This is my third year of the great American back-to-school
frenzy tradition. I’m embarrassed to admit I’m here like I’m in the middle of a blizzard and I forgot to buy a shovel, much like my former roommate the time he tried to clear two feet of snow off his car with our spatula. If only I’d had 12 weeks of warning that back-to-school time was approaching, right?
In fairness, though, the summer is basically 12 weeks of (sometimes) joyful chaos — a juggling act of camps, babysitters, playdates, and cramming ALL THE BEACH TRIPS into our spare time. I’m just digging out from all the empty sunscreen bottles and I have no idea where our socks are, let alone when soccer practice is supposed to start.
While I did get my son’s backpack early in a sale and remember where I stored it (total win!), I was not at all prepared to pass out from my own exhaustion only minutes after he fell asleep at the end of his first day. It was no surprise that the very next morning we lost our one-day streak of getting to school on time with little to no dragging of feet.
I found myself in my therapist’s office expressing confusion at this exhaustion while she smiled. “Almost every mother I see in here for this roughly four-week back-to-school period is ex-haus-ted,” she said. I realized I’d been focusing so hard on the first day and how my son would adjust to first grade that I hadn’t accounted for the buffering weeks and the uptick in activity.
To complicate things further, my husband and I both have ADHD. We were diagnosed in our 30s, and we are trying to figure out systems to manage our lives. And there’s the added stress of letting your kid down by being that mom who is always late or forgets important events.
I sat for awhile with her trying to figure out how to better manage this chaos. She advised me to mark the last two weeks of August and first two of September off on my calendar every year. During this time, do the bare minimum. No impulse activities or complicated dinner plans. No extra social activities. Just lie low while we adjust to the new routine. (While maybe searching my Gmail inbox for the soccer practice details.)
As adults who struggle with routines, we need to work extra hard to make them happen and maintain them. Hence, exhaustion. So for now, I’m working on putting the necessities on autopilot, starting with meal plans and start/end of day.
Month-long meal plans (which are zero fun for me — sorry meal planners) can be super useful. I had been planning on a weekly schedule, but with all the goings-on there was no plan this week. Tonight we might eat crackers. I’m out of ideas, so feel free to tell me what to eat. A month-long plan not only avoids this pitfall of a busy weekend, it would also allow for me to plan through a few common ingredients and cut food waste. My older son has even started working on meal plans with me, which is fun.
We do have visual schedules for the morning and bedtime routines (which I made from the dollar spot at Target). But I’ve realized we are missing a routine for when the kids get home from school. Unpacking backpacks, sorting papers, and putting dirty lunch containers in the sink are the basics I’m instilling for the coming week. This will take some of the pressure off the mornings, where we frequently find unwelcome surprises when we finally get around to opening the backpacks.
I’ve accepted I’ll never be the mom with the neatest house. I am hoping that with a bit of the stress management routines, we will at least have more time for fun. And in learning these routines myself, I hope to teach my kids how to manage their own chaotic lives as they get older.