The 5 phases of moms’ back-to-school blues

Dear moms,

Whatever stage of parenting you are in, on the first day of school, know this:

You will survive.

You might not have five kids, like I do, to place your phases into neat little categories, but it only takes one time for us to share the back-to-school bond.

So, if today is your first time, read below, and cry away. If today is your third time, please enjoy it for me. If today is your 15th time, accept my deepest respect.

Most importantly, (and I’m saying this for myself as much as I am for you) all phases are perfectly acceptable.

We will survive.


Phase 1:

On the first day of school, CHILD#1 was all dressed up in a perfect outfit selected just for the occasion. The brand-name pink dress matched her personalized pink backpack and chic brown leather boots.  The boots were adorned with flowers that were the same two pinks of her backpack and dress. The detailed accessorizing was absolutely necessary. Her “look” had to equal her worth. Perfection was the only option. Her long hair was styled in flawless pigtails with stationary bows; everything was doused with hairspray to perform their duty throughout the long school day. She couldn’t get to her classroom fast enough. As she walked into her kindergarten class she greeted her teacher with a handshake, a hand-made note communicating her excitement to learn, double school supplies, and a carefully wrapped teacher’s gift. She already knew how to read, write, and do simple math. She was just there to show off and tutor her new friends.

Her mom would sit stoic through the parent separation meeting where the teacher read “The Kissing Hand.” Her permanent squint barricaded the threatening waterfall of tears. She would go home and bawl while praying for her baby to be safe. This daily ritual would last all year.

Phase 2:

On the first day of school, CHILD #2 was in the outfit that her mom gently guided her to choose from the clearance rack at Target. She didn’t really like the red polo top, but her mom said it made her look smart, especially with her new glasses. Her jeans were gently worn, and her tennis shoes were double-knotted so that the teacher wouldn’t have to be bothered to help her re-tie them later. Her hair was cut short to make it easier in the mornings. Between the glasses and the headband it would hopefully stay out of her face for the rest of the day. She clenched her mom’s hand and was barely dragged along to her classroom. She greeted her teacher with a bowed head, a forced smile, and a backpack full of supplies that her mom hoped she wouldn’t be forced to share. She had a few extra boxes of Kleenex for her teacher. She could write her name, read a few words, and surely her puzzle mastery counted for the math. She was there because she wanted to be a big girl like her sister, but she was scared to death.

Her mom would not listen at all during the parent meeting because it was just easier that way. She willfully forced herself from the school dragging her large cement slab of worry to the car where she would sit and cry with the toddler in the back. The next day would be a little easier, but her aching would last all year.

Phase  3:

On the first day of school, CHILD#3 wore the outfit her sisters told her was the cutest at one of the fifty stores where they went back-to-school shopping. It was a plain combination of a shirt, skirt, and matching shoes. The clothes were new and she was ecstatic about owning something that no one else wore before her. Her shoes did not have shoelaces, but velcro fasteners. Even though her mom had always sworn her kids would know how to tie their shoes by kindergarten, she had changed her mind after a hundred unsuccessful demonstrations. Her hair was mid-length in two messy pigtails. She gladly skipped along side her mom. After all, this school was her second home. She was poised and familiar with her teacher: she’d known her for a year already. Inside her backpack was everything from the supply list except for the unnecessary things that her mom knew that the teacher had never gotten around to removing from the ancient list. Her mom carried a whole case of Kleenex as a gift for the teacher. Teachers never have enough tissues and this kid had an allergy-induced dependency on them. She could write her name and sit still for a story, but that was it. She gave her mom a tentative hug and told her to hurry and leave before she embarrassed her further.

Her mom left the parent meeting in a hurry. She had a date with the local bakery for breakfast. The freedom would last all year even though she occasionally worried for the sanity of her kids’ teachers. The only crying would happen that morning while eating her quiche: a single tear would roll down her cheek because of the touching plot-line of her book.

Phase  4:

On the first day of school, CHILD#4 wore something.  It may not have matched because if her mom told her it didn’t and she insisted that was what she wanted to wear, her mom relented. The clothes may have been from the rack at the thrift-store or from a bag of hand-me-downs in the garage.  Either way they were new to her and she felt fancy. She was the first one in the family to wear sandals on the first day of school. It was warm enough, and her mom figured the easiest way for her to learn that she didn’t want sod trapped between her toes at recess was to get the experience over with. Her hair was brushed. She didn’t need her mom to walk her to her class. School was exciting, but not nearly as thrilling as Disneyland. Her mom insisted on walking her to the front door of the school and then again insisted on a hug before letting her sisters walk her the rest of the way. Inside her backpack was nothing but an emergency change of clothes in a ziplock bag. They’d get the supplies later. For the teacher there was a gift-card to Wal-mart, but it hadn’t been purchased yet. She knew how to write her name, but the “a” was always backwards.

If there was a parent meeting, mom hadn’t heard about it. She waddled from the school and hurried home for a nap.  She only had ’til noon to pick her kindergartner back up, and there was only two weeks before her next baby would be born. The noon pick up would remain her largest source of frustration for the rest of the year especially when she had to wake up the baby from his nap. Some days she would cry about it.

Phase  5:

On the first day of school, CHILD#5 wore a t-shirt, some cotton pants, and a dry diaper. He was lucky she hadn’t left his pajamas on. He was shoe-less. He didn’t walk. His hair was brushed with some baby lotion to mask the musky baby boy scent. He sat in the stroller waving at all the energetic kids lining up outside the school. They would occasionally wave back when his sister pointed him out. School was a place where mom would take him from time to time. He and mom both waved to sister as she hugged her teacher and walked inside, but she didn’t turn around or wave back. His mom threw caution to the wind that morning and had brought him to the school without a bottle or a diaper. Really, she was just in a hurry. He couldn’t write his name. He couldn’t even say his name.

Mom conducted a parent meeting as she walked back to her car. She hurried the stroller past the other moms in her running clothes saying: “I was almost free. Lucky for me, this guy is going to keep me company for another five years.”  After her run, when she got home, she refused to cry. She plopped the baby in the highchair with some cheerios and opened up her laptop.


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