Back-to-school time is more stressful than the holidays, a mammogram, and an extended visit with the in-laws COMBINED for most moms I know. My September breakdowns have been well-documented here. The unfortunate fundraiser meltdown of 2011. The carpool catastrophes. The scavenger-hunt supply lists, the endless forms to fill out. I was hoping to breeze through back-to-school this year. After all, I’ve been doing this awhile now. Didn’t happen.

Back to School paper overload

In my defense, my older son just started middle school. He’s got 4 main teachers, not including his teachers for art, gym, library, Spanish, and technology. He switches classrooms throughout the day, somehow navigating his way through the labyrinthine hallways clogged with students, backpacks, Axe body spray, and general mayhem in 4-min. intervals between classes.

I know this because I followed his schedule at Back-to-School Night. Which is now referred to as “#B2SN,” apparently.

Listen. I am all about embracing technology to enhance learning, connection, and efficiency. I love my smartphone and social media. But THERE ARE LIMITS. Get a load of this tech overload, will you?

Each teacher provided the parents with no few than 4 ways to contact them. They all have email addresses, of course. Yet, there is no consistent email format at our school, and most of the accounts were set up with the (now-married) teachers’ maiden names. It’s not confusing at all.

Some teachers provided their Facebook and Twitter pages, along with their cell phone numbers. They also let us know about several web-based platforms where we could check on our students’ grades, behavior, and assignments. All require different login codes and passwords. That sounds easy. {eyeroll emoji}

Then came the forms. Oh, the forms, forms, forms, FORMS. You might think that, given this shift toward technology, maybe we could fill out those dreaded medical forms online now? Maybe we could even save the data from year to year or have it autofill in siblings’ parent contact info and addresses? Nope. We’re not there yet. Paper forms for all, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate. On recycled paper, naturally.

The school principal did a video welcome message, which was intended to save time. But the individual teachers still could not get their AV equipment to work properly. Some were stymied by sound issues, or beleaguered by buffering. Powerpoints perplexed many. Some things never change.

The school lunch menu? There’s an app for that.

Weather cancellations? Sign up for text alerts.

See? Everything is so much SIMPLER now, thanks to technology!!! Wonder what my next year’s back-to-school breakdown will be about… #B2SB2018

LINK O’ THE DAY {Sponsored}: Speaking of paper and trying to cut down on it, have you seen Paperless Post’s attractive online invitations? And they actually do paper stationery now, too. Who knew? When they invited me to peruse their back-to-school invitations, this design caught my eye.

Paperless Post invitation - back to school picnic

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Back-to-School Reflections

by Abby on September 6, 2017

I am not the mom who cried at preschool graduation, or on the first day of kindergarten. Most years I greet the start of the school year with relief and celebration. (Whew! The summer ran me ragged. Let the teachers take over!) This year was different.

This morning I dropped off a third-grader and a middle-schooler. A MIDDLE-SCHOOLER. Let’s pause to let the magnitude of that sink in. My roly-poly toddler has morphed into a full-blown young man who cares about his hair and has feet bigger than mine.

My older son 6 years ago on the first day of kindergarten

It’s not that I miss that chubby toddler, though. I can still see traces of him in the long-lashed, dimpled, more angular face that peers out from beneath the brim of his ever-present Pokemon hat. If anything, my 11yo is way better company than most adults I know. He’s got a sharp sense of humor, he’s a great traveler, and he’s kind to small children, the elderly, and animals. (Though not usually his little brother.)

Me and my 11-year-old son

It’s not even that I’m nervous on behalf of my kids. I was an anxious child who worried myself sick before every birthday party or first day of school. So it was impossible to look at my normally animated 8yo’s silent, solemn face in his new classroom this morning and not feel my chest tighten.

And I do fret about whether they’ll make friends or have someone to sit with at lunch. I pray they avoid bullies, mean teachers, and unflattering school photos. But my kids are more confident than I ever was. They made new friends at every camp they went to this summer, and they went to SIX. (We’re all about variety.)

No, the emotions I choked down this morning were more about me. More about recognizing the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The message filtered in through my bedroom window this morning, through the orange glow of the already-turning leaves: everything changes. The seasons, their teachers, my middle-schooler’s voice – and it seems to be speeding up.

