The Stress of Going Back to School

So that’s it. Gone are the days of elementary school conferences and cookie dough fundraisers. I’m officially the mom of a middle school, a high school and a college student. Boy #3 turned 13 a few weeks ago, so I’m a full-fledged mom of teens — until January when I then graduate to “mom of a-20-year-old” status. (When in the heck did THIS happen, by the way?)

Back-to-school time is always crazy busy for our family. Having two teachers in the family means double-whammy beginning-of-the-year stress, and even though you’ll probably find this incredibly hard to believe, I don’t handle stress so well. This is evidenced by my “back-to-school acne” that has arrived, right on cue. Because nothing makes a 45-year-old woman feel better about herself than a mutinous bout of cystic acne.

And you know what has not helped my stress level this year? My newest teenager. I love the kid, but if I’m being honest (And when aren’t I?), he’s making me a little bit crazy right now. (And when I say “a little bit crazy,” what I really mean is “total batshit crazy.”) And we’ve only had five days of school.

Last year, he rode the bus to school and, being in 6th grade, was able to get himself out the door and to the bus stop on his own so I could head to school early, about 7 a.m., to get some things done before the halls filled up with Axe Body Spray and teenage angst. This year, however, he is riding to school with me, which means that even though I get up at the same time and am ready to head out the door at the same time, I am a full 20-30 minutes later getting to school.

Why is this, you may ask? Is it because Boy #3 and I are bonding over a home-cooked breakfast before we start our day? That’s a big “nope.” I’m not that good of a mom. It’s because no matter how much I prod and push, he cannot seem to run in any gear but slower-than-molasses, or sometimes even reverse. It LITERALLY takes him 10 minutes to put on his socks and shoes. And that’s when he can even find both of his shoes. He also never manages to remember to tell me anything that needs to be done until I have one foot out the door. Let’s take this morning for example. I had loaded myself up with my computer bag, purse and lunch and was walking past the kitchen table when I spotted his football mouthguard — still in the plastic bag. “Do you need this?” I asked naively, to which he spewed in panic, “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS MOLDED FOR MY TEETH THIS AFTERNOON OR I CAN’T PRACTICE!” Now, if you haven’t had the pleasure of helping a child, or a stranger for that matter, mold a mouthguard, please realize that in order to do this, you have to put it in boiling water. And the saying “A watched pot never boils” could NOT be more true. I had to put down my bags, put water in a pot on the stove and wait for it to boil before going to school. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Great life lesson here! He forgot to do it, so he doesn’t get to practice. Natural consequences, baby!” And don’t get me wrong, you’re absolutely right, but here’s the deal: Sometimes I’m just too tired to be a good mom and stand my ground, and unfortunately this morning was one of those sometimes.

But clearly, I’m going to have to nip this irresponsibility in the bud. For heaven’s sake, by last Friday night we had had three days of school, two of which were early outs, and he had already lost his bag and cleats TWICE. On the first day of school, he apparently left it outside on the front lawn of the school before the doors opened in the morning. Luckily, someone turned it in to the office and he got it the next day, so we didn’t have to buy him new shoes and he learned a lesson about holding on to his stuff. Bet he won’t do that again, right? Wrong. After the football game Friday night, another middle school teacher found his backpack, with his cleats inside, under the bleachers. Fortunately, the teacher had seen my son with the bag, so he knew whose it was because we hadn’t actually gotten around to ever putting his name on it anywhere. That would make too much sense.

So for those of you who are keeping track, he lost his bag and cleats twice so far, and this morning he forgot to boil his mouthguard until we were walking out the door. However, that wasn’t all the day had in store… Late morning I received an email from his band teacher saying that she had found his red folder he had lost, and of course she found it shoved way back in someone else’s cubby, which he had mistakenly used. Who’d a guessed that? But the fun didn’t stop there. Oh no. At the end of the school day, he informed me that he’d forgotten his football pants at home and that he needed them for practice an hour later. At this point, my backbone had grown back, and I told him he would have to walk home to get his pants because I had meetings I couldn’t miss. He replied that he wouldn’t be able to get home and back in time, to which I replied that it’s only one mile away, and that he could get there in 10 minutes. Obviously, I forgot how slowly my son does everything, along with the fact that I could barely do a 10-minute-mile when I was training for a half-marathon. Lucky for him my husband had gotten home from work by the time Boy #3 got there and was able to bring him back to the school. Instead of the 10 minutes that I projected, it actually took him 25 minutes to walk there. Whoops! “Bet you won’t forget your pants again!” I said when he tried to get mad at ME for the whole situation.

This picture kind of sums up our school year so far. Why is it that last week on Facebook my feed was full of photos of happy, smiling children, holding beautiful Etsy signs announcing “Back to School 2nd Grade,” and when I tried to get a “first day of school” photo, this is what I got?

Yep, it’s pretty much a mug shot.

So yeah, my routine back-to-school stress this year is complemented by my I-have-a-7th-grade-boy stress, with just a pinch of my-sophomore-in-college-waited-until-the-last-minute-to-figure-out-his-student-loans stress and my-sophomore-in-high-school-waited-until-the-last-two-days-of-summer-to-read-his-assigned-summer-English-novel stress. Oh, and my sophomore in high school also got a concussion last week in football practice and missed his first two days of school. There’s that, too.

And although it probably seems a little bit (or “a lot bit”) like I’m complaining, please know that I’m really not. Because with the brain farts (and the actual farts), the stinky football pads and the “Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re so melodramatic” attitude comes the unexpected hugs, the deep conversations over which Shark Tank investor we want to fund our hypothetical business and the “I forgot to tell you I love you” texts.

Back to school means back to stress. And probably the onset of The Great Acne War. That’s just the way it is. It’s how we choose to handle that stress, however, that determines who we really are. We can let it take over, or we can acknowledge its presence and then move on. In the process, we may not only manage to get through this thing called life (nod to Prince), but we may even learn to appreciate the messiness we encounter along the way because it means we are really living.

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P.S. After writing this last night, Boy #3 has managed to once again lose his shoes and had to go to school wearing his dad’s tennis shoes.

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P.P.S. After school today I got a phone call from Boy #3 telling me he had left his football pants in my classroom (even though he managed to remember to grab his shoulder pads, jersey and helmet) and would I please come bring them to the practice field? I can’t make this stuff up.

photo by: Mark Bonica

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