Autumn Time – A Parent’s Pout

12052499_893156100731419_5381880284282719173_o.jpgNo! SUMMER CANNOT BE OVER YET! It absolutely may not end!!! I know I write this exact same column every single year, yet I have these exact same emotions every single year.  August turns into September and then into October long before I am ready to give up July.

“Wait!” I want to shout.  “This mom is just getting into the swing of things. I am finally accustomed to swimming and vacationing and reading without any schedule. I am finally adjusting to meals on the fly and sudden trips to the library. I am acclimated to long, hot, lovely days when flip-flops and shorts will suffice.”

And then, suddenly, those days are over, there is a cool nip in the air, and school has started. It just isn’t fair.

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I’m sorry. I cannot readjust my life that quickly. It is impossible to morph overnight from a summer-silly-fun mom to a September-school-strict mom who puts children to bed at 8 o’clock when the sun is still above the horizon and there is daylight to enjoy! I cannot—in my rightful mind—get little students up at 6am to catch the bus after weeks of summer sleeping in. I cannot suddenly tell my children to put a book down and start their homework. Or come in from the swing set to work on a math assignment. I cannot say goodbye to the marshmallow roasts and hikes in the sunshine and bike rides on the trail.

I cannot.

IMG_5780.jpgNo. Don’t make me admit that there is change in the air. That fall is inevitable. And whatever you do, absolutely, positively do NOT show me an orange-gold pumpkin. Not in the fields, not on the neighbor’s doorstep. Don’t you dare put up Halloween decorations in the stores. I don’t want leaf wreaths or yellowed stalks of grain. Don’t say the word “Jack-o-lantern” or show me a black cat or an apple pie. I only want summer. Pink and orange and green and brilliant summer. Fun, carefree, no-responsibility summer. That’s still me.

Just give me one more week without homework and bus schedules and supply lists. Give me a few more days without lunches to pack and schedules to keep. Let me buy some more time to eat picnics and run through sprinklers. We still have a thousand movies to watch and a million books to read on our summer “to-do” lists. Please…hold back time for this muddled mother.

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But then it happened. Despite my groanings and murmurings and pleadings, the school bus showed up on the first day of school. My children (bless their hearts) were actually happy to put on their new tennis shoes. They donned their fresh backpacks and—swinging their new lunchboxes—said goodbye to me as they left, without even looking over their shoulders. My heart crumbled. I watched them skip down the street and around the corner, and then I walked back into an almost empty house and cleaned up the dishes on my own. I did laundry on my own, and I read a book during the quiet afternoon. I even went outside to harvest some vegetables.

Before I noticed, it was the second week of school. And then the third, and then the fourth. Now, despite my best rantings, the inevitable fall has crept in around me. Geese are flying overhead, caramel scents and smells are everywhere. At first, I ignored it. It was easy to pretend that our pumpkins weren’t ripe and we didn’t need jackets quite yet. I was still in summer mourning.

Then the Saturday soccer games and school field trips started. And (it’s hard to admit) after a few golden days I was delighted with autumn leaves. I actually enjoyed the smell of new pencils and notebooks, and loved the reading homework the teacher sent home.

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This week the air was even cooler and as we ate dinner on the deck (squeezing that last bit of summer from the evening) I looked over and saw golden red in the trees. Halloween costumes became the dinner conversation chatter. “This year I’m going to be Cinderella.” “I’ve waited so long to finally fit the Superman costume.” “My friends and I already planned our trick-or-treating route.” I finally relented.

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“OK!” I called up to the beautiful harvest moon, just rising over the horizon. “I was still enjoying July and August. But I’ll give up. You can take summer and I’ll be happy with fall. I actually do love orange and red and yellow and brown. I’ll be content with lovely jacket Saturdays, with corn at the farmers’ market, and freshly-pressed grape juice and applesauce on my counter. I might eventually feel happy to pull the boots from the shelves and dig the winter coats out of the closet. Ultimately I may even want a good soup on the stove or a fire crackling on the hearth. Sooner than later I will crave crisp apple pies. You win, world. I suppose I really do like all of your changes.”

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Now the orange pumpkins are everywhere. Now the cornstalks are dried and decorating the farm fence. Now there is a sweet nip in the morning air, and we gather a little more closely for family prayer on chilly mornings. It’s time to stop my summer soliloquy. The lazy days of July and August have turned into golden September, and we are—despite my best hesitations—enjoying this season. Our summer sorrows have turned into autumn joys.

CURSIVE CANDY: Worth the Bribe!

CURSIVE handwriting is becoming a lost art in our society, and that makes me sad! I remember my elementary teachers’ careful instruction on writing in beautiful cursive. They taught me that writing well was a sign of maturity and skill.

Our older children attended a private school in Las Vegas, Nevada and cursive was required in their school work. However, our younger children now attend public schools in Utah. Cursive is barely introduced and rarely required.

