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Monday, July 5, 2010

End of School Year Madness - How Can We Moms Cope?

This blog was originally written for the Partnership for Drug Free America's Decoder Blog.

I am sitting at my 10-year-old daughter’s fifth grade “promotion” ceremony (that’s what we call graduation at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD) and the school band is playing the “Star Spangled Banner”. They have vastly improved from “Hot Cross Buns” a year before – but they still have a long way to go. One of the teachers has a fabulous baritone which is managing to drown out most of the squeaking. But still, my head is beginning to ache.

The hot and humid gymnasium is making us all question why we are not wearing shorts and flip flops. The woman next to me has freed her toddler from the stroller and is trying to keep her from running right into the middle of the ceremony, with limited success. Parents are standing up and cheering wildly for their children.

My 14-year-old son has come along only because of a girl on whom he has a massive crush is there. He points her out to me and instructs me not to act weird.

I always forget to bring a camera but this time I didn’t. And just as luck would have it, the only shots I can get are the backs of other parents’ heads. At one point, as the entire fifth grade belted out “Lean on Me”, I simply walked to the front, kneeled down amidst a small group of the more aggressive parents, and took photos of the side of my daughter’s head singing to the boy next to her.

The next day there is an hour long “clap out” ceremony – where the parents and the entire elementary school claps and cheers as the fifth graders proudly walk through the halls. Then there is a school picnic, a party in a local park, a pool party, and three birthday parties for good friends which require thoughtful presents.

And all of this is only for one of my two children.

I also have to return school books to the high school my son transferred from and retrieve a trumpet, get the pediatrician to fill out camp health forms, search frantically to find a last-minute camp for a week that isn’t filled and buy a teacher’s gift.

Professionally, I have multiple deadlines, a couple of lunch meetings and several conference calls.

Welcome to the end of school and the beginning of summer, probably the hardest time of the year for working and stay-at-home moms. While the dads come to most events, and some help more than others, for the most part we moms are the drivers, schedulers, organizers, finders of missing items one second before walking out the door, and huggers of children who at some point will realize they will not see their friends every day for the next two and a half months. I’d compare it to a roller coaster ride but it’s really more like a full-blown tornado.

I have screamed twice – once alone at the house and once at my kids who are incapable of not dumping everything they walk in the house with onto the living room floor. Yoga helps – if I can find the time to do it.

When I finished fifth grade, I got on the bus with my friends, went to someone’s house and we rode our bikes around the neighborhood and squirted each other with a hose.

When did the end of the school year become so complicated?

We’ve all read about overscheduled children but what about overscheduled parents? What about overscheduled end-of-the-year activities? Why does everything your child does have to be celebrated in a way that requires parental attendance? Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children and would do anything for them. But enough is enough.

Even if we try to keep after school activities to a minimum — to one or two activities per child — they still have to get there and get home. Throw an entire other layer of obligations on top of that and a corporate executive would crack under pressure.

I should be able to give some salient advice to other parents about this end of school time, since my kids are a bit older and I have plenty of practice. But whatever I say is going to end up sounding like every parenting article you’ve ever read.

So instead, I will tell you what a parent whose kids are in college said to me the other day about coping with the end-of-the-school-year madness.

She said, “You don’t have to always say yes.” And that, although we may feel guilty about following it, is great advice.

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