Mom Gets Schooled: Lessons I Learned When My Daughter Started Elementary School

My daughter started elementary school this fall, and it ushered a major season of change into my life. Gone forever are my leisurely mornings of 9:30 A.M. preschool drop-offs. Gone are my days of chatting with other moms and teachers at congenial 2:30 P.M. pick-ups. And gone are my “off days,” when the kids and I would decide after breakfast what adventures (or misadventures, as the case more often was) the day held for us. Like so many other experiences in life, having a child in elementary school is something you can only truly appreciate once you have been there. Don’t get me wrong—with just one child a few short months into her Kindergarten year, I’m about as novice as it gets. But even in my rookie season, I’ve learned a few things that I don’t think my preschool mom self ever saw coming.

This is a sunrise. I see a lot of them now.

There is life before 8:00 A.M. I remember very clearly the first time I got a phone call from a friend before 8:00 in the morning. It was a jarring experience. I assumed someone had died. Why else would someone (a) call in the first place; and (b) call before civilization officially starts at 10:00 A.M.? Now I understand very well that this friend was not as savage as I had originally assumed but was simply calling because as a mom to older children, she was well into her day by 8:00 A.M. Yes, ladies, believe it or not, but once your kids are in elementary school, there is a whole universe of activity happening before 8:00 A.M. Calls and texts are being exchanged, groceries are being bought, and treadmills are already up to a jogging pace. It’s a jungle out there while some of you mamas of littles are still nestled snug in your beds.

Email is alive and well. Before my daughter entered elementary school, my inbox was a neglected wasteland of automatic bill pay notices and “40% off your entire purchase” coupons from Old Navy. I tended to check it once a day, generally when I was trying to fall asleep at night. Now my inbox is a bustling hub of legitimate activity. There are emails from my daughter’s teacher and principal, emails from the PTO, emails soliciting volunteers for everything under the sun, emails from the room mom, emails from the school district. If you don’t check your email at least every few hours, you have only yourself to blame when you miss something vital. And to think I was under the impression that email was a dinosaur dying a slow and painful death. How naïve!

Spirit Sticks are the Bitcoin of elementary school. At Meet the Teacher night in August, when this newbie mama was clearly overwhelmed and showing it, several of my veteran mom friends passed by as I glanced at the Spirit Stick table and whispered emphatically in my ear, “You’re gonna want to buy a few of those.” “Really?” I replied in total shock, suspiciously eyeing the colorful but useless-looking rectangles fanned out artfully on the table before me. “Why?” “Trust us,” they purred. “Your daughter is going to love them.” And boy, were they were right! As best I can tell, they are traded between friends with a regularity that would put the stock market to shame. Like Bitcoin, I really don’t understand why Spirit Sticks have value or how that value is assessed, but I do know that whoever has the most wins.

Spirit Shirt Day will make you fantasize about school uniforms. Every Friday at my daughter’s school is Spirit Shirt Day, meaning the students are encouraged to wear a PTO fundraiser shirt to show their school spirit. I love Fridays because I know I won’t have to battle over wardrobe selection or give a second thought to what my daughter should wear. She obediently throws on her neon pink spirit shirt without comment. She’s happy. I’m happy. Everyone wins! The lack of discussion and thought that goes into this issue has made me realize that school uniforms are probably a gift from God.  

Theme weeks will also make you fantasize about school uniforms. I really don’t have anything new to contribute to the existing litany of complaints dialog surrounding theme dress-up weeks at elementary schools other than when it happens to you, you too may wish you could send your child to school in the blissful simplicity of a boring, same-thing-every-day uniform.

A head lice notice is enough to make the strongest mom’s knees buckle. One unassuming afternoon when you’re feverishly checking your millions of emails, one will catch your eye like a glowing neon sign. The subject will read “Head lice,” and the body of the email will say simply “There is a confirmed case of head lice in your child’s grade level.” You will instantly and subconsciously start itching your head, and for the remainder of the day (and possibly week) you will be cursed with phantom itching at the most inopportune times. You will also look at your child from across the room and swear you see tiny movements in her hair, which will cue an impromptu brushing and lice prevention spray session. And just when your paranoia has worn off—BAM!—another email will hammer it right back into you. Lice is like the Macarena: it might be gone for a little while, but it is never gone for good.

The pick-up line experience is no joke. I truly thought I was ready to do battle with the pick-up line on the first day of school. I had been warned that it was a beast, so I took my quest seriously. I had read all the blog posts detailing the do’s and don’ts and considered myself an informed pick-up citizen. I was prepared for the fact that I would have to wait patiently for a ridiculous amount of time to collect my Kindergartner and was armed with ideas of what I could do during that time. I was going to pluck all my errant facial hair into oblivion, catch up on social media, send a few emails of my own, and possibly even enter a zone of zen compliments of some helpful meditation apps. I was a fool. Thirty minutes into my first pick-up line experience, I had a toddler crying that he needed to poop (and emitting the noxious fumes to prove it), I had moved maybe 10 feet from where I started, and I was ready to throw my zenned-out phone out the window. I lasted in the pick-up line for two days. My child now rides the bus.

YES, YOU CAN! I’m going to circle back to the early mornings because they have definitely been my biggest obstacle to overcome. My kids and I are not exactly morning people. We can stay up late with the best of them, but we don’t naturally rise before the sun. Or at least we didn’t use to. When both of my kids were in preschool, I would tell every elementary school mom who would listen to me that I just didn’t think I could get up that early in the morning. They would laugh and assure me that I could. I would say again, for emphasis, with my eyes wildly scanning theirs to see if they truly understood the urgency in my voice, that I actually didn’t think it was even within my ability to wake up before 7:00 A.M. without fail every. single. day. They would, in return, wave their hand dismissively, laugh, and say, “You WILL do it because you HAVE to.”

And what do you know? It’s as simple as that. I have indeed somehow managed to get my daughter to the bus stop by 7:07 A.M. every single morning, not because I want to and certainly not because I enjoy it, but because I have to. If you’re worried—even extremely worried as I was—about the early mornings or anything else involved in elementary school parenting, let me assure you that you will make it happen. And not only will you make it happen, but you will do it well. You might also enjoy the occasional spectacular sunrise as a reward for your effort. Sorry, moms. We grownups don’t get Spirit Sticks as a reward for exemplary accomplishments.

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One Response to Mom Gets Schooled: Lessons I Learned When My Daughter Started Elementary School

  1. Ginny Hogan January 30, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

    EXCELLENT!!! Well put and most entertaining!!