Now that I've wrestled with all the angst and emotions of turning forty, I can turn my mind to all things practical. Things like how to teach a nine-year old to pick his clothes up off the floor, or to not clog the toilet with too much toilet paper; things like getting your five-year old to pick out her outfit the night before, so precious minutes each morning aren't wasted in fashion negotiations; things like getting an almost air-tight organizational system into place so we can hit the ground running every Monday morning and make it through the week.
We are half-way through T.’s first full week of kindergarten and I’m beginning to breathe a little easier. Even though it’s only been four years since L. headed off to kindergarten, it feels like much more time has passed than that. We've logged so many hours elbow-deep in school-related damage control and related struggles over these past few years that we'd forgotten just what it's like to have a brand-new kindergartener in the house. We were also a little unprepared for how on top of everything we'd need to be in order to just stay afloat. But sending your second (or third or fourth) child off to elementary school is not unlike riding a bicycle, I think; you do it once, and everything comes rushing back the next time. Before long you find yourself making reward charts, organizing school folders, and diligently smearing peanut butter and nutella on a week's worth of sandwiches so you can freeze them, and use them later.
Here are some of the strategies we've learned to capitalize on over the years:
Drowning in school-generated fliers, handouts, and forms? When in doubt, make a folder for it. I love folder systems. Before the start of each new semester I load up on folders from the dollar store, or the office supply store. I label them accordingly, and I staple my class rosters to the inside of one of each of the folders. Not long after I discovered the beauty of the folder system at home, L. started kindergarten and brought home with him, on the first day, a deluge of papers: handouts, forms, brochures, fliers. I used to leave them in a pile on one end of the kitchen table, but the pile kept growing and growing with each passing day, and I'd shuffle it from one end of the table to the other. Finally, I found a plastic paper sorter tray at the thrift store and created a folder system—one color for papers to be signed, another for time-sensitive fliers, etc. Now that T. is in kindergarten I’ve already set up a folder system like that for her papers, although I’m happy to see that her school is relying more on electronic, more eco-friendly ways of communication.
Create a family calendar, and hang it in a prominent place. This might be old news for some of you veteran parents of school-age kids, but it is by far one of the best ways to keep everyone in the family in sync with family obligations, meetings, and events. Because Scott and I spend most days passing each other like ships in the night, we use the family calendar to make sure we stay in touch with what’s coming up. As soon as I schedule a meeting, an appointment, or an event, I write it into the calendar; Scott does the same. I'm sure that as the kids get older they will, hopefully, learn to add their own information to the calendar.
Don't put off until tomorrow, what you can do today. It took me a LONG time to get a handle on this one. By the time I get home in the afternoon I'm tired, and rushing to get what feels like a million things done. The LAST thing I feel like doing is putting together lunches for kids, and for myself. But despite all that, I've learned that spending a little time the night before school packing and organizing lunches and snacks can be a glorious thing indeed when morning comes. Seize the moment! Go nuts! Chop veggies, make sandwiches, boil extra pasta, cook up a large batch of edamames in the pod, and store all of that for use during the week.
(One of the beautiful benefits of using bento boxes, I've found, is that you can easily put together the lunch the night before, close the lid, and everything stays stored inside. No need to use additional tupperware containers.)
Get as many systems up and running smoothly as you can before school starts--this applies to homework, transportation, volunteerism, teacher workdays. This summer we sat down with a calendar and mapped out the coming months, deciding when we could volunteer at L.'s school, and when we could spend time at T.'s school. We discussed what to do with the kids on teacher workdays. We revamped our homework system (check out this older post of mine on homework tips) and thoroughly explained it to L., and we discussed how we'd approach homework with T. when the time comes.
Obviously no amount of planning can predict everything (like the Great School Boycott of 2009), but it did help to have given some thought and planning to it all. Sometimes even going through the motions of keeping it all together can do wonders for your sanity, even if you're never quite sure how you make it through each day.