Back to School

Those of us with school-aged children spend roughly ten months of the year structuring our lives according to the rhythm of the school calendar: Monday to Friday, 8ish to 3ish, breakfasts and lunches, forms and emails, schedules and obligations. Showers.

But then we spend a few summery weeks without those pillars in place. And we teeter to the other extreme of our hyper-scheduled, down-to-the minute days. We ramble through suddenly blobby, shapeless days that involve food but little else. Days that seem glorious for about 48 hours after which they threaten to obliterate my three remaining shreds of sanity.

I hate having every minute of my day accounted for, absolutely, but I also hate continuous pajama wearing and kids saying ‘but it’s summer break’ when I suggest it might be good to leave the house, or make a bed, or read a book. Or shower.

Surely there should be a statute of limitations for using that particular excuse. And it should not be once a day for 63 days.

Eventually the end of August arrives, and with it regret over things not done, uneasiness over the scheduling whirlwind that looms and relief that ‘the pillars of the earth’ will soon reappear.

But only if you survive back-to-school week.

How did you prepare for that first week of school?

Did you go shoe shopping roughly 9 times even though you only have 3 children?

Did you go to the mall with four boy-men and buy new pants and new shirts, only to go back to the same mall ten days later because people bought pants that were way too big, or long-sleeved t-shirts they’d ‘assumed’ were short-sleeved?

Did you go to IKEA and Costco and 3 or 4 different grocery stores only to lie in bed the night before and realize: you don’t have any milk in the house?

Well, I did. Around 11pm, when I finally dared to put my head on a pillow and mentally review the morning drill  – now that school would be starting an hour and ten minutes later, in a building not essentially in my backyard – it hit me: ‘we don’t have any milk,’ I sighed aloud. ‘I’ll get some at Mac’s in the morning,’ the professor sighed.

The day hadn’t even started and we’d already hit a snag.

I’d had visions of a leisurely family breakfast before walking, en famille, to the new school. (The new school which was an indeterminate amount of minutes away because we never did do the ‘walk to school dry run’ we’d talked about.)

But the leisurely family breakfast turned into the professor driving to a convenience store and me, inexplicably, completely out of nowhere, deciding to make a coffee cake. At 7:45am. I haven’t made coffee cake in a handful of years. Possibly, as I recalled while throwing ingredients in a bowl, because I don’t tend to make things that call for a cup of sour cream and a cup of butter. In the same recipe. Also, as I threw the 9×13 dish into the oven: because it takes an hour to bake.

So the intended breakfast, or was it lunch-time treat, became an after school snack when I yanked it from the oven right before leaving the house to walk to school.

This was just after one of my children had a severe meltdown because their designated pair of ‘outdoor shoes’ had removable soles and he wasn’t going to be able to figure out how to deal with it on his own and wouldn’t be able to go outside for recess.

And I had to bite my tongue severely about the 9 trips to the shoe stores and how this problem could have been rectified nearly a dozen times over before this particular moment in time. Because pointing out any of the obvious was only going to result in greater unhappiness for all involved.

[I think there’s still a dent in my tongue from last Tuesday at 8:30am. Not that I’m having trouble letting that one go.]

So the professor, who is basically our family’s EMT [Emergency Matters Technician] pulled out some epoxy or tube of I-don’t-know-what and affixed the removable soles to the footbeds of black and green Adidas sneakers while I eyed my not-quite-done coffee cake that no one was going to eat. Wondering how I was going to get my time-conscious children to pose, willingly and seemingly happily, for their first day of school photo which I needed to post on Instagram.

At some point (between 8:40 and 8:45am) two boys and their parents left their home to walk to the new school [X] minutes away. Though I knew without a doubt we would not be late for the 9:10 start, I felt tremendous pressure from my intensely prompt children to get there by 8:55 so they could meet their new teachers. Could we do it in a shade over 10 minutes? I had no idea.

It reminded me of a late August morning, nine years earlier, when the professor and I’d arrived at the Rockyview Hospital to deliver young Percy and had no clue where to go because we hadn’t done any sort of dry-run reconnaissance prior to the big event. We relied on strangers in the parking garage elevator to point us in the right direction.

Some things never change.

We got through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but not without several semi-disasters on our hands. By the time Friday rolled around, I was determined to end the week on a high, and by ‘high’ I mean: complete information.

The five of us huddled together in the boys’ bedroom around 9:30pm. (You know how many times a 9 year old Gort EVER went to bed at 9:30pm on a school night? Exactly zero.) ‘So, early dismissal tomorrow,’ I surveyed the crowd, ‘what time are you actually done with school? Does anybody know?’

’12:50′ Percy guessed. ‘1:30’ the Hen disagreed. They attend the same school and ‘I thought it was 1:50?!’ ‘What time do you finish?’ I asked the Gort. ‘I don’t know, around 1?’

Naturally, I asked Google to tell me what time my children would be done with school the next day.  [12:42 and 1:30, for the record. In case I need to read this on Friday to remind myself.]

The first week, chaotic, disastrous and exhausting though it may be, has one thing in its favor: it ends. We find our ‘school legs’ and remember that mornings are smoother when four people aren’t crammed in one small kitchen working at opposing tasks; biking to school is a virtuous (and welcomed) concept but requires a bit of forethought and knowing the combination of one’s brand-new bike lock; and telling children when you drop them off how they are supposed to get home is inordinately valuable.

Also, bedtimes



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