Back to school week is my least favorite. The sweet togetherness of summer is replaced by the anticipation of anxiety and stress. Everyone still wants to sleep in, but they need me to make sure their shit is taken care of. My inbox is jammed with more information than I care to process, and everywhere I go I find myself struggling to maneuver my own loaded shopping cart through aisles packed with Moms who sport a similar stricken expression.
Just weeks ago I was gallivanting the country with my beautiful family, discovering Atlanta’s most magnificent donuts. Now I find myself pondering whether a package of Sharpie Electro Pop Ultra Fine Point Pens will soothe my daughter’s battered self confidence. After some debate, and with Little Bear lolling about in the front of the cart, my M&M bribe to keep him quiet rapidly diminishing, I decide that no, the Sharpies are unnecessary. I will just stick to the list.
We need three boxes of tissues and they only have a pack of five. We dig in yellow cardboard boxes for the last “ultra fine point black marker (sharpie preferred!)” We decide we probably have one at home, maybe in the junk drawer? I find my Mom with the girls. They are tossing their popcorn snack out of the wagon and shreiking. I am sweating now, and regretting my decision to eat the other sharing size bag of M&Ms back in the clothing section. I tell them to clean up the mess, but soon recognize this as fruitless and sort of gather it all up into a pile and smile apologetically at a nearby employee.
A few days later I walk my beautiful, confident six year old to the front porch of her new classroom. She’s wearing a cow backpack with a matching lunchbox and has my old yoga mat under her arm. Her hair is braided into a crown, and all the crazy strands are already falling out around her pretty face which just radiates pure joy. She shakes her teacher’s hand and forgets to say goodbye. “Cleo!” I yell. “What?” Her face is fantastically annoyed. “Have a great day!”
Then I walk little bear to his room. He won’t have his sister for support this year and he’s been up all night worrying. He has bona fide circles under his eyes and he’s visibly holding back tears. He wants to sit on the bench outside and I we do this for way too long. I can feel the disapproval of his teachers that I’m letting him drag this out. I look around for a more competent adult to take control of the situation. The process of peeling his little self from my arms is predictably horrifying, so I spend my first free morning in months purchasing new craft supplies and planning fun projects for us to do together. It helps.
The big kids board the bus on their first day without much fanfare, but Maeve calls me in the afternoon upset. My girl has taken a giant leap out of her comfort zone and signed up for middle school athletics. Her new coach has, with exactly zero tact, called her out in front of her peers for failing to provide the necessary forms and purchase the proper athletic shorts. I have missed the email and Maeve doesn’t have telepathic capabilities, so she is fucked. I am livid. I recall an image of this woman to mind, standing in the gym with her hands clasped behind her back and her feet spread apart. She’s using a bunch of terminology I don’t understand because I don’t live and breathe middle school athletics, and all I need to know is where to show up and when. Just tell me where to get the damn shorts lady! I write her a scathing email and then delete the whole thing. I write her another asking that she contact me urgently.
The next few days are a shit show. There’s the trip to the UPS store to sort out the whole athletic form debacle. And the trip to the pediatrician for Bear’s cough. There’s the morning ritual wherein I watch bear gulp back tears in the rearview mirror and then observe while he takes deep breaths on our walk up the path. Of course it’s all for naught since he still loses his cool when we reach the classroom door, and I feel my heart physically breaking every time. There are job interviews because this year I will have to work so we can afford the fancy school tuition. And the talk with the athletics teacher, where I do my best to hold back because really, she’s just like me, and the first week of school probably isn’t her favorite either.