Back to School: Trying to Control the Chaos

Back to school is always an exciting and stressful time for everyone. As a teacher and a mom of two school-aged children, I feel these sentiments exponentially. I am excited for my girls to meet their new teachers and for me to meet my new students. I am excited about all the new things my daughters will learn, and I am excited about all my new ideas for the upcoming year. But I am also very, very stressed. My oldest struggles in school, so I worry about the battles we will have every evening. My youngest is extremely sensitive, so I wonder what offenses she will take to typical kid behaviors. And no matter how well we plan, for teachers, the first few weeks of school are always filled with unexpected changes and a million action items that all seem to be due at the same time.

For me, surviving August has always been like navigating a minefield, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help avoid small triggers that can turn into major explosions.

Take Inventory Early

Toward the end of June, I take inventory of what my girls will need for the new year. What still fits and what doesn’t? Do they only want skorts again, or do they want a pair or two of shorts and pants? How many pairs of leggings and tights are too riddled with holes to be worn again? Are their backpacks and lunch kits still in decent shape, or do they need to be replaced? What size tennis shoes are they going to need? I also clean out my closet and make a list of wardrobe items that need to be replaced for the new school year. While I don’t necessarily have any tricks for making all of these purchases in a timely fashion, especially since clothes have to be tried on, having a list of what I need helps me keep an eye out for those items during the summer, so if my oldest sees a pair of shoes she likes or I see a good sale on dress pants, I can check an item or two of at a time instead of being overwhelmed by all the necessary purchases right before the school year starts. It also means that I have a little more time for returns and exchanges as necessary.

Pre-order Anything and Everything

The very first week of summer, I received an email from each of my daughter’s schools informing me that I could preorder their school supplies. I immediately stopped what I was doing and placed the order. I knew if I glanced at the email and told myself I’d do it later that I wouldn’t remember until it was too late. Sure, the pre-ordered and pre-packaged schools supplies mean my girls don’t get to pick the color or their pencil case, but they can just decorate it with stickers because it saves me the stress of having to drive all over the place and battle back-to-school crowds for the specific box of crayons their teacher requests (and I will get that box because I know it makes a difference!). It’s a huge time save.

Eat the School Lunch

Ever since COVID, Louisiana public school students have received free school lunches. Because of this, the rule in our house is that if our girls will eat what’s on the menu, they have to get the hot lunch. They are only allowed to pack their lunch for special occasions, like field trips, and on days when the menu item is not something they would typically eat. Not only does this save us money, but it also typically means one less thing to do when preparing for the next day. We’ve also found it’s a good way to encourage our daughters to try new things.

Keep Food Simple

Even though my daughters typically get the school lunch, they still need breakfast, snacks, and options for the days they do pack their lunches. And no matter how wiped out I am at the end of the day, I still have to get dinner on the table. I need food options that are easy to grab and go. Unfortunately, a lot of those foods aren’t the healthiest options, but I do my best to pick health(ier) options. For breakfast, I try to stick to less sugary cereals, like Cheerios or Life. I’ll also buy instant oatmeal or grits, frozen waffles or pancakes, and yogurt. Jelly, cinnamon, or peanut butter toast are also always options, and I typically make myself a smoothie with frozen fruit. For lunches and snacks, I’ll usually head to Sams and stock up on boxes of popcorn, Chex Mix, graham crackers, granola bars, single-serve cheeses, and Go-Go Squeezes. The total is always a little gut-wrenching, but I find if I grab a variety of the bulk boxes at the end of July, they’ll last my family of four for quite a while. I’ll also get apples, bananas, and clementines from the grocery every week because they are easy to grab and don’t require a lot of work to clean (i.e. they won’t go bad before I find time to prep them). For dinners, I try to plan quick and easy dinners that include a protein, a vegetable, and a grain. Sheet pan recipes are my go-to on nights when I’m just completely spent because they are similar to dump-and-go slow cooker meals without having to remember to dump everything into the cooker before you go to work in the morning.

Delegate Responsibilities

My husband and I are both firm believers that our children are capable of and should participate in household chores and responsibilities, so we do not do everything for them. Each night our girls are responsible for making sure they are completely ready for the next school day. They have to make sure their bags are packed, their Chromebooks are charging, and whatever else they need for the day, such as their instrument, is ready to go. If they are packing a lunch, they are responsible for packing it. We will help them remember by asking them what they still need to do or whether or not they have completed specific tasks, but we don’t do it for them.

Remember Our Limits

Even with all the things I do to try to make the first month of school easier, there are some days when I simply reach my limits. There are days when my kids come home tired and overstimulated or dysregulated, and I don’t have the mental energy to respond calmly and with patience because I am feeling the exact same way (and then my husband has to play referee). There are other days when I recognize that they have reached their limits, and I need to give them some quality time before their behavior brings me to my limit. There are days, especially in the first two weeks, when I come home absolutely exhausted, and I know that as soon as my butt hits the sofa, it will be glued to it for the rest of the evening. On those days, instead of cooking what I had planned, I pop a frozen pizza in the oven or call my husband and ask him to pick something up on the way home. And on Friday evenings, no matter what work has to be done over the weekend, I don’t worry about chores or lesson planning, I just take some time to unwind from the stressful week.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


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