Unpopular opinion: I loved exam weeks. There was something about those weeks of high stress, information overload and late-night cram sessions that felt charged with some kind of magical kinetic energy.
In high school, it was the only time of the year when I was allowed to spend the night at a friend's house on a school night. We would stay up until sunrise quizzing each other on notecards. It was the only time of the year when I was permitted to swing by Starbucks before school to pick up a venti with extra shots of espresso. It was a time of eating poorly, living unwashed and breaking into bouts of hysteria without reason.
This type of week, removed from normal life, only doubled down in college. For two weeks straight, I wouldn't see my bed and subsisted solely on coffee, Starburst and Doritos. Hours of continuous silence were broken apart by laughter. I loved those weeks. I loved them because they were a step out of the norm. They were a time to rise or fall. They were a time to show what I was made of. With a spritz of Febreze on my worn-for-three-days-straight clothes, a reapplication of deodorant and a gut full of nerves, I'd walk into those exam rooms as ready as I could be and walk out with a lightness. It wasn't because I had aced the exam or had any confidence whatsoever about how I had done; the lightness came because it was over.
I could physically feel the stress pounds melting off, as if walking out of each exam room was in itself a type of detox. And perhaps that is part of why every exam week was followed by at least a full week in bed with a terrible cold. My body was detoxing the knowledge I no longer needed to hold, the caffeine coursing through my blood, the Febreze fumes and the Dorito dust that had been exfoliating my face. After a week of sleeping, sneezing and hacking away, I'd come back to normal life. Not exam week life, not sick life, normal life. And suddenly, the previous few weeks would seem like an altered reality that never really happened.
I haven't had a true exam week in over a decade. But sometimes in adult life, I'd have a similar rush during a film shoot or at the end of a deadline. But that was before parenthood.
At 1:03 a.m. today, an hour and three minutes past deadline, I handed in the last stories for an incredible and completely time-consuming gig that dictated my every waking hour for three months. The past two weeks, when all final drafts were due, has been like no other "exam week" that I've ever known, because this has been the first time I've done it with kids.
It's not the same. The energetic magic of the week is totally depleted when your kids run in and steal your Doritos. Not just one bag, all the bags — to the point where I wondered whether I might die of starvation because, clearly, there is no alternative food source. My son, who obviously has never experienced the intensity of a deadline despite being in kindergarten, dared to tell me I was stinky. And not in a way that warranted a high-five, like when a fellow studier at the library gets a whiff of you. No! It was just that I was stinky, with no pride or celebration. After a quick bathroom break, I came back into my work area to see my 3-year-old drinking my coffee — for which I scolded her, not because a toddler should not be drinking caffeine but because Mama needs her coffee, kid! Does she have no shame? My hair, which is standing up quite on its own this morning, was greeted with giggles rather than empathy and camaraderie. And I heard those giggles because there's no sleeping in after an all-nighter when you have to get your children up and ready for school.
Perhaps worst of all is feeling my aching body and stuffed nose this morning and the knowledge that the glorious week of sick that always got me back on my feet isn't permitted when you're a parent. Exam weeks lack magic when someone needs you to take care of yourself.
Perhaps I'll take a shower. Maybe I'll eat an apple — dipped in Dorito crumbs.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Like Katiedid Langrock on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/katiedidhumor. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.