School Daze: Out-the-Door Organization

As requested, I am starting a little series about my school year organization and preparation tips. Let me begin with the most exhausting portion of the school day: getting out the door.

Now, let me preface this by clarifying that I am not a professional organizer or even a neat freak. I have three young close-in-age kids and a clutter-prone husband who often works from home. I aim for livable neatness (as in, “heathens live here but someone among us is trying to be neat.”)

Sure, I have donation boxes waiting for months to be offloaded. I have paper piles and a cluttered basement. BUT I know how to organize to get multiple mini-humans (and myself) out the door early every day. So, here are my tips on organizing to get out that door in the AM.

If you’re like us, you exit via your garage door as opposed to your front door. This makes the mudroom the primary portal. Getting everyone in their shoes with their backpacks out one door can seem akin to wrangling cats into a rabbit hole.

We have a primary shoe basket in the kitchen just beyond the mudroom where we keep daily use shoes. I used to keep school shoes in there too, but that lead to “I can’t find my shoes!” And “Why can’t I wear my pool sandals on the pumpkin patch field trip?” drama. So that habit needed adjusting.

Solution: backpack and school shoe central:

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Out-the-door Organization

Using damage-free Command hooks, I hung the kids’ backpacks and shoes (soles out) on the coat closet door. I added a cheap folding step stool to aid my shrimpy first grader in reaching her top-tier items. Then, I adhered her teacher’s reminders just beside the door.

And there we go. No hunting for shoes. No missing backpacks. No school debris strewn across our kitchen.

Easy peasy!

Next up: morning prep.

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Mom Confession: I Lost My Sh*t

Remember when I said, here, that I was not at all looking forward to homework? Well, homework happened about 2 minutes before bedtime on a Sunday evening after a long day. And I lost my sh*t… all of it.

6:55pm, my kindergartener realizes she hasn’t sharpened her pencils and crayons for school the next day. Her teacher is all about the kids taking responsibility for this task, and I am adamantly behind that perspective. The problem: my kindergartener hasn’t mastered the firm-yet-gentle pressure required to sharpen a pencil without snapping it, which means I have to help.

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So, instead of herding my trio upstairs for baths and bed, my daughter and I sit twirling writing utensils in a plastic sharpener. Then she realizes something: the class bear — which comes with a blank “all about me” poster and a weekend write-up to be completed with appended printed photos — was due back tomorrow, not the following week as she’d originally told us. Out come the project materials!

It is 6:58pm. My 1.5-year-old is melting down because it’s 2 minutes until his bedtime. My preschooler is repeatedly calling my name. I am at the kitchen table helping my kindergartener draw stick figures. This is not how I planned to spend my Sunday evening!

“Mommy! Mommy! Mooooommy!” My preschooler calls. I’m trying to hurriedly complete the ginormous blank poster that requires a sketch for each question. “What is your favorite song?” I read from the posterboard. How in the hell do you draw a song?  My kindergartener can’t remember her favorite tune. What conveniently timed senility!

My preschooler is STILL calling my name. “WHAT?” I growl. “I cleaned up.” My preschooler falsely claims, pointing at two books he returned to the shelf as he’s surrounded by toy calamity. I roar some unintelligible Mommy-has-lost-every-last-shred-of-patience retort. He shriek-cries. “Sia!” My kindergartener shouts. My husband stands in the middle of the kitchen bearing witness but not wanting to breathe for fear of drawing my wrath.

I take a deep breath and try to help my kindergartener draw her favorite song — we have a low bar… she writes the name “Sia” and draws a couple of  music notes — as my preschooler sobs. Now my 1.5-year-old is full-on crying too because it’s past his bedtime and our house is bedlam. I ask, with the gentility of a constipated bull moose, for my husband to comfort the preschooler as I coach our kindergartener through drawing a family portait. “Maybe you shouldn’t have yelled at him.” He says calmly. I shoot him a death glare. It is as if he wants to save money on the eventual vasectomy by having me castrate him right then and there.

Still, he’s right. I know he’s right. It doesn’t mean that I like it though.

