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8 Reasons I’m Singing the Back-to-School Blues

I’m singing the back-to-school blues—but it’s not what you think. I’m not one of those mums 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.

You can easily notice when the first day of school begins, because on that glorious, bird-singing, sunshine-filled morning, Starbucks needs a bouncer for crowd control with all the exuberant mums on coffee dates. I am one of those mums. Now that summer 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 coma and force them outside to inhale some fresh oxygen and soak in some sunshine.

Nevertheless, as happy as I am that school is back in session, it does bring its share of hassles that drive me crazy.

1. Supply lists

I don’t mind chipping in for classroom supplies of tissues and hand sanitiser so my kids don’t haul home some awful virus from school and infect the whole family quicker than the latest H1N1 outbreak. However, the level of detail that goes into these lengthy, very specific supply lists borders on insanity. One teacher required an oddly oversized notebook that I couldn’t find in any local stores. I could have hunted down a first edition of Beowulf quicker than I found this 25 x 30cm spiral-bound, college-ruled, acid-free, archival-quality notebook… for middle school geography. Another teacher listed “two calculators and four 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 halfway through the year, so I recommend buying a back-up. Also, the students need to bring one three-ring binder to class and keep the other three at home to store their work after each quarter.” So just because a few irresponsible, disorganised 13-year-olds can’t get their act together, all parents until the end of time need to overbuy expensive specialty graphing calculators? Uh, not gonna happen, even if this means deducting 20 points from my son’s classroom participation grade.

2. 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 a two-year mobile 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 Coffee of the Month Club?

3. Crazy-early start times

I could almost hear the collective snore of my neighbours when we leave the house for school 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 a first period literature analysis.

4. Pictures

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 cheapest package, which includes 24 fingernail-size photo stickers that I will never use, a photo magnet and two 7.5 x10cm photos, costs QR 250. And the order form is like a shell game, leaving parents bewildered with confusing-but-similar options that require a PhD in logic to figure out. Package 1 includes two 7.5 x 10cm photos and 24 passport-sized photos, while Package 2 includes all of Package 1 plus two photo magnets and basic retouching (does this mean only one or two pimples?) and Package 3 includes all of Package 1 plus Package 2 plus premium retouching.

5. 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 stinks on all levels. (And no, rebel mum, 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.) While I’m still working on a danger-free, beat-the-system drop-off procedure that could shave 15 minutes off my morning, I did finally wise up for the after-school pick-up plan by arriving ten minutes after classes end and skipping the big afterschool rush.

6. Backpacks

In sixth grade, when my son weighed about 36kgs, his backpack weighed 10kgs—about the size of a small toddler. The brilliant architectural planners of his newly built middle school decided not to include lockers, so the kids had to carry around a quarter of their body weight on their backs all day long. Throw in a jacket, a basketball kit and a lunchbox, and the kids practically tip over in a gentle breeze.

7. Lunchboxes

If you’ve got a picky eater or a kid with allergies, it can be less stress for everyone to just send them with a packed lunch, but coming up with balanced and healthy lunchboxes that 1) your kid will eat, 2) aren’t boring, 3) won’t take more than 15 minutes to prepare, and 4) won’t be forgotten at home is just added stress to the school year that I do not enjoy.

8. Teen stress

My teen has enough to worry about in high school—pimples, gossip, bullying, SAT, homework, tests, club meetings, fitting in, basketball tryouts, AP classes, fighting with parents, peer pressure, and the frenzied high-school-to-college pipeline. Combine that with raging teenage hormones and you’ve set the stage for some major-league teen angst to rival The Breakfast Club.

So, while I’m thrilled with seven hours of quiet, uninterrupted writing time five days a week, these school hassles are almost enough to make me yearn for summer break. Almost.

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