Have you seen those ads on TV, I think for a travel agency? The tagline is something like, “You only have 18 summers with your kids. Make them count.” Well, damn. Way to inspire panic in parents of growing kids, advertisers! Maybe when they were 2, I was counting down the days – YEARS — till kindergarten, feeling like it was forever in the future. But not now, when I can count my older son’s summers at home on 7 fingers.

I will pause again here to say that in fact, I actually spent a good percentage of my summers in college at home with my parents, and we still vacation with them to this day. So there, you ruthless advertisers set on instilling a false sense of urgency! Don’t tell ME my days with my kids are numbered.

It’s not exactly a feeling of time running out that’s getting to me, though that’s certainly part of it. In your 40’s, you tend to get smacked in the face with your own mortality.

A couple of weeks ago, we lost our beloved pooch, Gracie. This dog was the scruffiest of mutts, the gentlest of souls, the sweetest of pets. My 11yo met her on his first day home from the hospital, and she’s been a fixture in our family ever since. Gracie lived a good, long 13 years or so (we estimate — she’s a rescue), but we all had a tough time accepting her death.

2 boys and our dog in the backseat at school pickup

Coming home from school drop-off today to an empty house hit me hard. Since I work from home, I spent the most time of any of us with her. Sometimes taking her for a walk was the only time I left the house all day while the boys were in school.

So it’s change and loss and time that’s getting to me, yes. But it’s something else, too. It’s the perceived importance of every moment and every decision that’s keeping me up at night. The stakes seem so much higher now. The future is so much closer.

Change is hard for me, but so is stagnation. Over time I’ve shifted from an either/or mindset to accepting that 2 things can be true at the same time. I can be sad to say goodbye to summer and also happy to get back in a routine. I can feel anxious for my kids and proud of their independence at the same time. I can miss my dog while feeling glad she didn’t suffer for long. I can feel grateful for what I have while also yearning for something more.

I don’t know what this school year will bring for our family. But I am hopeful, and I am giving myself time to adjust. How are you feeling about the back-to-school transition?

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Notes from a Writers’ Conference

May 9, 2017

This past weekend I did something shockingly out of the ordinary: I went to a writers’ conference! In New York City! Without my family in tow! There was a time I considered myself a professional writer first, and a pretzel server/baseball uniform washer/carpool driver second. Those times have changed. It took a whole lotta effort […]

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Tiptoeing (or Trampling) Through the Tulips

May 4, 2017

As I prepare to head off to New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference, I am sharing one of my favorite posts from my archives. My writing career has certainly taken me to some fascinating places over the years … The View from the Other Side of the Pool House Tucked away […]

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Unplugged on the Slopes

March 27, 2017

This winter we took our kids skiing for the first time. We claimed the excursion was a birthday gift for my younger son, who just turned 8. But we also wanted to take advantage of the SkiPA Snowpass, a program that offers discounted lessons and lift tickets for 4th and 5th graders and their parents. […]

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Why I Went to the Women’s March on Washington

January 23, 2017

In 1971 my mom was fired from her job as a public school teacher for being pregnant with my brother. She was married, but the law in Connecticut at that time stated that female teachers could not work past their fifth month of pregnancy. The teachers union took her case to court, even though she […]

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Tropical Islands, Mental Health, and Parenting in Winter

January 17, 2017

I love it when different threads from different parts of my life come together. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, like maybe I had a plan all along. It’s like that Steve Jobs quote: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have […]

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Making Time, Holding Space

December 21, 2016

Monday, 2 p.m. T-minus 4 days till Christmas break starts and my free time ends. I don’t have much time. I should be running to Michael’s, Target, maybe Kohl’s (do I have that coupon?). I need to get picture frames for the kids’ school photos I was guilted into buying. (What kind of parent doesn’t […]

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One of My Favorite Things About the Holidays

December 13, 2016

I love them so much. The cheesier, the sappier, the more implausible, the better. I’m talking about holiday movies – the made-for-TV kind, of the Hallmark and Lifetime variety. Every year I try to watch at least one or two. The conditions have to be right, though. My kids can’t be around to interrupt me, […]

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My Picks for Uncommonly Good Christmas Gifts

December 10, 2016

{This is a sponsored post, however, all opinions and gift picks are my own. You’ll see…} I hate to admit it, but the Christmas gift-giving season fills me with dread. It’s not that I don’t like giving or receiving gifts. I do. In fact, nothing makes me happier than coming across the perfect gift for […]

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