Back to school means different things for different parents.
This week, after a summer off, The Parents YAP about what the school year means
Tasha Schlake Festel
I think S.A.D. shouldn’t stand for “seasonal affective disorder” but rather “school affective disorder” because whenever September rolls around, I am super-duper sad. I hate, hate, hate to see summer end. But more than that, I hate school.
I am one of the few moms I know that dreads school starting. I love the free time the summer gives me with my babies. (Blah, blah, blah. Sure, they’re in 2nd and 4th grade but they’re still my babies, so there.) Don’t get me wrong, we don’t spend the summer lounging around. Far from it, in fact. The secret to our successful summers is the perfect balance of time spent apart at camps and work, and time spent together at home, the beach, the pool, and on trips. I’ve gotten it down to a science and our summers are awesome.
I don’t like the school year. I don’t like leaving my babies with someone else for 30 hours a week. That’s a lot of hours. And with time racing by, the days, weeks, months, and years are slipping away and too much of their time is spent with other people. It kinda freaks me out. It actually makes me really sad and regret all those early days that I wished would end. People always tell you you’ll want those days back. I didn’t believe them.
With school comes all of the activities that start in the fall and every season after it. As if 30 hours of school wasn’t enough, we have to add an extra 8+ hours per child per week for after-school activities. And that’s even with being careful not to overschedule them. I limit my kids to one sport per season, and an “ongoing” activity like scouts or juijitsu. Without figuring in transit time, my kids are already committed to nearly 40 hours of stuff, basically a full-time job.
They’re seven and nine! Where’s the time for friends, for family, for creative and unstructured time? Where’s their down time?
And I didn’t even mention homework! Argh!
Oh well. Just 175 days until summer vacation.
Until then, I intend to organize myself, primarily professionally. I’m sure my husband would love to see cleaning out the basement, organizing the attic, and whipping the house into shape as top priorities, but I’m not going to set him – or myself – up for disappointment. Yes, those are absolutely things I should focus on, but I have other stuff I need to get to first.
I’d also like to pursue a few creative interests, including jewelry and creative writing. Without flexing my creative muscles and making something other than bad dinners and huge messes, my soul slowly dies. I will do my best to nurture it until school ends and I can fill it up with my kids.
Just 175 days… Not that I’m counting or anything.
Back to school! I love, love, love back to school time, and even though I haven’t been the one starting school in many years, I still get that excited feeling in early September. Back to school time feels to me like New Year’s Day is supposed to feel – clean slate! Fresh start! The world is full of possibilities! I always feel like THIS year is going to be great. I love summer, but even non-stop leisure, beach days, and trips out for ice cream can get to be a drag after a while. I love it for about two weeks, but after that, I just feel like nothing on my to-do list is actually getting done. I always start the summer with a big list of household projects and personal goals that I can finally tackle now that we are unbound from the schedules of school, sports, and activities. Somehow, all those open hours of the day don’t get filled up by any kind of real accomplishment, instead they seem to become an endless cycle of wet towels on the floor, sand everywhere, and three kids who have spent way too much time together.
Now, our calendar is packed with sports practices, soccer games, dance classes, and appointments. I am forced to be more organized, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel energized. I can take on more freelance work, tackle those household projects, and DO the items on my do-do list. My kids (and I) are all a lot happier when we spend at least part of the day away from each other. Our time is more structured, our minds are filled with new ideas, new friendships, and new possibilities. When we are all together again after school, we are happy to see each other and we have lots to talk about.
What I don’t love about the first few weeks of school is the “transition” between lazy, late-sleeping, all-day playing days to days that start at 6am and are packed with school, sports, homework, and more. By dinnertime everyone is cranky and exhausted. The first few weeks of school can be a little trying, but I am so much more organized and productive when everyone is busy, and the kids get along better since they are not on top of each other all day long, it is worth it even though it comes with some serious crabbiness for a while. Once everyone settles in to the new schedule, it should be smooth sailing … should be, anyway.
Funny, there always seems to be something standing between me and Domestic Perfection. The most recent such roadblock has been Summer. Granted, it was magical and packed with memories, but it did feel a bit like one long party. Now that the school year has begun, though, I will swoop around the house, putting things to order, removing clutter, and reinstating dimly remembered household rituals like grocery shopping and cooking dinner.
