Back-to-School Ain’t What It Used To Be

I used to long for back-to-school like a cop longs for a donut, like a pig yearns for slop, like our dog clamors for turds in the kitty litter.

Back in the day, this mom couldn’t WAIT for school to start. (That’s what all those bad analogies were trying to say.)


Back then, I even incorporated busses into my baking.

In the elementary-school days, I couldn’t see the down-side to getting the kids out of my airspace for a nice long stretch every day.

Nobody had to wake up too early. The homework was light (except for that weird new math which takes way longer than it should…CARRY THE ONE, people!). And since we are lame and unsporty, our evenings were generally devoid of fields to be practiced upon.

The kids were mostly happy, while I was freed up to make some major accomplishments in my personal life–like watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad.

But everything’s changed. Somewhere along the way, the axis shifted, leaving me not even the slightest bit tingly at the words “pumpkin spice.”

This was the year I became (dare I say it?) A SUMMER PERSON.

I blame middle school.

Dealing with two strung-out middle schoolers and their homework travails, their overflowing 30-pound backpacks, and their equally heavy spirits caused me to put aside my hatred of swimsuits and yearn like mad for simpler days.

I’d grown so weary of haranguing people about reading logs…of finding out at the last minute that this science project is crazy hard and nowhere near done…of having to sit another night with a tearful child who’s sick inside from a swirling stew of anxieties that summer had begun to sound like heaven itself.

And summer actually was pretty darn good this time.


For once, I hated to see it go. And the night before school started, I remembered exactly why.

It all come flooding back to me through my ear holes.

Lucy had dug out her dreaded summer math packet in a last-ditch effort to get something done on it. And that’s when I could hear from the kitchen the tone of everyone’s voices. The frustrated dad. The uncooperative child. The tension. The volume. The gaskets collectively about to blow sky high.

And I remembered why I wasn’t exactly bounding with glee to the bus stop this year. That sound brought it all back.

School is harder now. It just is.

But life’s not Easy Street for any of us. It’s just not.

This school hill we’re climbing will only get steeper and more exhausting the higher we go, and nobody much likes the huffing and puffing that comes with that.

But the steady hike (the one with no short-cuts and no elevators) really is the only way up. Retreat to kindergarten isn’t an option.

So as much as we moms tend to want nothing but ease, comfort, and total happiness for our kids, it’s time to get some new wants. 

I want my kids to be strong.

I want them to be smart.

I want them to grow into grown-ups worth a hill of beans.

(I also very much want to watch Netflix again. I mean, have y’all started up on that Stranger Things? Lawseeeee.)

Sure, I’ve grown to better appreciate the lazy view from summer’s beach chair. But I’m praying that I’ll love the view from the top of this climb just as much…even if getting there is definitely not half the fun.



School Picture Day & The Battle of the Backgrounds

Cowlicks, beware. It’s School Picture Day time.

Picture Day is that one day of the year when moms far and wide muster up the will to give a crap about what their kids are wearing to school.

One day a year we will squirt an entire bottle of “product” on last night’s bedhead. (It will fail). One day a year we will banish the Minecraft shirt and require plaid. One day a year we will attempt to put a high shine on this sad-sack bunch for the good of posterity.

In preparation, I always pore over the order form with the kids, analyzing all the weird choices available. And my children (without fail) will ask in great hopefulness: “Can I be in front of this beach this year?”


The beach. It’s where all the cool kids are.  (These photos are courtesy of Grynn and Barrett Photography. Is that the best name ever??)

Requests have also come in for the laser light show, the purple bubbles…you get the drift.


I am so amazing that the sky bursts forth with fireworks at my very presence! 


I also love the cool mountain stream look. Makes me want to pop open a cold one.

But every year my poor deprived children get the same answer with a great big laugh: “Oh no no, you’re confused, dear ones. We are straight-up GREY BACKGROUND people.”

Grey. Every single lifeless washed-out year. Forget your childlike desire to frolic in a rainbow. We remain forever grey.


Don’t even think about it, Frodo Baggins. Grey you are. Grey you ever shall be.

I guess it’s my desire to be “tasteful,” to present to the world (or at least the grandparents…who else really sees these things?) a unified blemish-free front, to not sink to such levels of tackiness as to let my children choose their own starry sky to stand in.

But it’s just dawned on me that I could be depriving us of one of life’s great belly laughs: the awkward family photo posed in front of something utterly ridiculous.

I have MANY. Most of them seem to take place in wooded areas.

Olan Mills

I just happened upon this split-log fence in my Polly Flinders dress. How serendipitous.


The wooded scene trend continues into the teen years. I’m not sure why my mother is not pictured, except that maybe she had the good sense to avoid being photographed with a wagon wheel.


This is my niece, who as late as the early ’90s also found herself in the woods, perched on this strange carpeted boulder.

These pictures are soooo stupid. But they make me laugh soooo hard. I mean, those “woods” aren’t fooling anybody. We are at Olan Mills. And we aren’t happy about it. But it was totally worth it.

If only I’d let Lucy wear her kitty sweater on “the beach,” what comedy gold we would have had in the family archives for years to come. In the name of tastefulness and decorum, I fear I have made all the wrong life choices.

Worse yet, by banishing my babes to a life of grey backgrounds, could it be that I am squelching my children’s inner light, their glittering personalities that want to shine, their inner astronaut who wants to float in a Lands’ End polo through the swirling Milky Way?

All I know is this girl is slumping in front of a bland taupe background in a bland taupe Forenza sweater, and she just doesn’t look happy.


It could have something to do with those bangs. And not having a date to prom.

But perhaps this girl’s heart yearns for the freedom and self-expression (and the hearty laugh 30 years from now) that only a backdrop of fake meadows and a big dumb wagon wheel can bring.

Next year, bring on The Beach. The Greys just might be ready to shake things up.

Put Another Reading Log on the Fire

I love to read. But I’ll just come right out with it.

I LOATHE reading logs.

“Reading logs” are these handy little learning tools designed to “motivate” my 5th and 6th graders to read each day and help them “process” what they’ve read.


Here’s my fifth-grader’s.  SO. MANY. BLANKETY. BLANKS. 

But really, it’s little more than a tracking device to see which little delinquents are actually reading and which ones are doing something more fun.

As I see it, the Reading Log is that jerk at the party who marches into a room of happy people swinging from chandeliers and proclaims, “Wellll, technically that’s illegal…”

Everyone was having a perfectly lovely time ’til that guy showed up. And my children were quite contented little readers ’til the Reading Log showed up, all bossy and ranty and sapping the fun out of the whole thing.

Here’s just a snippet of the conversation my kids are having with the Reading Log EVERY DAY:


“Welll, I think that’s just super that you’re zipping through Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People for the 39th time!

But wake up, kid! (I see you nodding off as you read in bed…)

It’s time to look alive and kindly document how long you’ve been reading. (What do you mean you didn’t look at the clock when you started?)

I’ll then need you to calculate how many pages that is (YES, do the math, lazy bones).

Next you’ll need to culminate your thoughts on the main character’s narrative journey these last two chapters.

(I’m assuming his journey involved toxic farts. Don’t write that down. Go for something more existential.)

If you could then rate what you think about this hilarious little romp on a scale of 1 to 10, that’d be fantastic.

Oh yeah, you’ll be graded on this.

So hurry up! It’s already way past your bedtime! Get HOT!”

The resounding reply of my children every single night:



Lord, your mercies — and the blank spaces on our reading logs — are new every morning.

I know. Filling out this form isn’t that hard. But it’s just ONE MORE TEDIOUS TASK to add to all the other myriad tedious tasks involved in modern-day learning.

And hey, it seems like a can’t-miss idea to me. Wanna instill a lifelong love of reading in our children?


Good plan.

I get it. Not everybody is bookish. Lots of kids (and some days it’s my kids) need cattle-prodding to read three words in a row. So I’m all for carrots and contests and silly plastic prizes for reading books like the town library does.

But ACKKKKK (I’m channeling my inner Cathy – remember her, fellow cartoon readers of the ’80s??), the reading log has become this irksome black cloud, stalking my children with worrisome busy work and turning something that should be pleasant into something so not.


Even Lucy’s fish, Kramer, likes to keep tabs on Charlie Brown’s progress with that football. Just don’t make him document every swinging detail about it. He has no hands, for starters.

I’m just relieved I don’t have to write down everything I’m reading for The Man.

If I did, I’d have to report on my five-minute scan of Elle at the hairdresser’s. I learned that “furry shoes” are trending this fall. (I blame Chewbacca, who appears to be having a moment.)

I’ve intermittently read Entertainment Weekly on bathroom breaks, where I learned that Lady Gaga is even weirder than first believed. (This is not news.)

I would note my perusal of various mommy blogs, where I learned “how to not raise mean girls” and “how to streamline my back-to-school process.” (We’ll see how this pans out.)

I even read THE NEW YORK TIMES this week. Okay, it was one article, online, about the “fashion” of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Meaty stuff. But I learned about the design process behind Amy Poehler’s painful plaid romper. Ten minutes well spent.

I’ve also been reading my book club read (Queen of the Tearling) through slitty eyes, but don’t quiz me on what happened last. I’m sure I was half-dead when I read it and will have to re-read the entire last chapter.

Let’s just say, I’m reading a lot. Not all of it is Tolstoy (okay, NONE of it), but I read. And I do so happily. Without drudgery. Without mandatory required paperwork.

So the moral of my long story is this:

Reading is fun. And if we want kids to love reading too, reading should STAY FUN.

As for me and my house, I wish we could just set the reading log on fire, curl up with a good book, and bask in its nice warm glow.

In my world, that’d be one heck of a happy ending.