I work from home with a full kitchen at my fingertips, yet I spend six minutes, at most, on my own lunch. Why do I spend more time than that packing a lunch box for my picky elementary school kid? I could drop some serious coin on fancy lunch boxes and reusable plastic bags. I could follow one of those meal-prep videos that tries to convince me that I can pack a five-star lunch without breaking a sweat (lies). But I don’t, and I won’t because it’s not necessary. This year, I’m wrestling the school year out of the grip that social media-induced comparison has on it. I’m going to stress less and learn more. Here is my real mom guide to the upcoming school year:
- Lunch. If your kid eats a school-provided lunch, let me tip my hat to you. I count on leftovers (either kept warm in my kids’ thermoses or warmed in the school microwave) and stuff rolled up in tortillas. To round out a meal, I throw in some pre-sliced fruits and veggies. On mornings when I feel like it will be the miracle of my life if we can get out the door by 7:55 a.m., I grab baby carrots because they need no slicing and a banana because they come in their own disposable container!
- Homework. As a kid, I hated homework. As a mom, I still hate homework. This year, I’m doing something a little unconventional – we’re doing homework before school. My kids both insist on waking up with the sun, and — because they’re both so much like me — they are bursting with creativity and purpose in the morning. I have a feeling this will help them focus for the day and remove making a huge mess and watching TV from our morning routine.
- Volunteering. Between you and me, the military doesn’t function without military spouse volunteers. We are hard-wired to pitch in when asked, and we’re often so good that we just see a need and jump in without being asked. That said, we cannot do everything. If you’re already volunteering with a dozen organizations, this isn’t your year to add PTO or Room Mom to your resume. When you spread yourself too thin, you can’t do much good.
- Teacher Gifts. Back-to-school, major holidays, Teacher Appreciation Day, Spring Break, end-of-year gifts — stop the madness. I’m all for showing appreciation for getting my kid one step closer to becoming a functioning adult, but Spring Break shouldn’t require a teacher’s gift. Pick one or two of the days above to give your kids’ teacher a gift and put your blinders on to avoid the judgmental stares at morning drop-off on the rest of these occasions.
- Routines. Let’s be honest: mornings are chaos and often involve digging anything resembling a matching pair of socks out of the dryer on the way out the door. But, here’s the after-school routine that works for us:
- Use the one-drop rule. We only set things down once. This eliminates the “picking up” before bed that no one likes.
- Talk! This one is so important and it’s the first thing cut on busy days. Ask your kids about their days but use specifics to avoid getting “fine” or “nothing” as answers. Try, “How did your spelling test go today?” or, “Was so-and-so back at school today?”
- Do something that isn’t watching TV. Let your kids go play outside. Have them read. Read with them. Let them go be kids. They need this time to decompress after working their little brains all day and having to sit still.
- Dinner. We rarely do this at the table, and I know some may think it’s wrong, but believe me, my kids are nourished, we talk, and they know my husband and I love them. The dinner structure doesn’t change that.
- Go to practice or go nowhere. Depending on what night of the week it is, we may have a chill night at home or we may be bouncing between events.
- Take baths, read stories, go to sleep. Sometimes it’s a late night, and the one or two of these don’t happen. We do the best we can and that is almost never perfection.
Overall, it’s important to know your limits – and know your kids’ limits. Talk to your kids’ teachers. Reign in the activities and the goals; you can’t do everything in one year and neither can your kids. Instead, pick a couple goals and master them. This year, I want my daughter to learn to read and tie her shoes. I want my son to learn his multiplication tables and grasp situational awareness. I want my husband to learn that “next to the dishwasher” is not the same as “in the dishwasher.” Personally, I want to turn work off by the time my kids get home and dig socks out of the dryer no more than two days a week. Good luck this school year, parents!