It seems like the entire vibe for our upcoming final year in elementary school comes down to a piece of paper that will be taped to the front office doors next Friday: the dreaded/highly anticipated CLASS LIST.

I mean, okay, maybe not the entire school year vibe. But a lot of it, right? The class list tells you what teacher they will have, which influences everything. Dylan absolutely loved his third grade teacher, who was in turn incredibly perceptive and involved and in constant communication with us with regards to how Dylan was doing and what he needed to work on. His fourth grade teacher was … well, he had a really different style. He was fine! He just wasn’t, you know, Mr. Third Grade.

All the options for fifth grade (FIFTH GRADE, what even, and would you believe the other kid will be in SEVENTH grade) seem good to me, as far as I can tell, so I’m not terribly worried that he’ll get Mrs. So-and-So and everything will be awful. But I do have my secret preferences, and so does Dylan, and we’ll just have to see how things shake out.

So the teacher is kind of a huge X factor but there’s also the matter of what kids will be in his classroom. Friendships wax and wane at these ages and the class assignments are such a big part of that process. Kids who are BFFs when they’re in the same class often drift apart when they’re separated, and kids who you as a parent might feel a little hmmmm about, influence-wise, can suddenly become a THING when last year they weren’t, and so on.

With the caveat that I really like our school and everything in general has been great, I feel like Dylan drew the short straw last year a little bit when it came to his class environment, and I hope this year — especially being as how it’s his last before moving on to middle school (WHAT. EVEN) — he gets a teacher who really gets him, along with some fun and friendly classmates.

I hope all this for Riley, too, of course. Middle school is so different, though — different teachers throughout the day, different kids in each class.

We have returned from a weeklong road trip and therefore my default background noise has changed from the thrum of tires on the highway to the pew pew pew pew KAPOW! *random dance music* of Fortnite.

My GOSH, family vacations are a grind, aren’t they? We traveled to Montana with the intent of visiting Glacier National Park (which didn’t work out because of fire-related closures), spent a few days on Flathead Lake, then motored back to Sunriver in Eastern Oregon before heading home. Everything was mostly delightful — the scenery, the activities, the sodium-laden convenience store snacks — but also as the days went on I kind of felt this growing desire to hurl myself in front of a speeding freight truck?

Just: the bickering. So. Much. Bickering! About everything it is humanly possible to bicker about, and when they had exhausted every single subject known to mankind they transcended the boundaries of the known universe in order to dig up more shit to bicker about. Really, my kids had two modes during this entire trip: 1) plugged into devices and therefore sweetly, blessedly silent, or 2) arguing with each other about SOME POINTLESS GODDAMNED THING.

Dylan in particular has entered a mischievous Calvin-esque stage and continually plots to annoy his easily-annoyed brother, which resulted in a couple of standout moments: a scene mid-conversation in an Idaho restaurant when we all suddenly noticed Riley had a tiny straw-wrapper spitball lodged in his braces, blown there by Dylan, who instantly collapsed in the sort of hysterical laughter that had other patrons eyeing our table and visibly wondering if they should call 911, and a scrawled note that sent Riley’s hair on end after he’d suffered mightily through a horror movie (which I admit was definitely a mistake on my part) which read, in red crayon, YoU CaN’T GeT RiD of the BaBadoOk.

The fighting, the loudness, the clothes strewn everywhere, the relentless closeness of being together 24/7 for days on end … whoo, I don’t know, it just adds up, you know? And then there are all these amazing times where everyone is in sync and we’re laughing and experiencing something awesome together or just looking over from one hotel bed to the next and smiling and that’s everything, that’s why we do it.

A family vacation is just the perfect microcosm of parenting in general: it’s so incredibly great, it’s so ridiculously hard.