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Back to School: A Parent's Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Who ends up with more back to school anxiety - you, or your kids? What's your best strategy preparation strategy?

Tasha Schlake Festel
I am probably in the minority, but for the first time in the 5 years since I’ve had children going to school, I am truly dreading September 6, 2011. I don’t want the summer to end. I don’t want to be away from my kids 5 days a week for hours and hours. I don’t want to be the mother of a kindergartner and second grader.

I think this year my kids even have mixed feelings about going back. Sure, they’re excited, but we’ve had a darn good summer and we all still like each other. We’re not done doing everything we want to do. We have weeks’ worth of activities planned in our heads, but only a few days left to do them. <sigh>

In order to get myself psyched up for the return of school and the draining and unforgiving routine of it all, I’ve tried to get excited by going back-to-school shopping. Unfortunately, buying school supplies has succeeded only in making me sad, not in preparing me for the inevitable. We got our lists from our elementary school teachers and have gotten each and every specifically stated item. (Requesting a specific brand of blunt-tipped kid-safe scissors seems excessive to me, but what do I know?) Perhaps the reason for my back-to-school depression is because I’ve done most of the shopping at Walmart and Dollar Tree? Hmm… that is a topic for another week, I suppose. 

Other than a new backpack – a Patriots messenger bag, to be accurate – and the school supplies requested by the elementary school teachers, I have made only one back to school purchase: a flat-brimmed hat for my kindergartner, the all-around ultra-cool-dude. (As an aside, I know this makes me sound old and out of touch, but I hate this absurd look and cannot wait until the style is past, like fluorescent socks and M.C. Hammer pants.) I’ve dodged requests for other stuff from both kids – clothing, accessories, shoes, stuffed animals (yes, really) – by telling them we’d get everything later.

Well, it’s later. We’ve returned from our “end of summer” vacation. The clock is ticking. They want new clothes. They want new sneakers. They want new hats and headbands. They want new stuffed animals. (Honestly, I don’t know why they think I’m going to buy the idea that stuffed animals are necessary for back-to-school.) We discovered a store at Burlington Mall called “SE7ENTY S7V” (that’s Seventy Seven, to those of you un-hip to text-speak) and everything in there screams “rock star.” My son was in love. I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was no way in hell I was spending $34 on a flannel shirt for a 5-year-old. Again, I put him off. Eventually stuff goes on sale, right?

Peggy Barresi
Both my daughters have always loved back to school time. They anticipate a fresh start with new classes and teachers. They enjoy shopping for school supplies, backpacks, and best of all – new clothes. By August, we always had everything they “needed," fall clothes in particular. Eventually we learned our lesson. Now all the shopping waits. That’s right. We wait. 

First of all, it’s hot in school in September. Those cute little sweaters you bought in August at full price will be waiting until at least October to be worn. In the meantime, the stores have discounted them considerably. If you wait until September to shop, you will save mucho money. Of course, there needs to be one or two new outfits, especially to wear on the first day of school. Go ahead and buy those, and probably some shoes, but wait to do the bulk of your shopping until later. Later is also when your kids will be begging for the “x” thing that is so ultra cool this particular fall, they can’t live without it – sneakers, jeans, Vera Bradley pattern, whatever. If you wait until school starts you won’t waste money on what will turn out to be “uncool” things you’ll have to return or save for a yard sale.

I employ a similar strategy for school supplies. The elementary and teachers provide parents with lists of supplies their students will “need.” We used to stock up before the first day of school and buy everything on the list, to the tune of $200+ at Staples. The girls would show up at school only to find out there were typos in the supplies list – they really needed a 2” binder, not a 1” one, or the teacher doesn’t know why a ream of colored paper was included in the list. We started to wait to buy our supplies until the afternoon of the first day of school. The girls would show up with a notebook, some writing utensils, and then take notes when the teacher told the class what supplies the students really needed. We’d hit Staples that afternoon.

If you’re afraid the “cool” supplies will be sold out, don’t be. There’s still plenty of selection on the first day of school. The same goes for the clothes. There are also better bargains and less people in the stores. Bliss.

Holly DeSouza
I admit, I have cheated my daughter out of the great anticipation for school to start this year. The reason, you ask? She never stopped going to school. I kept her in preschool for the summer with the same schedule she had last year and the same schedule she will have next year. Despite my having strong feelings she should be starting Kindergarten versus another year of the same preschool/pre-k curriculum (she is a September baby and will be 5 this year), I did not want to disrupt her schedule. She knows the days she goes to school.  My colleagues know the days I am sans child in the background when they call. My friends know when I am available for play dates with the kids. It works. 

We start by back to school shopping, of course! New stuff defines a new year! Wasn’t the best part of starting a new grade the shiny binders and fresh pencils and text book covers with no markings from best friend and boyfriend breakups? (I flash back to “Holly + Billy TLA” for my entire fifth grade career – what a waste of a beautifully clean Trapper Keeper.) 

