Another September, another start to the school year!


I notice a lot of parents using many exclamation points this time of year to describe what’s going on in their kids’ lives. Everything is just so superlative! The best teacher! The toughest classes! The hippest shoes! (Coolest? Raddest? Most phat? I clearly am too old to have a firm grip on modern adolescent slang.)

For parents, it’s also the busiest chauffeur schedule! The most expensive school supplies! The most unfair policy not to allow an 11-year-old to have a cell phone!

Yes, there are lots of harried exclamation points this time of year from parents sending kids back to school. But there’s also a palpable sense of relief at the end of summer.

We get to stop listening to our kids bicker with each other ALL THE TIME, but we resume the craziness of school/sports/activities/friends schedules. We get to sigh in relief that they’ll finally be filling their brains with something other than terrible television programs and graphic novels from the library, but we have to put on the Homework Supervisor hat once more.

Sending the kids back to school is a mixed blessing, an exercise in striking that ever elusive balance between family, school, work, etc., despite busier schedules and busier brains.

Even the banalities of life must change when school starts:

• I have to start paying attention once more to whether my kids are wearing matching socks. Summer — the season of sandals and bare feet — has given way to socks and shoes, which means finally doing something with that giant basket full of unmated kids’ socks that’s been sitting in the utility room for several months. If left to their own devices, my sons would simply grab two socks randomly from the basket and put them on. But like clean underwear, matching socks seems like one of those things “good” parents force their children to put on each day.

• Speaking of laundry, may I point out that boys seem to get smellier as they get older, and now I’ll be adding two more sets of stinky sports uniforms, plus a PE outfit, to my laundry list. Bring out the baking soda.

• Speaking of smelly, is it acceptable to store all athletic shoes outside the house, permanently?

• I’m back to making lunches every day. For some reason*, this always leads to a last-minute, frantic search for lunch boxes as I am slapping peanut butter on sandwich bread and digging apples out of the fridge. (*That reason is my kids never remember to take lunch boxes out of their backpacks the night before, plus they seem to lose their backpacks when they come into the house, plus half the time they leave their backpacks in their dad’s car.)

• Homework is going to kick up a few notches in difficulty this year, with one kid in third grade and one in sixth. The third-grader’s homework I can handle, though he’ll have much more of it than he’s had in the past. But the middle-schooler? I dread helping him with pre-algebra. Definitely a Dad job in our house.

• The car needs to be cleaned out. Remove all the summer stuff: deposits of sand brought home from the beach, bottles of sunscreen rolling around under the seats, residue of road-trip snacks and spilled lemonade. Add all the autumn stuff: chairs for spectating at sporting events, at least three layers of outerwear for those same sporting events, pile of loose change for purchase of school lunches when the home lunch inevitably gets forgotten.

• I need to make the mental adjustment necessary for navigating the elementary school drop-off without wanting to ram other parents’ cars with my own.

• Finally, I need to mourn another year of my kids’ childhood gone, while rejoicing at their growth and learning. Now that’s a tough balancing act!