Back to school: Smooth sailing or rough waters for kids and moms?

We all knew the first day of school was coming. We had plenty of time to prepare. So how did it go? Photo: Last swing of summer before school starts AP

CHICAGO, September 8, 2012 — The week before school started the supplies were purchased and the wardrobe was updated. And approved. The night before school started, the summer assignments were completed (by 9 p.m.!), and the alarm clocks were set.

Mission Control was prepared for a successful launch.  And then those alarm clocks rang.

For weeks now, magazine racks have been full of articles on how to prepare kids to go back to school. Most of us stopped reading those articles long ago. Who really wants to know how many hundreds of dollars the average family spends on school supplies per student? Aren’t the clothes falling off the hangers in the closet and crammed into dresser drawers good enough?

School supplies at the ready Photo: Author

Easing back bedtime so the kids won’t be shell-shocked on the first day of school sounds good on paper, but we’re not giving up one minute of those precious summer evenings. And sending them off with a stomach filled with a hot, nutritious breakfast isn’t happening, either. Easing back bedtime to allow more time to cook in the morning isn’t any more appealing to Mom than it is to the kids.

So the helpful magazine articles are ignored. Except maybe the ones that try to tell you how to save money on those supplies.

And then the alarm clocks go off.

Bodies drag themselves out of soft, comfy beds and head toward a cold, clear-the-fuzz-out shower, only to find the bathroom door is locked. Someone beat them to it. “MOM! I need to shower, too! Get him out!” The refrigerator door slams. “MOM! I can’t find the milk!” It was on the kitchen table. Brother had breakfast first. “MOM! I can’t find my blue shirt/calculator/lunch box!”

Apparently, the kids have their own version of ignoring well-meaning magazine articles. They ignore well-intentioned advice from MOM. Now that the youngest is in high school with her brother, MOM told them to work out a compatible morning routine. Didn’t happen. MOM reminded them to get out their clothes and pack everything they would need for the first day the night before. They must not have been able to hear her through their ear buds.

The glorious part of that first morning was that, because they are all teenagers who want to run their own lives, they are all capable of fixing these earth-shattering problems on their own. MOM didn’t get out of bed until it was time to kiss the first one good-bye.

So MOM ignored the advice-filled magazine articles, the kids ignored the advice-filled MOM, MOM ignored the fully capable kids, and the predictable chaos ensued.

And the final results?

One of them actually got out the door on time. One left about 20 minutes behind schedule, requiring MOM to pull a NASCAR-style finish at the school door. And one fell back asleep on the couch. Luckily, it was the one whose college courses don’t start until noon. He just tried to get up early to study. And get in everyone else’s way. Technically, they all got where they needed to be when they needed to be there.

Last minute snooze before school Photo: Author

It would be wonderful to report that everyone learned a good lesson that first day and the rest of the school week went smoothly.

It would also be a lie.

The truth is that the rest of the week went about the same way. There is hope that we as a family can learn from the error of our ways, however. We may get our chance for redemption this week, as Chicago teachers will most likely go on strike September 10. We can all use that time to get used to going to bed earlier (no homework!) and to get ourselves truly organized for the inevitable day that the kids head back to school. Again.

Or we can use that time to enjoy a few more movies under the stars in the backyard, a few more trips to the beach, and a little more time to let summer be summer before school becomes all consuming.

I know which plan I’m voting for. Some people never learn.

Julia Goralka has been sending shell-shocked children back to school for 15 years. To contact her, see above. 


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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

Contact Julia Goralka

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