I’m singing the back-to-school blues – but it’s not what you think. I’m not one of those moms who wants to be around her kids 24/7 and dreads when they go back to school. In fact, I’m not one of those humans who want to be around other humans 24/7. I need my space.
Here in Florida, school starts in August. You can easily notice when the first day of school begins, because on that glorious, bird-singing, sunshine-filled morning, Panera Bread needs a bouncer for crowd-control with all the exuberant moms on coffee dates. I am one of those moms. Now that summer break is over, I am thrilled that I no longer have to listen to my two teens fight with each other all day or rouse them from their screen-induced comas and force them outside to inhale some fresh oxygen and soak in some Vitamin D-infused sunshine.
Nevertheless, as happy as I am that school is back in session, it does bring its share of hassles that drive me crazy.
- Supply lists. (You know I couldn’t ignore this one.) I agree that teachers are underpaid and education is underfunded and we all need to do our fair share, blah, blah, blah. And I don’t mind chipping in for classroom supplies of tissues and hand sanitizer so my kids don’t haul home some God-awful virus from school and infect the whole family quicker than the latest Ebola outbreak. However, the level of detail that goes into these lengthy and very specific supply lists borders on insanity. One teacher required an oddly over-sized notebook that even Office Max didn’t carry. I could have hunted down a first-edition of Beowulf quicker than I found this 10” x 12” spiral-bound, college-ruled, acid-free, archival-quality notebook . . . for middle school geography. Another teacher listed “2 calculators and 4 three-ring binders” on her required supply list for algebra. When I questioned her about this, she replied, “I’ve found that the students often lose their calculators half-way through the year, so I recommend buying a back-up. Also, the students need to bring 1 three-ring binder to class and keep the other 3 at home to store their work after each quarter.” So just because a few irresponsible, disorganized 13-year-olds can’t get their shit together means all parents until the end of time need to buy multiple specialty graphing calculators at $50-$100 a pop? Uh, not gonna happen, even if this means deducting 20 points from my son’s “classroom participation grade.”
- Fundraisers, football games and food service accounts, oh, my! I need a full-time job just to pay for the onslaught of wallet-draining expenses in a typical school year. From extra lab fees to uniforms, from art supplies to testing fees, from field trips to coaches gifts, from game tickets to lunch accounts, school fees add up quicker than hidden service charges in a two-year cell phone contract. And if, on top of all these extra fees, schools still decide to do a few fundraisers, why don’t they sell things that parents might actually use, like a Wine of the Month Club? The hell with stale candy, giftwrap and magazine subscriptions – sign me up for a monthly Zinfandel delivery.
- Crazy-early start times. I could almost hear the collective snore of my neighbors when we leave the house for school in the dark at 6:45 am. Does anyone on the school board know anything about teens, adolescent development, brain functioning or sleep patterns? Teens don’t do mornings. But hey, let’s just throw them into lit analysis at 7:15am and then wonder why they’re English grades are taking a nose-dive.
- School portraits. What photography think-tank got together to price these portrait packages and write and design an order form that only Sherlock Holmes can decode? The smallest package, which includes 24 fingernail-size photo stickers that I will never use, a photo magnet and 2 3”x5” photos, costs $28. I do have the option to get a normal 8”x10” for just an additional $10 – but only if I first buy one of the overpriced packages. I can literally get a 20”x30” poster at Costco for $9.99. And the school portrait order form is like a shell game, leaving parents bewildered with confusing-but-similar options that require a Ph.D. in logic to figure it all out. Package 1 includes 2 3”x5” photos, a photo magnet and 24 photo stickers, while Package 21 includes all of Package 1 plus 4 large wallets and basic retouching (does this mean only 1-3 pimples?) plus digital downloads and Package 7 includes all of Package 1 plus Package 21 plus premium retouching (perhaps pervasive acne scars?) plus personalization and decorative borders. And retouching options? Where was this little miracle when I was a pimply-faced, metal-mouthed teenager?
- Drop-off/pick-up lanes. From the get-there-first parents who park in the carpool line two hours before school lets out to the parents who double-park their cars, block all thru-traffic and run into the front office “for just a sec,” this free-for-all drop-off/pick-up process simply sucks on all levels. (And no, rebel mom, that safety rule doesn’t apply to you – you just drop your kids off on the main highway in busy morning traffic so you don’t have to weave through that safe, slow-moving car line like everyone else. It’s all about you.) While I’m still working on a danger-free, beat-the-system drop-off procedure that could shave 10 minutes off my morning, I did finally wise up for the after-school pick-up plan by arriving 10 minutes later in the back of the school. Booyah!
- Backpacks. In 6th grade, when my son weighed about 80 pounds, his backpack weighed 22 pounds – about the size of a small toddler. The brilliant architectural planners of this newly built middle school decided not to put in any lockers, so the kids must carry around a quarter of their body weight on their backs all day long with oversized notebooks and college-sized textbooks for every class. Throw in a jacket, umbrella and lunchbox and the kids practically tip over in a gentle breeze.
- Dress codes. I’m all for kids expressing themselves and I am not pro-dress code, but I do think a little common sense needs to prevail, as kids head to school with butt-crack-baring low-rider jeans and see-through, nipple-exposing tank tops. While kids don’t need to go all Amish, they (and their parents) do need to use good judgment so school districts don’t need to adopt four-page dress code manifestos that prohibit the weirdly inappropriate “slippers, pajamas, trench coats. bathing suits, bike shorts, dog collars and chains that connect one part of the body to another.” Because of a few extremist, overly self-expressive, head-shaving, eye-brow-piercing, gang-symbol-wearing rebels, my kids can’t even wear a baseball cap or sunglasses on campus – and we live in the Sunshine State!
- Bomb threats. Like my teen doesn’t have enough to worry about in high school – pimples, gossip, bullying, SAT, homework, tests, learning to drive, club meetings, breakups, fitting in, soccer tryouts, AP classes, fighting with parents, peer pressure, and the frenzied high-school-to-college pipeline. Throw a damn bomb scare into the mix (which literally happened in my 10th grader’s third week of school this year) and you’ve set the stage for some major-league teen angst to rival The Breakfast Club. Listen all you bomb-threatening, gun-wielding, ax-to-grind psychos, get a self-destructive hobby and stay the hell away from schools.
So, while I’m thrilled with seven teen-free hours of quiet, uninterrupted writing time five days a week, these public school hassles are almost enough to make me yearn for summer break. Almost. What drives you crazy about school? Please comment below.