Back to school

Last year was my first year sending all three kids off to school. My youngest, Micah, went off to full-day kindergarten. Let me tell you….I was a wreck. I cried for days, leading up to it and days after I sent him. I felt like my life had no purpose. Everything was über quiet and time moved much slower than normal. I missed my little buddy. Micah had gone everywhere with me, like my little shadow. I dragged him to work with me, to coffee dates with friends and on all the errands.

Our favorite errand was the Target run. I’d often get him a treat at the Starbucks and we’d sit at the table and just chat. Just the two of us. Even now, he will sometimes pull me aside and whisper to me how he misses those times, I’ll say, “me too buddy”and I’ll think to myself, “you have no idea”. It broke my heart not to have him with me anymore. Once you have more than one kid, entertaining one at a time is a real treat. And he was always just happy to go with the flow when he was the only kid. As days turned into weeks, I adjusted. I learned to enjoy having the freedom to come and go as I pleased. I loved going to work and being able to fully, mentally engage with the tasks at hand. Adam and I enjoyed several “day dates”. Going out to lunch together or running errands without having to find a babysitter. I developed a routine for myself and felt the freedom to pursue my personhood again.

By the time school was ending, I was terrified of the transition back to full-time mothering. How was I going to juggle my daily chores and work with kids? Especially since I had grown accustomed to the luxury of being able to do things single-mindedly? I finished some of my larger work projects and planned out a summer of activities for my kids. I lined up a week of camp, a few weeks of soccer lessons, several playdates and a schedule of activities to do at home. I planned to teach them how to cook. We would have lessons for several weeks of Wednesdays and then end with a cooking competition. We would have art classes on Tuesdays and physical activity days on Thursdays. Mondays and Fridays would be full of playdates with friends after I took them to work with me for a few hours in the morning. We had a beach trip scheduled for late July and a bucket list of summer adventures to check off. It all sounded great, and full…and fun.

Summer started without a hitch. We took the kids hiking their first day off of school and they spent lots of time building forts with couch cushions and playing with their electronic devices. I wasn’t going to enforce any screen time restrictions on them for the first day, and we weren’t home much anyway. The next day was less blissful. I had thought the kids would have to ease into bickering since they weren’t used to spending so much time together, but the opposite happened. They couldn’t stand one another. My hot-headed kids do not walk away, or storm off. They fight tooth and nail until someone gets hurt and I physically separate them. It kind of sucked. But we were all adjusting and I knew that would take time.

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The second week was great. We found our stride. I had scheduled playdates with friends at just the right intervals to keep my kids entertained and apart from one another. I’m almost always the one hosting, so my kids were all still in the same building, they were just distracted by their pals. I managed to answer work emails while the friends were over since everyone was happy. I even had a few moments to just sit and make small talk with their buddies.

The following week was a wash. The kids just fought constantly and I couldn’t stay on top of it. I ended up doing a lot of errands with them, just to keep them somewhat separated. Their friends were all busy so it was just me entertaining them.

 

The next week though, was camp. It was fantastic! They spent just three hours at camp in the morning and it was only for 4 days. Somehow, it was just enough. I took that time to go grocery shopping and work. But it was entirely on my terms and it felt great to be able to think again.

Our beach trip was pretty great as always. And the rest of the summer played out about the same. The weather was terrible this summer. It was either humid and sweltering or pouring buckets. We really missed out on those lazy summer days spent in the yard. They just barely happened. Some days we enjoyed the perfect Summer, some days there was just so much squabbling and I wanted to escape.

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Two weeks ago, I started to realize that Summer was coming to a close. I chose to let the emotions come as they may. I was fairly shocked that the predominant emotion was grief. I don’t want my kids to go back to school. I don’t want them to leave. Overall, I’m deeply depressed about the situation.

I thought I had grieved last summer. But this summer was almost worse. I want to hold on to these children and not send them away. The rhythm of the school year is too fast-paced. The kids get on the bus at 8:20 and don’t get home until 4:20. Then it’s nag and fight to get them through homework, chores, and dinner. By 7:15 we all crash and watch an episode of a favorite show and then head to bed. That’s it, that’s all we can squeeze in.

I just feel like school robs us of so much of our family time. It’s all I can do to find time to connect with each of my kids. Our eldest son Corban, has ADHD and he absolutely hates school. So every day is a battle to get him out of bed and every night requires a pep talk to get him thinking positively about school. Someday, we dream of homeschooling all our kids. But for now, we really do love our little public school and we are committed to sending all our kids there. So how to make it work for this year so I don’t hate every day?

Create a Routine

I am committed to finding a routine so that we all know without too much effort, what item comes next on the agenda. Corban especially thrives on routine.

