For some reason, the question I am most often asked as a mother of five (besides Hey lady is this your kid running naked though my yard?) is “Do you home school your kids?” I suppose people are curious because so many large families do chose to home school—enough that it has become somewhat of a stereotype. Nevertheless my response to that question is always “You’re kidding, right?” See, in my mind, home schooling one single child seems feasible if you are the teacher-y type, which I am not. But the mere notion staying home all day, every day with my own five children while I attempt to teach them everything from their ABCs to long division sounds downright horrific. While I have nothing but the strongest admiration for those who can pull it off, I know that if I attempted it myself, my children would learn their lessons from PBS while I sat in the closet crying.
Nope. I am the mother who has the first day of school circled on her calendar in bright yellow marker. It is the light at the end of my long summer tunnel, the gold at the end of my double rainbow, the salt in the margarita that will be consumed at when the sound of the rattling bus disappears into the distance. But before us slacker-moms can rejoice in end-of-summer celebration, there is one last hurdle we must jump to earn our daily six hours of peace and quiet: back to school shopping.
I can’t claim to dislike back to school shopping. It’s a great excuse to peruse the office supply store and inhale the heavenly aroma of fresh new binders and dry erase markers. But having to do it with all of my children sucks the fun right out of it. Something as simple as buying a folder turns into a 20 minute deliberation over unicorns vs. puppies and kittens. I buy a 25-cent bottle of white glue; they want the $3.00 scented glittery version so that when it leaks all over their pencil box at least it will be pretty. I have attempted to make the school supply excursion alone in the past but am always left feeling guilty when I remember how much fun I had as a child picking out my own supplies.
I only have two children in elementary school who actually require school supplies, but my two preschoolers can’t bear to miss out on the fun. They plead to stock up on scissors they aren’t allowed to use, pencils that they don’t know how to write with yet, and crayons that will end up broken and melted in the broiler drawer of my oven by the end of the week.
The supply lists that the teachers provide are handy but a huge change from what I grew up with. Back in my day (did I just say that?) we were required to get a pencil, a folder, a box of crayons and some glue. Sure, some of us scored a super cool hot pink Trapper Keeper, but overall it was a fairly basic list. My kids come home with a laundry list of specifics that leave me combing the discount stores with a slew of other frantic moms the night before school resumes. Pencils can’t just be pencils anymore. They have to be plainly colored with a #2 lead and a white eraser. And don’t bother with an 8-pack; each child needs 24 pre-sharpened regulation pencils on the first day of class. A glue stick simply doesn’t cut it anymore; my kids were asked to come to class with TWELVE clear drying glue sticks each. What on earth is the class gluing together that would necessitate 240 glue sticks in a 9 month span of time? By the time all five of my children are in school, I will require three shopping carts just for the bare essentials.
As annoying as shopping for supplies may be, it pales in comparison to the torture of buying new clothes. I most definitely take no issue in passing my four girls’ clothes down from one to the next, but the chain of hand-me-downs must start somewhere. My eldest daughter and my only son grow rapidly, requiring a nearly complete new wardrobe each year, and the littler ones need a few new things to round out their closets as well. At 6 and 7 years of age, purchasing school clothes should be a simple task; a few pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts, a fresh pair of kicks, and a pack of underwear—done. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. Somewhere along the line, children as young as kindergarten began to care about labels and styles. Nothing will convince me and my wallet to go into an expensive store just for the name; however I do try to keep them looking fashionable and reasonably trendy. My kids seem to know exactly what they want, so all that is left is for me to haggle with them over hemlines and price tags.
Once the trauma of shopping is over, nothing is left to do but put them on the bus and wave goodbye. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for all summer, the return of my sanity; no more fighting rambunctiously bored children, no more late nights of playing. So why on earth does it make me cry every single year? How do I begin missing the little buggers before the bus even pulls away? Seeing them climb aboard the big yellow bus, each year so drastically older than the previous, is a harsh reminder of how fast the years are going. Over the next three years, my youngest three children will also be sent off for kindergarten to begin the flash of time that is their school years, returning each fall a little more independent and ready to be away from home. While it’s beautiful to watch them grow, it is a bittersweet feeling to see my babies maturing and acquiring lives that don’t center around their mommy.
Each school year is a new adventure full of lessons learned—both in the books and in the scary social spider web of childhood—that our children will carry with them into adulthood. So raise your glasses to another summer gone and embrace the new crisp mornings that are upon us as you tearfully wave goodbye to your children and curl back up in bed for another hour of sleep.