Truth time: For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve found the whole back-to-school thing so over the top. The photos of kids posed on porches with brand-new backpacks, lunch boxes, and haircuts while holding sparkly homemade signs that announce their name and grade? Yeah, they’re cute. But it looks like such a dang production and I’m just not really a pull-out-all-the-stops kind of parent; unnecessary hassles make me hyperventilate.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids are precious and back-to-school is, undoubtedly, a great time of year. It’s just that I’m a mom who’s normally long on love but short on time, and working hard to keep our lives running—particularly at that hectic time of year—has meant that those rituals have felt like too much for me. A tad showy. Performative, I’d say, if I were wearing my old academic hat. Yeah, my kids have always started the year with the supplies they needed, and I’ve even let them indulge in the new haircut tradition once or twice. I’ve just never been big on documenting this milestone down to the last detail and plastering the family’s back-to-school experience all over my socials.
But this year, nothing—absolutely nothing—is normal, and I find myself flipping a 180 on my scrooge-y, back-to-school ways. Like so many families, we’re staring down the barrel of an indefinite period of virtual learning. My two kids won’t set foot in their classrooms on the first day—nor will they meet their teacher IRL until god only knows when. Add to that the fact that my second and fifth graders are starting at a brand-new school where they won’t know a soul, and the first time they’ll see the faces of their classmates will be by video chat. (As someone who reads the news, I agree with the decision to start the school year virtually; for kids, it still sucks.)
Naturally, the extent to which any of our kids will learn in this strange moment is a giant question mark. How they’ll manage socially, and whether loneliness or anxiety will take up increasing space at the table—well, we just don’t know. As working parents, my husband and I are stressed out. And our kids? Yeah, they’re feeling it, too. It’s been a looooooong five months.
In the first months of the pandemic, last spring, my husband and I cobbled together an improvised educational program; he taught a smattering of American history while I threw some literature and vocabulary our kids’ way. There was, of course, an abundance of screen time to fill up the time. Then came summer, which didn’t include the expected trip to Grandpa’s in the Midwest and the loads of blackberry picking that usually goes along with it. There were no excursions to the local water park, and most of the creative camps my kids would typically attend were off the table this year—as were sleepovers and trips to the movies. My seven-year-old’s most-used new vocab word to describe—let’s think—every day since mid-March? “Disappointing.”
So here we are. The fact that there’s no in-person school to go back to this fall means that it would be extra easy for me to just let the start of this school year slip by without fanfare, because, you know, we’re all trying to survive here and a mom’s gotta prioritize. The beginning of school could simply become yet another (boring, disappointing) day.
But, this year, I won’t let that happen. I am making this the back-to-school-iest of back-to-schools. My kids need something to get jazzed about, this milestone needs to be celebrated. Also, our family needs a clear demarcation between summer—where things have admittedly gotten a bit feral around here—and fall. And I definitely need this moment to transition mentally from “the world is falling apart,” to “this is normal, for now.”
New outfits for each day of the week? Ordered. School supplies color-coded, name-tagged, and arranged in photo-worthy symmetry? Check. Big, sparkly homemade signs? You bet. And on the first day of school, we’ll be out on our front porch with a pancake breakfast (and possibly a mimosa for me) taking tons of pictures and plastering them all over social media. Sorry/not sorry.
What’s more, I’ll “love” and comment on each and every one the back-to-school pics that my friends post because, at this point, I’m guessing we all need a little pep rally. Plus, kids really are cute.
Maybe next year I’ll have the luxury of taking fall routines for granted (once again) and scrooging on those back-to-school rituals (once again). But in 2020, you’ll find me throwing a dance party in our kitchen and celebrating the start of the school year like it’s 1999. Like I said, nothing this year is normal.