For some less than perfect, unorganized moms, the return to school brings more than the average level of stress and yes, even dread. I don’t know when the descent took place, but somewhere between Generation X and millennial movement, school has become so much more involved for parents, and so much more complex than it used to be. Any mother searching for three pairs of matching socks for multiple children each morning while couch-diving for lunch change at 7 a.m. knows this is where it gets real. I can hardly keep track of the school calendar alone, admittedly standing at the bus stop not once, but twice last year before realizing it’s a professional development day, therefore, no school. Sigh.
With more homework signature requirements than a congressional bill, checks needed for book fairs and candy-o-grams and parental involvement in a hundred different little projects, school can feel more bureaucratic than the IRS. In one month I’ve had to create a foot-long boat, decorate a turkey in ways that symbolize our family culture (who makes this stuff up?!), and write two handwritten notes as my children’s “pen pal,” thanks to another program initiated by an over- zealous PTO president. And who on the green earth do they think makes these projects for first graders? My youngest can hardly wipe his butt, let alone construct a watercraft with raw materials.
And let’s not forget the most overlooked, underappreciated school task that is the making of the lunches, lovingly prepared by executive chef mama at 9:30 p.m. with one eye open each night. No amount of blasting my favorite Jesus Culture Pandora station makes this assembly line of joy a rewarding experience. Although there are exceptions. I have a friend with six kids who makes a regular practice of posting a photo of her homemade, aesthetically pleasing lunch lineup on Instagram. And Facebook. Each day a different ensemble, but always with a fresh side of arugula-mandarin salad. I’m happy her children are experiencing culinary magic at lunchtime, but stuff like this drives me into deep dejection, comparing this to the squished Ziploc bags of pepperoni wraps and PB&J my kids pull out every day. I’m always tempted to upload a photo of three Lunchables with the caption: “Lunches are done—time for a bath!” I know I’d get more likes.
Managing school activities and requirements can be exhausting, but I’ve found some helpful tips and tactics to help maintain sanity, especially with school-aged kids:
- Always. And I mean always, plan outfits (socks are the key!), pack lunches, hunt down school library books, sign homework, complete permission slips, and find any necessary money, the night before. There is nothing worse than dumpster diving in the couch for hot lunch quarters at 7:30 a.m. “Who took the singles out of my purse?!” or cringing as your first grader boards the bus with flagrantly mismatched socks. “Navy and turquoise are both in the blue family, honey—now run!”
- Resist the overwhelming temptation to ignore school and teacher newsletters. If you can fight your way past the clip art, emojis, and superfluous details about which life cycles, seasons, sight words, and number charts your child is learning at that exact moment in time, you’ll find some informational treasures. I deleted all e-newsletters until standing at the bus stop not once, until sending my kids to school in their pj’s after missing the “slumber party Friday has been rescheduled” email. Sigh.
- Turn homework time into quality time, especially if you have more than one child, where it can be difficult giving them undivided attention. Even when they don’t necessarily need help, I think kids like knowing you’re there and their work matters to us. Sometimes it can be the only twenty minutes of alone time you really spend together.
- Try to bang out the homework before dinner, or right after dinner, if the kids have afterschool activities. There are few weeknight surprises as frustrating as your child announcing he has an extra homework page, reading assignment, or heaven help us, some kind of project he “forgot” about at 8:00 p.m. Any mother cutting up library-loaned magazines (Jesus forgives) in search of warm climate amphibians need only learn this lesson once.
Here’s to a new year of fresh starts, pre-packed lunches, readily available ice cream money, endlessly matching socks, and scoring the good bus driver who smiles at the kids no matter what. Amen.
Jessica Kastner is the author of “Hiding from the Kids in My Prayer Closet,” and a contributor for Beliefnet.com, Huffington Post’s Christianity blog, and CBN.com. When she’s not on the trampoline with her three boys in Connecticut, she offers her “fluff free” commentary at www.JessicaKastner.com.
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