I leave my kindergartener to draw a stick figure version of herself on a sliding board. I go to my preschooler, crouch down to his level, look him in his doe-like blue eyes, and apologize. We hug it out, him still crying in a mixture of exhaustion and release. I tell him to clean up the rest of the playroom, head back to the kindergartener, and shoot my husband one more glare to clearly communicate: “no more words.”

I sit down with a great exhale. “C’mon, let’s get this thing finished,” I tell her. “We’re aiming for ‘completed’, not ‘good.'” Parent of the year, right here!

By 7:20 my kindergartener has finished her portion of the project. Now I get to write a report about our weekend comings-and-goings while my toddler and preschooler serenade me in simultaneous fatigue freak-outs from the playroom. My husband takes the kindergartener and preschooler up for baths.

It’s 7:30… report complete. It’s a half-hour past my littlest’s bedtime. I decide to leave the photo collage until the morning and get my snot and tear smeared toddler to bed.

I apologize to my husband later that evening and thank him for being more patient than I. A hug seals the resolution. “I’m not that patient.” He says. “You’re a good mom,” He reassures me.

I lost my sh*t… all of it. I’m a mom. Moreover, I’m a human. It happens. Apologize, hug, and move along. This is life. It’s imperfect and so are we.

Life Lessons at 5-Years Old

“Other kids say I’m not a good artist,” my exhausted and melting 5-year-old lamented after I’d praised the self-portrait she’d drawn at school.

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She had been an emotional disaster since lunchtime, so I knew this upset was going to feel larger to her than usual. She was feeling raw, tired, and completely incapable of handling life.

As much as I was over her pendulum swings, I knew I needed to dig deep past the frustration and nurture. There in the kitchen, I crouched down, opened my arms, and asked if she needed a hug. She tearfully nodded and walked over. I sat cross-legged on the tile floor and she folded herself into my lap.

“I’m sorry the other kids hurt your feelings. I think you’re a great artist.” She smiled and sniffled. “It’s important to know, though, that for all of your life there will be people who are better than you, worse than you, and equally as good as you at all kinds of things. And that’s ok. Just because someone else is a great artist, it doesn’t mean you’re not good too. We all have different gifts. Some people are good at math, some are good at art, some are good at running, some are good at getting their heads stuck in holes.”

“I like running!” She said excitedly. “Good,” I said, “and your brother likes sticking his head in holes. You both have things you like doing.” We both giggled.

“You can be good at lots of things,” I told her, “but you won’t be good at them all, and that’s ok. I still think you’re a good artist though.” We hugged then off she went. Repaired for the moment.

Life lessons at 5-years old. Puberty should be fun.

Kindergarten: Why It’s a Big Deal

As I wiped away tears after watching my firstborn walk into her new school for her first day of kindergarten, I asked myself: why is kindergarten such a big deal? We’ve already experienced the “first day of school” three times before with preschool. What is so momentous about this year?

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It’s more than just starting school, I realized. It’s a departure from a safety net. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. A new way of life.

For many children — and their parents — kindergarten signals the start of a new routine. No more half-days of preschool. No more Memorial Day to Labor Day school calendar. No more post-naptime playdates or 2:00 swim class. Kindergarten runs on the same 7-hour timetable as grade school and high school. That means that this new regiment of early rising and afternoon pick-up will be in place until the child is at least 18-years old. That’s 13 years!

Homework, carpool, projects, standardized testing, PTO meetings, and back-to-school night… the makings of a school-centric, instead of home-centric, chapter. Packed lunches and permission slips, playground tumbles and social tussles, school nurse visits and principal’s office scoldings. It is a time of routine and hurdles. It’s a time of growth.

For stay-at-home parents, the transition is particularly poignant. Accustomed to initiating and witnessing most playdates and social activities themselves, stay-at-home parents will now only hear snippets of their children’s days. Piecing together the verbal puzzle to construct a vision of the child’s experience. No longer sharing in their child’s life first-hand. They are a distant bystander awaiting filtered highlights from a not-always-willing narrator.

Someone else will bandage the boo-boo and open the juice pouch. Someone else will offer solice when egos are bruised and knees are scraped. Someone else will teach and shepherd, protect and comfort our children. We are no longer THE caretaker.