So…I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally! During the summer I ask my kids to do one written sheet of cursive each day. Then, during the school year, I offer CANDY for CURSIVE!

If my kids show me their daily school planner and work written in cursive they get a small treat. Each day! This bribe is totally worth it to me. Most of my kids can now write and read cursive, and they are finding that writing cursive is faster than printing. Hooray!

Bribes are necessary sometimes in parenting, and I believe that cursive is one of those emergency situations! Try CANDY for CURSIVE!

School Days – A Mother’s Soliloquy

IMG_0508I’m sending seven children to school this year – from high school senior on down through pre-kindergartener.   And that doesn’t include my two off-to-college boys and one living-across-the-ocean missionary.

Shouldn’t I be in the Guinness Book of World Records or something?  After all, managing students is a feat worth recording.  That is, if I survive.  Let me replay how our school preparation has gone.

“Everyone wash out your lunchboxes,” I call during one of our final summer afternoons.  Soon, a display of boxes and bags are lined up on the counter, rinsed and still dripping a bit.  It’s exhausting just to consider the food prep each school morning will require, even though many of my little pupils pack their own meal.

“School clothes day,” I call on a different morning.  Then, one by one, I go through each child’s drawer with him or her.  “School shirt, play shirt, dirty shirt that it’s time to dispose of, shirt you don’t wear so we’re donating to charity, shirt that doesn’t fit you any more (put it in your brother’s drawer)…”  The school clothes project takes ALL DAY.

Our next effort is school supplies.  With seven children at home now (and six lists) we head to the store.  “I’ll go get my pencils!” calls one, and a few wander down one aisle while I stay with the rest to find notebooks, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, folders, lined paper, pencil sharpeners and oh, yes, 50 glue sticks! (I should just buy stock in Mr. Elmer’s company.)

Next we shop for school shoes.  Luckily, our two favorite footwear stores are just across from each other in the mall.  I take one group of children (the “wear-out-your-tennis-shoes-in-one-month” boys) into one store to invest in high-quality sneakers, while the dainty girls go across to the other store to find some cute (and not as durable) sandals.  Luckily coupons and memberships give us a pretty good discount on the 12 pairs of shoes we buy (although purchasing company stock could still be a viable option.)

Shirts, pants, shorts–and of course lots of socks and underwear–and we are finally finished with our school prep.  Now comes the waiting.

“I think the teacher lists are posted!” my 5th grade daughter comes running breathlessly into the house one morning.  The news spreads through the neighborhood like wildfire, and soon our elementary students are on their bikes, racing to the nearby school to check the library windows.  Yep, teacher lists are posted, and they return home eager to broadcast their findings.  “My best friend isn’t in my class!”  “I don’t know if I can spell my teacher’s name!”

My junior high and high school students are calm but anxious as they retrieve their class schedules online and then call their friends to compare notes.  “We have Calculus together,” reports my senior after chatting with his best friend.

Then, the week before school, we head out on one more lovely lazy camping trip. I want to savor every moment: the beautiful blue water, the nights under the stars, the milkshakes on the lawn, the hot dogs over the fire, the late-night movie. I don’t like giving up freedom for the rigors of education. But my children are more than excited to start the school year adventure.IMG_4856.jpg

IMG_4857.jpgA few more days and it is the “start-of-school eve.”  Before I go to bed I check my sleeping students:  little “clothes people” are laid out on all of the bedroom floors – new shirts, pants, socks, shoes and hair bows are prepped for the next morning.  Yes, even my senior laid out her clothes, and I snapped a picture while I wiped away tears. Backpacks are hanging expectantly in the laundry room, lunch bags are propped on the kitchen counter, sharp pencils and colored markers fill the school boxes.

I look out the window at the soccer nets, and the pool, and the meadow that will now be deserted and sigh at what will be lost.  No more sleeping in, or marshmallows on the campfire, or lazy bike rides past bedtime.  No more afternoon movies, or all-day read-a-thons, or swimsuit lounging.  They (whoever they are) never asked this mom about starting school in August.  I’m sure I would NOT have given my permission.

“The summer night is like a perfection of thought,” wrote Wallace Stevens.  Yet the sun is already setting earlier, and the summer frogs are slowly disappearing.  I suppose school starting is inevitable.

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And so it comes the next morning:  SEVEN excited students, SIX different grades, FIVE lunches to pack (two students eat school lunch), FOUR different schools (not counting the university), THREE different departure times, TWO boys off to college, and ONE sad mama in a quiet house.  I hug them in their crisp outfits and they walk out the door – lunch boxes swinging, new shoes skipping, waving to friends.

IMG_0523The bus pulls up, the bikes round the corner, and then our street is silent.  School has started again.

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End of Year SCHOOL STUFF

The school year is over…and kids have PILES OF PAPERS they LOVE!

Here’s how our family declutters and organizes our favorite mementos from school.

(Hint: Part One of School Stuff was published last fall. This is the second half of what to do with all those papers! Check out my first video in the comments.)