Then I remember that I still have a two-year-old at home. Right. Oh well, at least I’ll be able to accomplish the grocery shopping with only one child in tow. Unfortunately, running an errand with her is equivalent to doing it with all three of the other kids in terms of energy expended and time wasted. Maybe it’s even worse, since I won’t have my seven-year-old to help me contain her when she’s gleefully sprinting away from me, hurling items from shelves, while I’m trying to pay for my purchases. Oh, joy.
In addition to creating some semblance of order at home, I would like to become more involved with the school community this year. Two Septembers ago, when said toddler was born, I gave myself permission to keep things as simple as possible. That meant a minimum of volunteering in the classroom, and no participation with our school’s very active PTA. It was to be my year of adjusting to four children. Well, here we are two years later, and I think it’s time for me to step up to the plate. I truly admire all the dynamic parents who do so much to enhance and enrich our children’s education. These parents are every bit as busy as I am, but somehow find the time to do a bit more. I’d like to join them.
I am thrilled that all three of my school age children, for this year only, will attend the same school. I want many things for them this year, such as academic success, rewarding friendships, and a strong work ethic. But if I had to name one intangible as the most important, it would have to be balance. I am imagining a scale with four arms, labeled Academics, Extracurricular, Social Life, and Family Time. Our aim will be to keep all four arms in the air, even if there will be the inevitable dips and sways.
Thankfully, we seem to have academics under control. While there are no guarantees, past precedence dictates that the kids will perform to our satisfaction. The challenge here lies in the fact that school has started to feel like something of a chore for my grade school girls. We need to find a way to reignite that joy of learning they had in their slightly younger days. I don’t have any specific strategies to this end, but it’s something to work on this year.
Ask me again in three weeks, but as of today I feel that we have struck an appropriate balance with the kids’ extracurricular activities. True, our weekly calendar bustles with games and lessons, but this is due more to the fact that our family is so large, not because any one child has too full a plate. As long as we parents can manage the overall schedule (with some much appreciated help from carpooling friends), each child should have plenty of breathing room.
Of course we want our children to have friends who make them happy, so we will continue to support this process by arranging play dates and the ever popular birthday parties. We’re starting to see a shift in the character of the play dates as the kids get older, and weekday afternoons become an increasingly precious commodity. This means more get-togethers on weekend evenings or as - cringe - sleepovers. So be it.
Lastly, we will protect our time together as a family, and won’t allow the all-important Schedule to swallow it whole. We want to make the most of these years when the kids still enjoy us as much as we do them. We’re looking forward to family ski weekends, celebrating the holidays, and maybe even a quiet evening or two. And we will eat dinner together as often as possible, if that little imp ever lets me finish the grocery shopping.
Back to School. I wasn’t ready at all this year. Summer was too short; we had a ton of fun; and I was fortunate to be able to spend a little more time than usual with the kids. It was a great summer and I wanted my time with my kids and family to continue. I’m hoping for a winter without snow days so we can have a longer summer next year!
Back to school prep for us was the usual: shopping for backpacks and shoes, figuring out school lunches and snacks, etc.. The school lunch and snack thing continues to baffle me (one of my kids is a very picky eater), but the good news was that the kids were well outfitted thanks to big supply of hand-me-downs so we avoided the back-to-school clothes shopping.
As with many families, getting our schedules and extracurricular activities coordinated was one of the bigger tasks. We like to use “Cozi”—an online free app to manage family chaos!! It has a great color-coded calendar system, shared to-do lists, and easy journal entry on the home page for those quick notes to capture the precious words of kids growing up. Check it out if you are a family with chaos!
Parts of ‘back to school’ that I do like are seeing more of our kids’ friends and all of them in their extracurricular activities. It’s fun to hear the excitement in our kids’ voices as they talk about their friends, teachers, and school activities. It’s fun to see the families of their friends, particularly since we like their friends and families! It’s fun to watch all the kids develop their extracurricular activities and interests and mature year after year.
“Back to school” for me also means back to the academic year at Boston University—and the never ending quest to be more efficient with my time. The fall semester brings more work; more traffic; more sitting; and less time for me. My solution this year was a folding bike! I LOVE IT! I drive half way to Boston, park my car, pull out my bike, flip it open, throw on my helmet, and off I go. As I fly by cars stuck in traffic, I give a little ”he-he” and relish the “me” time I’ve created. Heck, I’ve even had quite a few “cool bike!” comments from the college kids. I’ve already determined that I’ll be a fair-weather biker so winter will find me back in my car with all my commuting friends waiting for spring when I’ll be back on the road and wishing for summer and more time with the family!