Sometimes Back-to-School Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

O umbrella.JPG

For stay-at-home parents, no day on the calendar is more important than the first day of school. Sure, holidays are cool (I’m particularly partial to National Coffee Day), and birthdays are fine and good, but the day my children start back to school is the one I circle in red ink.

I’m sure most parents tend to build up back-to-school in their minds. We’re curious and anxious about how our kids will do, how their teachers will be, and if we’ll be able to navigate car line without embarrassing ourselves and our entire family by accidentally leaving the child locks turned on. We toss and turn in bed at night as we envision ourselves tumbling out of the still moving car in an attempt to extricate our children from the passenger side before everyone behind us starts honking. You know, standard first day anxiety.

All that’s perfectly normal and applicable to pretty much every type of parent; however, stay-at-home parents tend to build up back-to-school to epic proportions. I know I do, at least, and I suspect I’m not alone. Not only do I have the normal fears and concerns about the start of a new school year, the typical tumult of conflicting emotions, I also have this idea stuck stubbornly in my head that my children starting back to school is going to change my life for the better.

Every year when the calendar flips to August, I start setting myself up for a big letdown. My end of summer mantra is always, “Just wait until the kids are back in school. Then I’m going to get things done!”

I never learn.

This year, my second child started kindergarten, joining my oldest child, a second grader, at the elementary school. Two kids in full-day school? Wow! I was going to kill it this year with so much more free time to do whatever it is I was supposed to be doing!

Somehow in the rush of excitement and anxiety leading up to the beginning of school, I forgot to account for the fact that I still have a boss at home during the day and that boss is my 3-year-old.

“Oh, right. You’re still here,” I sometimes say to her as we pull out of the school parking lot in the morning after dropping my older two children off at school.

“Well, now what?”

She is most definitely here. And she has thoughts. Thoughts about what we should and should not be doing. For example, we should be playing in the playroom with Anna and Elsa dolls and we should not be picking up coffee every morning. I consider it a parenting win that I’ve negotiated my coffee drinking rights in exchange for six to seven hours of role playing with Anna and Elsa dolls. I’m such a shrewd negotiator.

My 3-year-old wasn’t the only thing I failed to account for, however. Every summer, I forget that the kids being back in school doesn’t lighten my work load as much I expect. During the summer, I can get up whenever the kids get up (as late as 7:30 sometimes!) and our daily schedule is typically unstructured.

The boys do half-day tennis camp, but that’s about it for scheduled activities. No early morning schedule also means I can stay up late at night and write or catch up on laundry or watch TV. You know, do the things I enjoy or need to do that I don’t have time for during the day.

During the school year, however, I have to get up before dawn to get the kids ready for school. There are lunches to pack, clothes to pick out, teeth to brush, and 3-year-olds to remember. And after school there are snacks to prepare, homework battles to fight, and don’t even get me started about bedtime. Finally, getting up early means I have to forego my “productive” nights so I can get enough sleep to remain mildly functional. Back to school is quite an adjustment. For my kids, I’m sure, but mostly for me.

Not that I’m complaining. I have a pretty great life. Being a stay-at-home parent is tough sometimes, but for the most part, it’s a pretty sweet gig. Heck, I don’t even have to change shirts every day. Or take a shower if I don’t feel like it. I’ll stop there before you get too disgusted, but you have to understand that while my work doesn’t come with health insurance or vacation, there are some significant perks.

Sometimes I wish things could stay just the way they are forever. But then, while my 3-year-old is critiquing my play and demanding that I repeat lines of dialogue for her dolls word-for-word according to her instructions, I daydream about what my life will look like when all my kids are in school.

Things will really be different then! I’m going to get so much done. The world will be mine for the taking. Right? Yep. As long as I remember to turn off the child locks on the car door, there will be no stopping me.


If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up for the email list to get updates right in your inbox.