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.



The Middle Schooler and The Leaning Tower of Binders

I have a kid just starting middle school, so of course, my primary concern in all of life has become binders.

From the moment I got Will’s school supply list in the mail, I have been slavish to its every whim. I filled the cart with notebooks (spiral and non), packs of new pencils (colored and non – though we have a forest of them already), and a huge towering stack of binders.

In case you’re out of the school loop, these ringed wonders have apparently replaced the ancient relics we once knew as books.

They are also the black holes into which a boy’s daily shuffle of papers are sucked and never heard from again.

And let me assure you: there is a zero percent chance of all those gargantuan, pointy notebooks fitting into my 10-year-old’s backpack – at least on the days he wants to eat.

The lunchbox clearly has to go.

Look at that sad sad lunchbox. He wants to go too. But that nasty blue 2" binder -- he is the bully of all school supplies. I have zero tolerance for that blue binder.

Look at that sad sad lunchbox. He wants to go too. But that nasty blue 2″ binder — he is the bully of all school supplies. I have zero tolerance for that blue binder.

I’m pretty sure I’ve screwed this up somehow. (This is where my mind goes – of course). I probably didn’t get the right binders. Or the right number, the right size, the right style.

I have become obsessed with binder perfection – for them all to fit nice and neat, for the corners not to be too sharp, to get the kind the cool kids have, for the weight not to stoop his bird-like shoulders and doom him to a back-braced adolescence.

I want everything to be perfect.

(Ummm, hold on, are we still talking about binders?)

There just might be bigger issues at work under this shiny Trapper Keeper surface – like how I know (and he doesn’t yet) that middle school is hard, and I’m scared for him.

Kindergarten was supposedly the ultimate childhood transition – and it is. But it’s also the sweetest, cuddliest teddy bear of a place to send one’s beloved babies.

Middle school is a different animal – a much gnarlier one. I vividly remember it sucking. I remember looking the dorkiest I’ve ever looked. I remember sticking out and not being cool and doing things all gangly and wrong.

Exhibit A : Sexy middle school nightgown selfie.

Exhibit A : Sexy middle school nightgown selfie.

So if I could just get the binders right for him, maybe all of this humiliation could be avoided.

That’s how a mom thinks anyway.

We know it doesn’t work really that way. Somewhere inside we know.

But still we try to fix the things we can – by sending our children off with just the right stuff, or the cutest back-to-school ensemble, or something (anything) that says Hollister on it – knowing that all the rest of it is utterly, miserably beyond our control.

Most of it’s even beyond our knowing about (like when you have a male child whose standard answer is “not much” to the “What’d you do today” question).

So my kid will come home from middle school each day, and I will ask about his day. He won’t tell me a fat lot.

I will then dig through that towering pile of binders and search for clues. (Gotta make that investment work for me somehow…)

Because this is a whole new journey we’re embarking on – him with the ten pounds of supplies strapped to his tiny back, me with the shoulders heaped with motherly concern watching him go.

Y'all, look at how TINY he is next to the rest of these kids. (He's the tiny one with the red bulging backpack.) I'm pretty sure this is the college bus. And LOOK, the kid behind mine can't fit in his lunchbox either. See??

Y’all, look at how TINY he is next to the rest of these kids. (He’s the tiny one with the red bulging backpack.) I’m pretty sure this is the college bus. And LOOK, the kid behind mine can’t fit in his lunchbox either. See??

What I’m sending him off with may not be perfect, it may not fit quite right, it may not be the coolest ever.

But all the love and prayers I’ve crammed into the square inches that remain ought to count for something…maybe almost everything.

But yeah, I did keep the receipt on those binders.

Just in case.