The other day, I read on Facebook that one of my friends just completed her main preparation for the onset of school. She described her “annual pre-school purging of widowed plastic lids and bottoms, missing cup tops and lonely snack sets.” Basically, she takes a big trash bag and tosses any plastic ware that isn’t in tip-top shape and ready to perform its duties.
I was inspired by her zeal and even though I’ve just recently gotten around to emptying the backpacks from June, I decided to ask around and see what other preparatory rituals people take part in.
Although each mom seems to have her own ways of tackling things, several categories show up on most everyone’s list.
Start the Calendar
Nancy Friedman, mother of three boys, said, “I write down all the important school dates (back to school night, conference days, big trips) on my desk calendar and my own planner. Then I am ready. Sort of.” Most moms considered this the base level prep. Some need to add PTA or other community meetings into the list. Others schedule all their annual doctor visits at this time.
“Everything from the past school year either gets recycled or placed in a folder and archived into a large cedar chest upstairs,” said Patti Jordan, a Montclair mother of an incoming middle-schooler and an incoming high school student.
Another mother who wanted to remain anonymous said, “Late August is definitely my time to organized my house. I clearcut and "burn" my kids rooms (those are forestry terms). I have to do one while she’s at camp because she’s a pack rat and would keep every Barbie shoe even though she hasn't touched a Barbie in years. This year, I felt I had overdone it and was worried that she would be traumatized at the lack of clutter when she returned. So after I placed eight huge bags of her stuffed animals, outgrown clothing, Barbies and knick knacks on my stoop for the Veterans pick up, I messed her bed up a little bit and threw all of her million bed pillows on the floor. It had that lived-in, messy look in spite of the purge. When she got home, she said, ‘My room looks great and I'm so glad that you didn't get rid of anything like you did last year!’”
One mother says, “Everything needed for the current school year for both my boys, now has a folder created, color-coded for each child. That's the best I can do.”
“I make folders for everything,” said Shelley Rawley, with a boy and girl in high school. “I have a folder for academic things, like schedules, a folder for each sport for each kid, a folder for community service, everything. When paperwork comes in, I put it immediately in its proper folder. I keep them all in a basket in the kitchen so I can get to them easily.”
Debbie Hadley, mother of four, said, “I raid the kids' desk drawers, pencil and pen holders and old backpacks looking for unused or slightly used pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, book covers, pencil sharpeners, filler paper, index cards, art supplies, calculators - you name it. I am always amazed at how much I find. I then organize all the findings in our 'office supply' closet. When the kids come home with their school supply lists I have them shop in the office closet first.”
Another mother of three makes sure she inventories pens and pencil supplies so she’s not replicating. She checks highlighters and white-out to make sure they haven’t dried out. And she stocks up on printer paper. “I keep some things in a hiding place for emergency situations,” she said.
One mother’s motto: “You can never have enough poster board.”
Lunch and Dinners
One mom makes a list of lunch ideas and hangs it on her fridge. “It makes life easier if I can just refer to my list,” she said. Another goes to the bank and gets a stash of $1 and $5 bills that can be dispersed for lunches or treats. A third uses these last weeks of summer to start freezing meat sauce.
One friend provided me with her inspired list of activities. One of the things I liked about it was that it included ways to enjoy these last few weeks as well as prepare for the onslaught.
1. Go through all kids drawers and closets and shoe bins. Give all clothes, shoes, and cleats to friends who can use them or to Goodwill, and give backpacks that are in good condition (and washed) to a local food pantry.
2. Stock up on bottled water for school lunches.
3. Buy soccer cleats and socks or running shoes and socks before the season starts, preferably now.
4. Sort out bookshelves and games and give whatever the kids are done with to teachers who can use them.
5. Change batteries in kids' alarm clocks.
6. Empty out, wipe down and put away all luggage and travel & camp related stuff.
7. Empty out all email, IPad and mobile phone inboxes (which is easier than actually cleaning out real drawers!).
8. Reinforce that the kids are NOT getting iPhones and Blackberrys, and that they are not getting TVs in their rooms. (This needs to get said every year!)
9. Set "resolutions." A mom's year tracks the kids' school year so it is more apropos to set goals in August than at end of December.
10. Try to sit down to dinner with family as much as possible, before the school and sports calendars take over. Use the grill as much as possible.
11. Enjoy the Jersey produce — peaches, tomatoes, and corn are at their best now.
12. Get out with girlfriends this month for a dinner at a favorite place that is quieter now, or get to the movies.
She ended her list with: “There are more, but here’s a start.”
There’s always more, it seems, and no matter how earnest my August attempts, the first week of school usually hits me like a bucket of water in the face.
One mother of three summed up my sentiments exactly: “I wish I had a ritual, but it's usually pure chaos over here.”