Evening Routine

  1. off the bus at 4:20
  2. free play until dinner
  3. dinner at 4:45
  4. clean up and chores
  5. dive into homework by 6
  6. get pajamas on and pack up backpacks for the next day
  7. start earned screen time by 7pm
  8. start getting ready for bed at 7:30
  9. bedtime prep, books and snuggles
  10. leave kids’ bedsides by 8:30
  11. reading in bed until 9 or 9:30 respectively

Morning Routine

  1. wake up at 7:45
  2. get dressed, brush teeth
  3. downstairs by 8:00
  4. feed pets
  5. eat breakfast until 8:10
  6. shoes on, backpacks on
  7. outside for bus by 8:13

Create lists of tasks

I have a list of the bedtime routine upstairs for the kids to read, as well as a morning routine by the back door for the kids to check before walking outside. This is especially helpful again, for Corban. It reduces the amount of nagging I have to do. The kids have learned to tell me where they’re at on their lists. And when they say they’re done, I gently ask them to read the list again and make sure they didn’t miss anything. Micah isn’t a reader yet, but he’s familiar enough with the list that it still helps him to look at it.

Just buy the lunch

I did the math and for us, it’s not cheaper to pack lunches. Our school lunches are $2.60. When I was making lunch for my kids, they often wouldn’t eat something and it would be left to rot in their lunchbox. Wasted food. They often would only eat the snacky things I would buy, which are also the most expensive, and waste the sandwiches and veggies. My kids do make pretty healthy choices on their own (rotting baby carrots in lunchboxes aside). I calculated a packed lunch filled with items purchased at ALDI based on what my kids would actually eat when I had packed for them. Ultimately, it was potentially 5-10 cents cheaper, based on a lunch without a juice box and with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (which two out of three of my kids don’t like anyway). I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and buying is more fun for them anyway.

Fight against the homework if you have to

Ugh. Homework. I’ve read about other schools that have banned homework. But alas, ours is not yet one of them. I can sort of understand the value of homework. I appreciate seeing first-hand what my kids are learning at school. But there has to be another way to keep parents in the loop without dumb worksheets. I completely reject the notion that my kids need more “practice”. They’ve just spent over 7 hours at the school “practicing” these concepts. So I have no problem asking teachers to reduce the amount of work my kid gets. I use phrases like “my child is overwhelmed”  (which they are) or “his father and I will work with him on this subject using an alternative method” and “if she is doing well in this area, can we skip some of these questions?”. On a bad night, I will stomach homework lasting an hour and a half. But only if the kid is genuinely struggling with the concept. If it goes over that amount of time, I write a note to the teacher and explain that it could not be completed. An hour and a half of homework for an 8-year-old who just spent 8 hours in school is ridiculous. We don’t expect that amount of work from many adults.

Build in some one-on-one time

This is the hardest one for me. At the end of the day, when I’m tucking kids in bed, I’m usually exhausted. Adam works night shift, so I’m often on my own for bedtime. By 7pm I just want to say “peace out” and call it a day. But it’s also my best opportunity to make a connection with my kids. I try really hard to take a moment with each kid to let them unpack their day, ask them what they’re looking forward to the next day and really listen to them. If I was a better Christian, I’d also make sure I pray with them each night. Adam is better at that than I am. He has a special prayer for each kid based upon their name. I try my hardest to give each one undivided, and equal time. And I make it a point to look deep into their eyes and tell them I love them. It’s easy to forget to really look at people. But that is the easiest way to make your kid feel like they spent time with you.

Make the connection

Occasionally, I’ll write the kids a note to discover over their breakfast cereal. Or I’ll send them a note in one of their folders for school. Kids still really dig those simple gestures. When they’re young like mine are, it’s not embarrassing yet. I also try to visit their classrooms whenever I can. They invite parents for parties of course, but our school also allows you to come in to have lunch with your kid. I also finally have all my clearances, so I intend to chaperone some field trips. It’s always a revelation to see my kids in their school environments. And knowing that I can be with them during the day really helps me not miss them so much. It’s not that they’re not accessible to me, it’s that I’m choosing not to be there for whatever reason. I’ve also been known to keep a kid out of school for a day for a “mental health day”. You could also pull them out for “an appointment” and sneak them off for a lunch date. We’re really fortunate that our school has a lot of social opportunities outside of class too. I know all the kids in my kids’ classes. I know many of their parents. It makes me feel good to have a firm understanding of the community I’m sending them into. Building myself into their school experience connects those two worlds for me and for them. It makes it less jarring for them as they switch between home life and school life and it makes me feel less like they’re “gone”.

We will survive this school year. And I’m sure that by May, I’ll be nervous about Summer again. I’m starting to recognize this pattern, and I’m betting it will continue. I just love this season with my kids. They are all at golden, delightful ages and I love them to bits. They are horrible people at times, but they’re my horrible people and I just don’t want to miss these moments with them. For now we are in the thick of the elementary school years and we will choose to embrace it instead of dread it. Here goes!

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