Although the curriculum does not change for us this year, the teacher and the classmates will not be the same as she has had over the past two years. My daughter adapts well, for the most part, but we will need to start fresh as all the players and personalities she has become accustomed to over the last year will change. And that is the easy part. There is an adjustment period for both my daughter and I as we get to know the new teacher with a new personality and new friends. My thought is the personality change-up is refreshing and marks a new year.

As in most situations, adaptability is the key. I am not at a stage where a syllabus is part of the package and that makes my daughter’s transition much, much easier.  Keep me on your speed dial for when we move into freshman year of college. I’m guessing I’ll be singing a different tune this time of year but, as far as the present goes, I’m happy for this new chapter in her life. 

Regina Martine
It’s the most … wonderful time  … of the year!!! I love this time of year— all the anticipation of starting new things and meeting new people, and for me, the first time ALL MY KIDS will be in school ALL DAY!!! I can barely contain my excitement. I don’t know about your kids, but mine can’t wait to go back to school. They love school. They neeeeeeeeeed school. And they really, really need to get away from each other. They have had all the summer fun they can stand and now will bicker all the live long day about anything and everything.

During the last week of school I went to Target to get my kids some beach supplies and some outdoor games for the yard, but silly me, It wasn’t summer at Target, it was Back to School time! My oldest daughter almost needed to be physically restrained to keep her away from all those beautiful new notebooks and binders and pens — and school wasn’t even out yet. I told her she had to clean her desk (a mountain of a year’s worth of papers, books, drawings, and who knows what else) before I would buy her one new thing for fifth grade. I have never seen that kid move so fast. She cleaned the desk, and the floor underneath and even threw a lot of things away — I guess some people just need the right motivation.

All my kids have their lists of school supplies and we should have all that shopping done by the end of the week. Clothes, however, are another matter. Weeks ago, my middle daughter presented me with a list of all the clothes she wants for third grade, as she has decided that she needs to turn her style up a notch for the upcoming school year. While I admire her planning and organizational approach to this matter, I had to convince her that she doesn’t need everything on the first day of school. Or the first month. Those cute boots and sweaters will still be there in October.

In a few weeks I will have six glorious hours a day to do with whatever I please—hopefully I will be able to fill some of that time with actual paying work—but I find that I am much more productive and we all get along much better when we spend some time away from each other. I am already having dreams of setting up my college dorm room and forgetting my locker combination, so I know that new things are about to happen for me too.

Laurie Hunt
Back to school in just a couple of weeks means that we will soon be making some changes around here. About a week out we will start to clear out the homework room, be better about a routine; we move bedtimes up, get up and dressed in the morning instead of lazing around etc. 

We also need to do the dreaded back to school shopping. When it comes to this I am wondering if I need to take out an equity line to afford the supply list for a child entering the middle school this year.

We do have a mixture of excitement and a bit of anxiety between the two girls, as well as with me. I try very hard to not let mine show. It is so hard not to worry about your children. I have one child entering a new stage – middle school. I also have another child entering into a new program when she returns to school this year as she has dyslexia. There is a part of me that is beyond thrilled – the program is great, the teacher amazing; however, it doesn’t take away the worry.

So aside from starting to establish a different routine I try not to make too big a deal of back to school. It is what it is.

Jillian Sallee August 25, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Could he be any cooler?!
Tasha Schlake Festel August 25, 2011 at 12:16 PM
No. No, he couldn't. Just ask him. :)
Diane Lee August 25, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Back to school is nothing big, just part of growing up. My husband and I work, so we still had our some routines over the summer they only thing we will do starting Sunday is have the kids go to bed at more reasonable time. This year both my kids are in school full time a 5th and 1st: 2 schools 2 different start & end times, lucky I work close to home and have a flexible work schedule. Supplies: My daughter wanted a messenger bag this year, I saw one at Lands End (while buying swimsuits) so had that before she was even out of the 4th grade. My son is happy with his backpack from K . 1st grade supply list had your typical supplies. Staples had their big sale while our family was on our cruise, so I gave a list to my Mom and all the basic supplies were there waiting for us when we got home. Had to wait for my Middle schooler's supply list to come out, once it did; I took my lunch hour head to Target and finished it up. School clothes I'm waiting to purchase, last year by time my daughter was ready to wear her "back to school" clothes she had all ready out grown some of them, so this year I told her we would shop for clothes as needed. My biggest issue is the lunchbox, I never seem to like the ones I buy, so this year my daughter picked one out from Lands End(you can tell I'm a big Lands End fan), I'm hoping I'll be happy with this when I start to pack her lunch. My son is happy to use his lunchbox from last year; which still looks good and I actual I do like his.
Melissa Schools August 25, 2011 at 01:51 PM
I'm sad to lose summer! I resist schedules, sometimes to my peril. Mostly, I dread the start up of all the activities & running around. Yes, the kids still drive me crazy sometimes, but they do that during the school year, too. I'll miss the breathing room of summer vacation. Sigh.

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