First Day of School by Rajdeep Paulus

When you miss your kid getting off the bus—and she takes the scenic route around the neighborhood then back to school to wait for you in the principal’s office—remember: It’s going to be okay. Really, it is. This local mom shares her recipe for back-to-school success.
The author’s daughter Sarah, 5, on her first day of kindergarten, photographed getting off the bus since Mommy forgot her camera on the way to school

The author’s daughter Sarah, 5, on her first day of kindergarten, photographed getting
off the bus since Mommy forgot her camera on the way to school

The sound of Family Force 5 on my iPhone jars me out of a really good dream. Darn that alarm just when I’m getting to the part where I fly across an ocean with wings made of see-through glass. So what if Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero growing up? I see no connection.

My now two middle-schoolers are already changed, and my oldest is crossing things off a list—her new go-to way of being organized. One day down, only 300ish to go. Time to make the pancakes.

And just as I break the egg into my from-scratch recipe, Hubs strolls into the kitchen. “You know there’s ready-made pancake mix in the pantry, don’t you?” Umm, yeah. But I choose to do what Mom of the Year would do. Actually, I couldn’t find it, so here we are. At least I hope to get as much air time as the rest of the moms who get shoutouts on the playground.

“You know my mom made pancakes for breakfast?”

“Mine too. And she even topped mine with peanut butter and syrup, then did her swirly fork design and, probably because it was the first day of school, she even cut mine up for me!” [That would be my kid!]

Can’t chance the “Mine was still sleeping. So I just did the cereal thing.” Not on the first day, of all days.

Hubs wakes me from my mental digression with a little song-and-dance routine that has us all laughing. “Wish every day was the first day of school. Wish every day was the first day of school!”

“Why?” I ask, shaking my head at his too-much-energy for this not-a-morning-person wife of his.

“Because mom makes breakfast on the first day of school!” he sings. “Yes, mom makes pancakes on the first day of school!” Totally walked into that one.

And that’s what I’m here to tell you. For all the overacheiver moms out there who didn’t get it perfectly right, and for all the underachiever moms (like me) that are in disguise for the day, this one’s for you. And the dads too, because they need a word of encouragement like the rest of us. I hope.

Today, on the first day of school, you MUST KNOW:

1. It’s okay if your kid didn’t eat all her breakfast. She won’t starve. Feeding children is a priority in schools. Snack time. Class birthdays, with cupcakes and juice boxes, almost daily to celebrate some kid’s birthday, and party time, because every national holiday calls for a feast. Besides, she was probably a tad nervous this morning, and better to keep it light so she doesn’t hurl freshly swallowed banana pancakes on the kid sitting next to her on the bus. Yeah. Not the best way to make friends. Plus, her first day of school outfit will be ruined and the backup outfit—in case your child needs an emergent change—will be used up. On the first day. That is, unless you forgot to pack one… Which brings me to my second point:

2. It’s okay if you forgot to pack something. Those poor kids are carrying so many school supplies that if they did this daily, we’d have some little Tough Mudders in the making with all that upper body training. Plus, your kid might feel extra-special to arrive on day two with something to hand the teacher, giving him an extra moment in the spotlight. Or not. Main thing to know is we all forget things, and teachers forgive. Even if you forget their lunch or snacks… Which brings me to my third point:

3. If you forget something, it’s okay if the school calls you. “Mrs. Paulus, what would you like Sarah to eat for lunch, because she has a shiny new Batman Begins lunch box but nothing inside it? Will you be dropping off her lunch?” Or better yet, the year I got the call when Lydia first started school: “Mrs. Paulus, your daughter ate her lunch for snack. Now she has no lunch. What would you like to do?”

My point is, sometimes the school will call to tell you there’s a problem. Usually a minor one, because by law, they’re kind of obligated to tell you and ask you if you’d like to fix it. Not all schools work this way, but when the call comes, even if it’s on the first day, don’t panic. You haven’t been black-listed. Yet. It takes some three-peats and accumulated frequent fails to get on the list. I should know. I’m pretty sure I’m on it. Which brings me to my fourth point:

4. It’s okay to mess up as a parent. Even miss the bus on the first day. Which my first two did. But my second two didn’t. That makes me a 50-percent success story on the first day (though I claim 100 percent, since the only reason my first two missed the bus was this mommy wanted to help Daughter No. 1 with her hair, and these things take time—curling irons are not meant to run through your hair at the same speed as a hairbrush). And getting dropped off on the first day of school means you get to see the principal sporting his first-day-of-school kilt. Which I was disappointed to see he didn’t have on. “Don’t worry,” Mr. Hogan assured me. “I’ll bring it out on the really special days.” Which brings me to my last and final point:

5. Every day is a really special day when you’re given one more opportunity to parent. And it’s a learning process, for both your children and you. For all the how-to books out there on raising children, I’ve yet to see the perfect parent’s manual published. At least not one that actually winds it down to a science. Because parenting, heck life, does not boil down to a formula.

But…if I were to propose a recipe for a mostly successful first day of school, I’d include:
• A spoonful of patience, two for good measure
• A cup of hugs and kisses, or two or three (no limit, really)
• Words of encouragement, because you can always tell them what to do when they come home from school
• A send-off song, because music makes everything better! (For the record, Hubs chose the baw baw chick chick chicka song from the credits roll of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame…oh, yeah.)
• Grace—for you and your kids. Nobody’s perfect, and grace reminds us that we’re all a work in progress—and that second chances, third, and 50th chances are okay. It’s not about the peak. To quote a Miley Cyrus song (because one stupid act doesn’t erase all she has contributed along the way), “It’s the climb.” Best part, no one climbs alone. We’re in it together. Definitely the best part.

Rajdeep Paulus is the Locust Valley-based author of the young adult novels Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones (Playlist, 2014). When Paulus is not writing, you just might find her dancing with her four princesses, kayaking with her husband, coaching basketball, or eating dark chocolate while sipping a frothy, sugar-free latte.
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