Inside: Books and H2 pencils are, of course, essential for back-to-school shopping, but they’re just the beginning. I invite you to consider learning, life, and parenting from another angle.
When I kicked off back-to-school preparations in 2012, it was a grand production. High on pregnancy hormones, sleep deprivation, and an overachiever mentality, I threw myself into the season with all the enthusiasm of a new puppy and let my business consultant training run wild.
It may seem admirably productive, but it’s more sinister than it sounds.
It meant I spent every free moment filling out detailed lesson plans with a different theme for each week of the year, making massive charts, planning my kids’ life down to the minute, and generally driving everybody crazy with my World War II-scale preparations.
I obsessed over just the right curriculum, the most awesome school supplies, and the most dazzlingly enriching activities.
I was quite unaware of the fact that my enthusiasm was somewhat misplaced.
A decade later, I’m more interested in the spaces in between all the events … the small things that don’t make it onto the calendar …the life that happens when I’m not looking.
Here are five habits that I invite you to consider for a better, more peaceful, and more productive back-to-school season and beyond.
1. When Nothing Goes Right, Go Left
No matter what curriculum you pick for your children or how wonderful your school supplies are, there will be days when nothing seems to go right.
That’s when fears, insecurities, and counterproductive impulses ooze out like a pint of ice cream left in the sun.
What if I fail them as a mom and as a teacher?
If I had only done better … if only they were somehow different…
What can you do to infuse these moments, when nothing seems to go right, with love and understanding?
Instead of making the situation worse or feeling sorry for yourself, take the opportunity to bring everyone closer, and build them up from the inside out.
So go left: do the opposite of what you are supposed to do.
Dirty dishes threaten to crack a sink? Go people-watching on the plaza while devouring ice cream cones, winking at each other.
Want to scream or say unkind words? Hug everyone silently instead. After all, hugs were invented to let people know you love them without having to say anything.
Math learning and English writing will happen when the time is right, and it’s not right now.
Takeaway: Whether you choose to or not, you are making deposits in the memory banks of your children. What are you depositing on the days when things don’t go well?
2. Embrace Reality
One of my favorite authors, Michael Singer, Wrote this in Untethered Soul,
“If you attempt to arrange people, places, and things, so they don’t disturb you, it will begin to feel like life is against you. You’ll feel that life is a struggle and that every day is heavy because you have to control and fight with everything.”
I remember a time shortly after having my third child, driving home after swim practice with my newborn, toddler, and preschooler. I was meticulously and precisely outlining in my head how things needed to go when we get home. I can still feel the maniacal sense of joy when the baby did stay asleep in the car seat when transferred home, the toddler did go for a nap without struggle, and the preschooler did entertain himself for a few minutes so that I could catch my breath.
Of course, most days, the reality wasn’t even close to what I wished it to be, and that felt so unfair, so hard, so frustrating…
By the time I had my fourth child, however, I had got over my need to control, predict, plan, and arrange everyone to my liking. And as I learned to let go, I found that life got so much more peaceful!
I learned a simple truth: The energy of surrender accomplishes much more than the energy of control.
Is it easy?
But always worth it.
Takeaway: “The best thing we can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
3. Plan Strategic Downtime
My grandma can’t understand why my meals are eaten over a kitchen sink while I’m loading the dirty dishes into the machine.
Wasn’t that thing designed to make your life easier and less complicated? Aren’t you supposed to have more time now that you have a washing machine, dishwasher, and rumba?
Well. My grandma didn’t have gymnastics meets, TaeKwanDo competitions across the country, swimming lessons three times a week, and cello practice at a school 40 miles away from home.
My grandma didn’t homeschool her kids high-school history right after fifth-grade English, just as the third-grader was getting ready for a math lesson, while the preschooler insisted it was time for her ABCs.
You know how it goes. Sometimes I feel like my brain is going to explode.
This is not a pity party. I chose this life.
That’s why planned pockets of peace are a must.
Challenging to create in our busy lives but so crucial.
Surprisingly, much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores the importance of… nothing.
Nothing means everything when you do it right.
It means parking your devices as far away from you as possible and checking in with your emotional weather.
Hello, [say your own name], how are you today? Are you okay? You do so much for everyone; what can I do for YOU today?
Here’s an important clarification: Downtime doesn’t mean watching a show, calling a friend, or eating yourself silly. Your brain is already full. Don’t ask it to consume anymore!
Nothing means doing nothing … but breathing. One breath in, one out, and on and on until you feel light as a feather floating on a summer breeze …. Or fall asleep. But that’s okay too: it means you really need it.
Takeaway: The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
4. Things Love Dust
Although I loathe to admit it, I love stuff.
I can’t even tell you how many brands of homeschool curriculum I now have in my house, and I’m sure the UPS guy sees me more often than his own family.
Educational games, art supplies, history books, science equipment, … everything seems so important when I look at it on my computer screen, inching toward that “buy now” button.
Where to draw the line?
How many books/ resources per kid?
Perhaps per subject?
I have to remind myself that what my children really need is simply my presence.
I can choose to be a comforting and predictable presence in their lives. I can also be a frenzied Mama ripping the Amazon packages open with a mad glint in my eyes and spending hours each day dusting all the materials we will never get a chance to use.
I’m saying this for my own benefit as much as yours: become selective and picky about what you bring into your life. Those glitter markers, cute pencils shaped like bunnies, and educational board games are awesome but think of them down the line in a few months sitting on your bookshelves gathering dust.
Takeaway: Everything you own owns you right back, so be selective with what you bring into your home.
5. Fun is Underrated
OMG, who has time for fun?!
I hear you.
I have five loads of laundry, an orthodontist appointment in the morning after gymnastics practice, dog shots in the afternoon right before taekwondo, four hungry kids, and a house that looks like something exploded here.
I have to work hard to remind myself that life is a celebration, and the dust bunnies will always be there. (In fact, I think that if one day they all magically disappeared, I would actually miss them).
If we don’t consciously and energetically make room for creating fun in our lives, it’s not going to happen.
We only live once. Cliche? Yeah, I know! But so true. If you don’t live your life well, who will do it for you?
If you want to avoid those deathbed regrets, fill your cup with sunshine and laughter. Do your favorite hobby, share goofy jokes, encourage clowning in the kitchen, give instructions in a silly voice, wear funny hats and wigs, and laugh with your kids for no reason.
And when you succeed in creating positive energy in your life, let your cup runneth over and share it with others… with the whole world!
Because you can! And because the more you give away, the more you receive.
Takeaway: Carry laughter with you wherever you go.
Despite our best intentions, going back to school can be challenging. Part of that is just the reality of life – we are truly busy, overscheduled, overwhelmed, and overstretched. But setting aside time to focus on the important things, like connection, recharging, decluttering, and taking a planned break, can make all the difference in the memories you take away from this time.
I wish you a peaceful and happy new school year!