The First Month of School Is a Nightmare But I Love It Anyway

I find people pick one of two distinct sides when it comes to back-to-school: Team WOO HOO or Team No, Thank You. My theory is that the main deciding factor that lands people on the latter is the nightmarish first month of school. If it weren’t for that period of transitions and chaos, we’d have a lot more parents doing the happy dance once it’s time to toss on the backpacks and hustle out the door for seven sweet hours of silence. While I absolutely feel the pain of those first four weeks deep in my soul, I’m firmly Team WOO HOO. Please allow me to take a moment to discuss why you should join me there.


Many kids thrive on routine. There is a comfort to having some sort of framework on which to hang their days. Small changes that happen within that framework are doable, because everything else mostly goes as expected. The end of summer tends to be a time when camp options dwindle, the days are patched together on the fly, and a certain kind of anarchy settles into the family dynamic. The kids are untethered and wily; the parents are both letting things slide so they don’t have to deal, and struggling to create distractions just to make it through another day. So when the whole family unit needs to switch gears from that hot mess to a set schedule? YIKES. (Hence my use of the word “nightmare.”)

I should note that it’s also only kind of a set schedule. Depending on the cultural make-up of the school district, there might be a smattering of religious holidays the kids will have off right away. Then there are teacher conventions taking up two full days, and Back to School Nights causing different half-days at each school your kids of varying ages attend.  It’s hard to transition into a new routine when chunks of that routine keep falling off right from the start. 

But once that month (or so) of piecemeal weeks is done, the glorious feel of five-full-days-in-a-row settles in and everyone finally calms the heck down. Also, problems start getting solved in the middle of that madness, tipping the scales to the Team WOO HOO side even more.

I don’t know about you, but half of my working hours during summer break are spent trying to pencil in time for my kids to see their super-scheduled friends. Between conflicting camps, vacations abroad, visiting grandma’s and sneaking in long weekends at the beach, it’s almost impossible to get even the best of buddies together. Once back in school, our kids see their friends in class, chat in the halls, sit with them at lunch, linger on the playground or bike to their team practices together. Yes, this means their social calendars are suddenly exploding, but they’re so happy to spend time with their friends that you don’t mind the extra layer of pick ups and drop offs to squeeze in. You almost (ALMOST) forget those long, whiney days when nary a friend could be found and they clung to you like a blathering barnacle.

Now, one might not be particularly fond of the unavoidable back-to-school shopping task overall, but kids love new things. LOVE THEM. My own daughter cannot speak of her new pencil case without having actual heart eyes. My son is beyond thrilled about his sneakers. And who says you have to stop at school supply lists and clothing for the kids? Nothing gives me joy like a gorgeous notebook of my own and a set of colorful pens to go with it. The treat for me numbs the pain of chasing my offspring through the aisles pleading the universe for the proper color composition book for seventh grade science class that I didn’t know we needed on day one until a full week in. Even if it takes a few trips, in the end everyone is happy!

I get why the Team No, Thank Yous exist. I really do! No matter how optimistic we may be, it’s never fun to nudge slightly feral humans used to going rogue on the regular into wearing proper footwear, eating fewer than eleventy-seven times a day, and using their brains for thoughts other than, “me play.” It’s messy—especially that first day once we drop them off—but once that safety net of a schedule framework is back in place, our little darlings crawl out of their terrifying summer shells in the presence of educators, friends and cohorts. Ahhhh…they’re back!

When it’s done, it’s done, and seven hours of uninterrupted headspace plus full access to the snacks the kids didn’t finish over the summer* can quickly heal even the most harassed parent’s frazzled nerves. The icing on that good news cake? Now that you can see the silver lining, you can join me on Team WOO HOO when it’s back to school time from here on out.

*Just kidding! They ate all the snacks. And the back-up snacks. And the corner of the door to the snack cabinet.

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