Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Survive 'Back to School'

Summer goes by too fast. Worse, stores prematurely advertise sales for “back to school” halfway through summer break, making summer fly by that much faster.

As a kid, I hated those sales telling me my summer fun was coming to an end. As a parent, I still hate those sales, reminding me that my kid is one year closer to becoming a teenager who hates my guts.

But no matter how much you hate the fact that school is starting, and no matter how much you remember despising your parents for making you go back to school when you were a kid, you still have to send your children to school, whether they beg to work from home or not.

“Yippie,” my 8-year-old son hollered when my wife and I gave him his back-to-school date this year. “I can’t wait to go back.”

Who is this kid? Certainly not yours. Your children will most likely refuse to go. They’ll threaten your life with the pudding spoons you pack in their lunches. Remember that this is normal behavior, and that your kids won’t actually attempt to make good on their threats. Then send them on their crying way.

I still hate first days back to school. You must bravely navigate through ferocious hordes that slam you out of their way into playground equipment, that swing over your head from monkey bars to get in line for class before anyone else. These are the moms and dads. The kids are sometimes worse -- only sometimes, though.

Then there are crying kids who don’t want to leave moms and crying moms who don’t want their kids to leave. Don’t let these syrupy scenes deter you from getting to your child’s class on time. It’s survival of the fittest out there -- cut others down before they cut you down.

Once you survive finding your child’s class line, be prepared to deal with real life-and-death problems. Your child will complain that all his friends are in other classes. Parents whose children got the best teacher in school will tell you that your child’s new teacher is the “fun one,” which means they think your teacher can’t teach and that they’re lucky their child got a teacher who can.

Defuse such a problem by asking these parents what they did for summer break. When they tell you what they did, fabricate a vacation “you took” that makes their trip look like a Sunday outing. That’ll tick them off. Then go to the office and see if you can switch classes.

The office will most likely deny your request, and rightfully so. No teacher deserves oversized classes, not even the so-called best ones.

Better yet, skip the hassle of going to the office and instead tell other parents and your child that you heard the teacher your kid got is actually the best in the school. Make up a few wild statistics to prove it. Don’t worry, nobody’s gonna fact-check you, unless, of course, you’re speaking with a room mom -- room moms can and will find out everything about your school.

Picture taking on the first day of school is a must. I’m not a fan of school paparazzi, but my wife is. We’ve got two external hard drives full of pictures to prove it.

This year, I was sent alone to cover the first day of school. For those of you who find yourselves in the same predicament, use your cell phone’s camera to be more discreet. Infringe on poses other paparazzi parents set up with your kids and theirs, and snap away. Your absent spouse will revel in photos she thinks you set up. Accept this unjust praise.

Checking the backpacks after that first day of school is always painful. This year, my son brought home two reams of paper from his teacher. When this happens to you, don’t smile and assume you just received free printer paper. This is your homework -- you have to fill out that mountain of paperwork and return the next day.

Throughout that paperwork will be indicators that your children will be learning more this year than you learned in all of your grade school education. My son’s in third grade, and he’s going to be learning calculus and how to write a multi-source I-search paper. Don’t feel inferior to your kids. Just tell them they won’t need any of that useless knowledge when they get into the real world.

The bottom line is your kids are growing. You might tell yourselves that they’re still your babies. This reaction is normal. It just means you don’t want to be older. I call this, fittingly, the “I don’t want to be older” phenomenon.

My wife and I are in our mid to late 30s with one child, and we’re guilty of not wanting to be older. We don’t want time to fly. We don’t want our son to grow up and leave us for a life of his own. We want the baby we had when we were younger, the baby who needs us, who wants us.

And so there’s a solution: Have another kid and relive those grand days of youth.

Only problem is, in just a few years, summer break will be over and that baby will be going back to school.

-August 2011

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