In the words of Willie Nelson, “It’s been some rough and rocky travelin’ but I’m finally standin’ upright on the ground.”
As a newbie parent to the whole school gig, I am open to helpful tips….until they no longer feel helpful.
Everywhere you turn you get accosted with “Back to School Checklists” about what to buy (backpack, lunchbox, uniform, clipboard, headphones), appointments & dates to remember (pediatrician, Back to School Night, New Parent Orientation), and rules and procedures to memorize (busing, pick-up, drop-off, emergency contact, technology waiver, hot lunch).
Supposedly, these gentle reminders are intended to “ease the transition” from summer to school. To me it feels like getting doused in ice water at 3AM…accompanied by strobe lights and sirens and a voice screaming into a megaphone: “WAKE UP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? THERE’S NO TIME FOR SLEEPING! YOU NEED TO PICK UP VACCINATION FORMS! WHERE ARE HER SNEAKERS? DO THEY EVEN FIT? WHAT TIME DOES THE BUS COME? DO YOU CALL THE TEACHER PATTY OR MRS. KEEFER? GET UP!”
We started out strong. Preparation started weeks in advance. I actually shocked myself with my uncharacteristic organization. School supplies were bought and labeled; uniform shirts and shorts ordered and monogramed, the Old Testament substantial packet of forms completed. And all this done BEFORE 11PM the night before school starts! I was impressed with myself.
Perhaps I was too busy micromanaging this whole operation to notice how my obsessive compulsive list and label making was affecting Emma. There were signs of anxiety (a.k.a. incessant badgering) the night before the big day. As I gathered my belongings to head out to yoga class, she was on me like a fly on dog shit:
Emma: “Where are you GOING?”
Me: “Umm, yoga. Where I go every most Monday nights.”
Emma: “MOM! This isn’t ANY MONDAY NIGHT! Are you forgetting that kindergarten starts TOMORROW! Its’ a BIG DAY! How can you just LEAVE? For YOGA? Is that really NECESSARY???”
Me: “I am not forgetting. We spent all day trying on your uniform, packing your bag and making your lunch. We are all set. And I’ll be home before you go to bed.”
Emma: (deep sigh) “Well…FINE. But I really wanted to model the uniform again WITH my lavender backpack, you know, because I am still on the fence about going with the lavender since I usually get pink….”
In typical Emma fashion, she pulled herself together for ShowTime. She bounced into that classroom with a smile on her face and blond ponytail swinging. Unfortunately, as an INTENSE, creative type, Emma struggles with what I call the Rock Star Syndrome…when “on stage,” she’s delightful, fun, and charismatic.
However when the show is over….let’s just say she has a tough time coming down from the high. The minute I picked her up, I should have known we were headed for a major meltdown. The cues were all there: crazy eyes, talking loudly to the point of screaming, biting the heads off birds.
As Phil is fond of saying, rats don’t have mice the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The clingier she got, the crazier it made me. With every whining complaint I could feel the muscles in my jaw clench. Couldn’t she see I was busy pureeing sweet potatoes to sneak into her Mac and Cheese?? How can I be a good mom when this damn kid won’t leave me alone?
Then, with Phoebe upstairs sleeping, Emma started bellowing, “I am so FRUSTRATED!” I must have had a psychotic break, because before I knew what was happening, I was clutching her by the shoulders screaming, “STOP! SCREAMING!”
Clearly not my shining moment…but I blame those damn checklists (ok, partially). Sometimes I think there is such a thing as being too prepared. The build-up, the anticipation….it is like Christmas laced with paperwork and performance anxiety.
So I have compiled my own checklist:
Back To School Necessities For The Flustered, Flaky & Hopelessly Flawed
- A Trusted Mentor(s): This is your seasoned veteran, the experienced school Mom you call text for the inside scoop on the parents of the other kids in the class school rules & procedures. These fairy godmothers are like black yoga pants; you simply cannot have too many.
- A Reality Check: If you lived on hamburgers and watermelon all summer, don’t expect to morph into Paula Deen just because the leaves are changing color. So put away the Cuisinart until everyone gets into the swing of things.
- Perspective: Each day Emma came home with a new bright purple (jelly, popsicle, juice) stain running down the front of her white uniform shirt. When I reminded her that she needed to wear these shirts EVERYDAY, she replied, “Hey Mom, relax. That’s what kindergarten is all about: having fun and getting dirty.” Fair enough.
- Bleach/OxiClean: For the purple stains. And if these don’t do the trick, bury it in the bottom of the trash and go buy a new one. No one needs to know.
- A Shut Up Button: My trusted mentor Julie, (see #1) advised me to fight the urge to pull a Diane Sawyer the minute Emma gets off the bus: “How was it? Whad’ya do? Where did you sit? Did you eat your lunch? Did you make a new friend?” No one needs a Spanish Inquisition. If she has something to say, she’ll say it.
- A Shut OFF Button: On Day 2, in an effort to exorcise my inner Joan Crawford, I vowed that by the time I picked Emma up from the bus, I would leave any unfinished household duties until the next day. We came home, lounged on the couch and flipped through the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. After we had settled in, I allowed myself ONE question (see #5): “What was your favorite part of today?” To which she replied: