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.



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.

The End of the Summer Stare-Down

My dog stares at me. All the time.

Without a sound. Without playful pants-leg tugging. WITHOUT CEASING.

She just stares in dead silence — like one of those psychics who can bend spoons with her mind. She’s sweet and all, but I figure this animal’s either trying to mystically transport a leash into my hand or set me on fire. I can’t be sure.


Can you see the pressure I’m under here?


During this particular stare-down, I’m trying to eat breakfast. I can only assume she wants me to fling my bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats across the room in a fit of rage so she can lick up her share.


Here I’m trying to kick back on the screened-in porch. Ah, but there will be no escape from THE STARE. She will not be denied.


I can feel her eyes drilling into mine while I wash dishes: THERE ARE CHIPMUNKS. RELEASE MEEEEE. 

When she hasn’t retired to someone else’s bed, this dog is standing on all fours, waiting, wishing, staring. Boring holes into me with her burning expectation and palpable disappointment. It’s kind of her thing.

Oddly enough, it’s pretty much the same thing my kids do to me all summer long. They too have perfected the LONG PLEADING STARE.


“Can I go on Video Star and make a music video about our staring dog?” LONG PLEADING STARE. BATTED EYELASHES.

“Can we go to ____ today (fill in the blank with some ungodly expensive water park/aquarium/someplace I would never want to go in a million years)?” LONG PLEADING STARE.

“Can we watch ‘Teen Titans Go’ all morning long til our retinas are burned to a crisp?” LONG PLEADING STARE. (It’s far too early in the a.m. for this conversation, but through slitty eyes, I assume my children look a lot like this):


There’s been A LOT of staring this summer.

I get tired of being the bad guy so I’ve crumbled under the stare-downs more times than I care to admit. On perfectly lovely summer days, my children have watched too much of everything. (In fact, they’re doing that now so I can write about it.)

But sometimes on my stronger days, I return the stare-down with a good ol’ fashioned garbage can to lug out. Or a leash to walk that relentless dog. Or heaven forbid, a summer math packet. That’ll learn ’em.

Here’s the stare I get then.


Summer is a blessing and a curse. There’s easy laziness one minute, dead-eyed boredom the next.

There’s happy-happy family time one minute, followed by “stop-touching-me-I-hate-you-I’m-telling-Mom-you-said-Shut-Up” the next.

And while we’ve taken a nice little sabbatical from schoolbooks, there are still plenty of dirty looks to go around. They’re just not coming from teacher. They’re coming from MOM.

I can stare too, you know.

I’m much sadder than usual to see summer end, to tell you the truth. Both kiddos are inexplicably bound for middle school, which traumatizes me.

But I still have man’s best friend to keep our little tradition of doleful disappointed staring alive until next summer.

A comforting thought indeed.


Hap-hap-happy back-to-school everyone!