Going back is hard to do - FamilyEducation

Going back is hard to do

January 05,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

For us, and for many families all over the country, this Monday morning isn't just plain old Monday, but going-back-to-school Monday. And it's not just going-back-to-school Monday; it's also going-back-after-Christmas-vacation Monday. And everyone knows those types of Mondays can be hard on everyone. While T. has been anticipating her return to school for about a solid week now, my poor L. has been spiraling into dread and despair about it for days. He doesn't really talk about his feelings about going back to school; in fact, he refuses any discussion about it at all. If you so much as mention the word "school," he yells and clasps his hands over his ears, and you have to drop the subject immediately, like a hot potato. This makes any discussions about school extremely difficult. Scott and I tried to prepare L. for the coming week. We had big plans about talking over goal charts with him, and I came up with a new cafeteria/eating reward plan in the hopes of getting him to eat more at lunch than just a piece of plain, dry bread. You can't do much, though, when you can't even get past the first two letters in the word "school" before your child falls apart on you.

I have to admit that I've been spiraling into a type of dread about it all, too. I'm looking forward to the new semester--to new faces and classes, and to seeing old ones, too. But it will be hard to let go of the relaxed family time we've enjoyed these past two weeks. We've been staying up late, sleeping in, staying in pajamas for much longer than we should (or maybe not long enough?), and gliding through some relatively unstructured days. I realized with a pang of panic last night that maybe we should have done more to prepare the kids (and us) for the return back to the tight, super-coordinated, tag-team parenting lifestyle we rely on during the work/school week. To make up for this feeling, we spent most of Sunday in a rush of panic over what we had to do this week, and in a flurry of eleventh-hour activity. Here's what we got done:

--Cleaned out lunchboxes (are we the only ones who tucked a child's lunch box away for Christmas break and forgot to take out some uneaten food? Please tell me we're not.)

--Cleaned out backpacks. I can't believe how much STUFF accumulates in a child's school backpack over the months. We start out every back-to-school in the summer with fresh, clean backpacks, and come January they look like they've been carted across three border crossings and through several war zones.

--Did three loads of laundry. Somehow, when you're on school and work vacation, you use fewer clothes than you do during regular weeks. Staying in pajamas most of the mornings seems to account for that. So yesterday I did piles of laundry, Scott sorted and folded, and both kids now have piles of fresh school clothes ready for the week.

--Sent relevant school emails to relevant staff at L.'s school, so they will find them bright and early this morning. We have a few meetings to schedule with them this month and there's nothing like striking while the iron is hot, so to speak, and before they get too deluged with the new quarter at school.

--Took the kids food shopping. One of our resolutions this year was to try to involve both kids more in the food/meal planning--specifically, school lunch choices. This is easy for T., who gets excited about school lunch and happily picks out yogurt tubes and applesauce for her lunch box. But involving L. in the lunch choices is a major task. We finally coaxed him into picking out some protein bars, and some individual packs of chocolate grahams from Trader Joe's. The next step: getting him to actually eat them at school.

And what am I doing to prepare myself? After getting the kids ready, I spent Sunday night nibbling on leftover Christmas chocolates and trying to finish a Christmas book, while listening to Christmas music on my iPod, and nursing a healthy case of denial.

What did you do to prepare yourself/your kids for back-to-school and back-to-work? Do you have any secrets for making the transition smooth and stress-free for everybody?