Summer raged and reveled through our house. The couch is covered in dog fur and dirt. So are the kids. So is everything else. Dog Fur and Dirt are our decor theme, really. We should market them as paint colors. Like Martha Stewart, except different.
The sun is etched in our skin, and all semblance of discipline — which was mostly self-deception, anyway — eroded weeks ago. The chore chart was effective the first 25 minutes of summer. Now it’s bulletin board litter. I’ve decided to rename Fortnite and Minecraft “chores” and “reading” so when people ask us what we did all summer, I have an answer that makes me look like a diligent parent.
My kids’ shoes are run through with holes in the soles, and there are broken laces and rips in the fabric where their big toes are poking through. All their t-shirts are stained and torn, their pants are high waters or blown out in the knees, and our school supplies consist of partially used composition notebooks, broken protractors, and crayon nubbins — except 12 pristine crayons, all Burnt Sienna.
There are three days ‘til school starts, so I suppose it’s time to start thinking about cobbling this madness into something ostensibly appropriate for school.
Three days is plenty, right? To pull it together enough to fake it? I mean, I don’t need to go to extremes. I don’t need to look like I’m actually prepared . That ship sailed a thousand years ago. Then it hit a huge storm, shipwrecked, and sunk in the deepest part of the sea. The Preparation was a pretty vessel, but she was never heard from nor seen again. Come on in; we’re not ready — that’s our theme these days, anyway.
I used to spend time chasing the back-to-school ads. Not for the deals themselves, although I do love a good deal, but so my kids looked like the photos. Perfectly assembled. Shiny, shorn, and shod. It was the best armor I knew, both to protect myself from the judgement of other mamas, and to protect my kids from feeling afraid. It’s a tribalistic instinct, after all, to want our children to fit in so they’ll be protected by the masses. It’s a tribalistic instinct for we mamas, too. Safety in numbers, right? Standing Out = the Danger of Exclusion, and Exclusion = Less Access to the things we need like food, water, shelter, and clothes. It’s primal. There’s no sense in apologizing for it. Nor is it wrong. It’s just not enough, and it fails to dig down to kids’ core needs.
Once upon a time, I mistook my kids’ new clothes and unstained shoes for confidence, community, and emotional safety. I primed and primped my babies to go to school like they were lining up outside a nightclub, hoping the bouncer would choose them as pretty enough to enter the inner sanctum. Trying, ultimately, to help them avoid the pain of possible exclusion, the loneliness of being left out, the self-imposed shame of feeling awkward or unliked.
But I’ve had kids in school now for 17 years, friends. A cumulative 59 years if you add all my kids’ school years together. And things have shifted for us in that time.
Oh, we still buy a few back-to-school clothes, and I try real heard to remember to tell the kids with long hair to brush it — AND their teeth — before they head out because being prepared and clean helps. But we also acknowledge that those matter the same way house paint matters. It’s important. It provides a small protective barrier. It matters a LOT for those who don’t have any. But if the insides are crumbling or the structure isn’t sound, the paint isn’t going to make much of a difference in the end.
So we spend minimal time these days searching for and buying the Stuff. And we spend a hell of a lot more time preparing the Heart. We address — out loud and on purpose — What’s Underneath the facade. What’s Deep Down Inside. What our Real Needs are and how to meet them.
And our Real Needs are all the same, aren’t they?
To be safe.
To be fed.
To be accepted as already worthy of love exactly as we are. Valued and appreciated. Encouraged.
Which is why I’m sort of “meh” about the usual school prep. Not really concerned that I have three days to get these young humans ready. We’ll run out to buy shoes tomorrow. Or Sunday. Monday at the latest. Or Tuesday after school. Because I’m laser focused on what matters… and, psst… it’s not the clothes, or the first day pics, or the book bags and pencils. It’s not even the grades, friends. Nope. I’m laser focused on what matters, so our Back to School looks less like highlighters and pens and more like convos about confidence, kindness, and community, instead.
It looks like teaching my kids to keep an eye out for the kids who are more afraid than they are.
It looks like learning to be kind to ourselves and others.
It looks like shutting down our darling little lizard brains — the cerebral cortex that tells us to fight, fly, or freeze — so we can seek out others in distress and help calm the storm.
It looks like leading other humans to safety and changing the status quo, which is what will change our schools, ourselves, our communities, and our country.
Yep. School starts in three days, and we’re not ready. Or maybe we actually are.
With love, sweet friends,