The transition signals as much a change for parents as it does the children. It is a step towards independence. A step into the big world.

May all the fledgling kindergarteners find comfort, joy, and inspiration in their new school year. May all the parents feel secure in the care provided by the schools. May the year ahead be one of positive growth and development. May we all stand together to celebrate and comfort one another through this transition.

 

Kindergarten is Coming!

Summer is drawing to a close. Fall is creeping in. Kindergarten is coming!

#1 at her kindergarten playdate

#1 at her kindergarten playdate

 

“It’s time to go!” I called, baby on my hip, keys in my hand. My 5-year-old ran out of the door to the car, the fabric wings on her turquoise “My Little Pony” dress flapping behind her. Her light-up “Frozen” sneakers flashing with each joyful step. “Can I wear lip gloss?” She asked as I fastened her youngest brother into his car seat. “We’re headed to a Catholic school kindergarten playdate. Let’s stick to Chapstick.” I compromised.

When we arrived at the playground she could barely contain her enthusiasm. She clutched her sequined “Hello Kitty” purse, anxiously awaiting her minivan exit. “Perhaps we should leave the purse in the car,” I suggested, “We wouldn’t want it to get lost or broken on the playground.” She agreed.

She gripped my hand as we walk across the parking lot, craning her neck in search of other playmates. The event coordinator had just finished setting out jugs of water and disposable cups. A little girl with long blond waves approached the woman, the girl’s father just a few paces behind. “Are you here for the kindergarten playdate?” I ask the girl. She nods and flashes an excited grin. I introduce my daughter, saying, “She’s here for the playdate too.” And off the girls scampered.

Within moments of arriving, my daughter was spinning the merry-go-round. She was in her element. Happy. Independent. She didn’t look back except to smile.

That girl is going to rock kindergarten.

 

 

Smiling through Tears

#1 has completed her final day of preschool. She’s excited for what’s ahead. I’m a wreck.

I know she’ll do great in kindergarten. She’s outgoing, positive, friendly, bright, adaptable, independent, and takes direction well. I have not a single doubt in my mind that she will rock kindergarten. What’s even better: she knows it too. Great, fantastic, perfect, right? Yes! But I’m still a wreck.

My baby — the baby girl I dreamt of, the daughter my husband and I had hoped for, the baby we tried so hard to have, the newborn who fought to make it into and stay in this world, the baby we were told may have cognitive and/or developmental delays, the child who walked late but spoke early and well, the girl who has a tutu in every color and whose favorite colors are “pink, purple, and rainbow”– is growing up way too fast. I feel as if I must be losing vast portions of my memory because there’s no way I could see her every day, spend most of my waking hours in her presence, and yet the time passes so quickly.

My internal mourning is entirely selfish. It’s pointless. It’s silly. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

I smile because I want her to be happy. I want her to crave the growth and change that is life. I want her to feel supported and celebrated in her development and advancement, never held back by my emotions. Never coddled or ensnared.

For me, I want to pause life. To savor it and revel in it. To embed it in my memory. To not feel so lost in the whirlwind. But that isn’t life. Life is fast and ever-changing. I cannot expect it to be any other way, and lamenting that is fruitless.

So, I keep smiling because she needs me to smile. She deserves me to be happy, to cheer her on. Because she is going to do great things and she needs to see that I believe that. And I do. I am proud of her and who she is becoming.

“They’re happy tears,” I’ll tell her. They’re not, but my smile is true.

Where’s the Pause Button?

I just looked at the calendar and realized that there are only two months left of preschool this academic year. Two months??

Then my breath caught, my heart dropped, my eyes welled: my baby girl — the baby we weren’t sure would ever come — will be leaving preschool and starting kindergarten. How could this be happening?

Didn’t #2 just start his first year, toddling in with a backpack 3/4 his size? Did #1 just pick out her first day of school dress and insist on “princess hair” for the first day of her last preschool year?

How does this go by so quickly? How can I slow this down? I feel like I’m with them so much but I must be missing things because there’s no way so much time has slid by so quickly. Where’s the pause button?