Dear School Mom:
Last year your first grader received more homework than the college students you teach. By the end of the school year, the back of your car was filled with paper mache creations, IEP notes, parent surveys, volunteer packets and in particular a piece of art work you regretfully confused as an abstract bird when in actuality it was some Marc Chagall inspired rocket ship…you think. Needless to say, your inability to discern art, versus doodling, versus modernistic expression resulted in a meltdown of massive proportions from a pint-sized, paint-covered artist in a booster seat. It was at that moment you began to thank whoever came up with the idea for summer break. You needed the break just as much as your six year old did and with that revelation your sun chasing, hip shaking, season changing summer began.
Things were going great at first. There were the late brunches in your PJ’s and the popsicle lunches still in your PJ’s paired with the drop in camp days and 1st grade reunion play dates that all came together to make for a hard earned reprieve from responsibility. Before you knew it though, the advertisement industry began to encroach on your summer solstice. Like an infectious disease, they spread their back to school propaganda everywhere you turned. Your son even joined in on the betrayal hounding you repeatedly about the type of lunchbox he needs and the backpack he wants to carry when he returns for 2nd grade. Your summer was on a slippery slope to extinction when you turned to your Chicago bred husband and told him: “We need a Ferris Bueller's Day Off.”
And that’s where I come in, the Summer Mom-- born out of one part necessity and one part fear. Even with a master’s degree you will never survive elementary school if you continue to function in your School Mom frenzy. I hesitate to claim there won’t be some rough days and school projects may still turn you to tears, but when the familiar paraphernalia of excess crowds the backseat of your car and your melodramatic human creation reels from the exhaustion of it all, listen intently to my sage summer wisdom: “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”
Don’t Be Afraid: It’s easy to worry about every aspect of your child’s livelihood. Schooling, in particular, can ignite a wellspring of worry. Even in the most supportive of environments there is often a subtle undercurrent of inbred competition from over zealous parents convinced their child can out read, out add and out socialize the entire class. If you succumb to the fear of how your child fares in comparison to their peers, you can become consumed like Ferris’s older sister Jeanie. Instead, be Charlie Sheen, or at least the character he played in the movie. He reminds Jeanie to focus on herself rather than worrying about the perceived shadow Ferris’ popularity cast on her existence. As for grade school, it will all work out. Remember in first grade you didn't realize you weren't supposed to actually eat mud pies and you turned out okay.
Shake Things Up: There is no doubt that structure is paramount when it comes to parenting, and yes your child turns into a Tasmanian devil if he isn’t in bed by 8:30 p.m. Nonetheless, there are some lifelong benefits to changing the routine. The real world requires the ability to adapt to change and what better change than a midweek carpet picnic with pizza and veggies. Better yet, offer the kids an extra helping of uninterrupted Summer Mom you. These out of character moments will make for priceless memories and years from now, when their own kids are redefining the meaning of tantrum, your boys turned fathers will be reminded that breaking the rules can sometimes be the only way to piece things back together again.
Let Go: The parental pressure you feel to solve every problem is what has led you to this anxiety riddled, commercial hating, back to school dreading state of mind. Your stress level is matched only by the contagious stress your child receives, so it’s plain to see why after school antics resemble kernels of popcorn mixing vigorously with hot oil. This frying pan existence places everyone at odds but the one thing we can all learn from Ferris and Jeanie is that sometimes kids need to work their problems out on their own. Not only does it take some of the heat off of you, it’s a bonding moment between siblings and friends. Let that one summer day when you sanctioned the super soaker backyard battle, you against your boys and they won, serve as a reminder that you don’t have to manage the world to give them the world.
Take Charge and Dance: There have been many days where you have sat in envy of the boundless energy your six year old possesses. Like a vortex spinning to an up-tempo beat, his body moves as if the floor beneath him is aflame. This energy that you desire and detest houses all the rays of the summer sun. So before the world grabs hold of his free spirited dance and stuffs it into a bottle of self consciousness, turn on some music, grab his hands and remind your son to dance. Letting loose should not be limited to months on a calendar and no special occasion is needed to dance. When the long days set in and the events of life greedily devour your time, shake it up baby now, twist and shout because, “Cameron Fry, this one’s for you!”
And as you read this there is a large possibility you are simultaneously checking your email for the announcement of who your child’s new teacher will be. Resist the urge to email said teacher all the things they need to know about your child. Instead, have no fear, break some rules, soak up the sun and exhale!
P.S. Really, don’t email the teacher…at least this week.