mention NO YOU CAN- NOT COLLECT LIZARDS I DON'T CARE WHAT HANK'S MOTHER SAYS PUT THAT THING OUTSIDE OR I'LL . . . Instead, I decided to get to my garden -- a project that, I figured, would allow me to get some much-needed weeding and pruning done, have quality time with my children, teach them about the beauty of nature and prevent them from going into "Barney"-induced catatonia. I packed the kids into the wagon and headed off to the nursery, which led to much heated discussion about how a nursery can't be a place to buy plants, because it's really a place where you put toddlers in school. (The gist of the argument: "You're stupid." "You're stupid." "You're stupider.") At the nursery I plopped down a whole hunk of dough to buy all kinds of gorgeous flowers that began to wilt and turn brown the instant my kids and I took them out of their containers and plopped them into the garden. I was so determined to beautify my garden that I forgot that Louisiana is home to some of the meanest ugly-faced insects on God's green earth. All four of us spent the better part of the afternoon taking turns smearing Bactine on our limbs, but I consoled myself with the resolution that I simply would not set foot outside again, ever, unless it happened to be snowing. The problem, of course, is that certain of your nastier bugs prefer interiors. A few days later, the exterminator who came to my house told me that those very small, weird-looking, flaky black lumps that dotted the inside of my kitchen cabinets weren't, thank God, mouse droppings. They were ROACH droppings. EXCUSE ME BUT THAT BEER IS MOMMY'S NO I'M NOT DRINKING TOO MUCH IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS AND NO YOU CAN'T HAVE IT GIVE IT BACK DO YOU WANT TO BE IN TIME OUT UNTIL THE NEXT MILLENNIUM? Even though I was fairly undone by the exterminator's findings, I did NOT yell at Scooter when (mere moments after I'd paid the exterminator) he wiped his little chocolate-covered face on my newly laundered bedspread. Nor did I yell at his sister or brother, who thought it was hilarious. After all, was it their fault that they were acting like a bunch of little kids whose mother hadn't planned a single damn thing for them to do during the hottest and stickiest season of the year? And what, now that I could no longer connect one thought coherently to the next, not to mention compose a "transition" that "works," had I done with my old stuff -- my dolls' cabinet and vanity and the two plaster dolls that had been my mother's before they were mine -- that my mother had shipped to me, via UPS, the year I turned 37, with a note indicating that it was time already for me to collect the remnants of my childhood? I resolved to unearth and renovate my old stuff. My daughter, Rosie, who because she is our only daughter is the love-lamb of her father's life and has already won the mother-daughter struggle even though she's not yet 4, was thrilled by this treasure trove. In an uncharacteristic Martha Stewart moment, I promised her that I'd buy paint and paper and fix it all up. She insisted that time was of the essence, grabbed my car keys, and pushed me out the door. A few moments later, as I pushed her through the echoing aisles of our local Wal-Mart, we had the following conversation: "Mommy, can I have that dress?" "No." "Mommy, can I have those shoes?" "No." "Mommy, can I have that pocketbook?" "No." "I'll tell Daddy." At any rate, at Wal-Mart I bought a whole bunch of pink paint, some brushes, and a stenciling kit that showed a picture of a happy-looking blond mom covering everything in the universe with stenciled red and pink roses. And then I spent the next eight days, from the moment I hauled myself out of bed in the morning to the moment I collapsed into bed at night, painting and lining and stenciling, while Rose and her twin brother, Scooter, sat by my side, giving pointers and bringing me vodka, and Sam, in the next room, climbed the walls. And when I was at last finished, Rose had a complete set of pink-painted, rose-covered doll-baby furniture, and she threw her arms around me and told me she loved me. And I knew that she did; but I also knew that no matter how much she loved me, she could never love me as much as I love her, and that this inequity would only get more pronounced as she and her brothers grow up: For they will always be my darling-darlings, whereas I will change in their eyes until, inevitably, they'll be telling their college friends about what a weirdo I am. And yet how badly my husband and I wanted children! And how much we love them! And how we worry about them! And how we pray for the strength and wisdom to guide them to adulthood! And how PLEASE JUST GIVE ME FIVE MORE MINUTES IF YOU'RE SO HUNGRY GET YOURSELF A BANANA OR AN APPLE OF COURSE YOU CAN REACH THE FRUIT BOWL WITHOUT HELP NO YOU MAY NOT HAVE AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH BECAUSE I SAID SO THAT'S WHY. Finally the day of liberation came. The kids were in school. My husband was at work, checking his e-mail. And I walked from empty quiet room to empty quiet room, counting the hours until my little sweethearts would be home. Jennifer Moses is a frequent contributor to the Magazine.