Back to school, back to reality: a mom’s honest & hilarious back-to-school guide

Got the school supply list yesterday and my inner-80s child was disappointed to see that there is no Trapper Keeper required.

The list is an unwelcome wake-up call that summer is indeed over, and that now I have to start bathing the girls instead of relying on “they swam today.” Better find a shampoo to get the chlorine green out of their hair too, lest they go to school looking like offspring of the Incredible Hulk.

The bug spray and pool noodle aisle at Target has transformed into the school supply section, with its waxy crayon smells and complete lack of Big Chief tablets (seriously, when did those go away?). Those swimsuits and dive sticks have been demoted to end-cap clearance items, a reminder that my Pinterest-y mom aspirations will go unfulfilled this summer—as not only did we not check off everything on our summer bucket list, but we actually failed to even make a summer bucket list.

Sure, we did plenty, but does any of it count if I can’t artfully mark it off on a vintage distressed chalkboard? (Hint: It does.)

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I was on the ball a little this year though. I even ordered my oldest daughter Lydia’s backpack way back in JULY, though truth be told, that was only because Pottery Barn sent me 77 catalogs full of reminders and canopy beds that cost more than my first car. I even bit my tongue when my daughter chose glittery purple zebra print instead of cute pastel unicorns. (I’m pretty sure my real baby was switched with RuPaul’s at the hospital.)

My Lydia is type-A, an organizer of the highest order, and she has set that flashy backpack stiffly there beside her supplies—all 24 pencils counted out and pre-sharpened, their shiny black “#2s” all facing up, pink ends perfectly aligned side by side, smelling all rubber-eraser-y (they should make that for a Scentsy diffuser). A teensy bottle of hand sanitizer (or “hanitizer” as my youngest calls it) is tucked behind the bright stripes in the bag’s front pocket, along with a pair of headphones (carefully Sharpied with her name) and a new water bottle (still fresh and un-mildewed, just like we like it). A stack of plastic folders sits next to the markers and crayons, and there is also a bottle of glue, with its pointy orange cap still free of that funky crusted build-up.

That’s how we start every school year, though—free of funk, all sharp and shiny and new. Routines are in place, goals are set, and schedules are dry-erase markered on the fridge.

But we gradually settle in and start to hit snooze.

And so, I’ve come to accept a few truths about the coming school year that poor Lydia, my sweet meticulous planner, will soon also have to accept as well. Lydia, know this:

We will very likely (and very quickly) be giving up on the days-of-the-week underwear policy. Monday’s blue dogs will disgracefully end up being worn to school on Wednesday.

We will forget to check the calendar, and in gym class you’ll curse the day you were born to me, because you’ll be wearing sandals (seriously cute leather wedges, but whatev) instead of “RUBBER-SOLED tennis shoes, mom!!”

Your fruit and protein-packed organic yogurt breakfast will be replaced with Pop-Tarts wrapped in a Halloween napkin (and it will be eaten in the back of the car, which, let’s face it, doubles as a dining room table in our family).

As soon as class lists come out, I’ll Facebook stalk your teacher. Yes, I’m aware I can’t tell how well she’ll teach you subject-verb agreement by her Good Times at the Lake 2014 photo album, but I never once claimed to be rational.

And while we’re on the subject of teachers, it should be noted that I can’t trust a teacher who sends home notes with misplaced apostrophes or your/you’re issues. Even if she never throws away handmade cards and wears the teacher-y sweaters with little crocheted schoolhouses and wood pencils for buttons.

You’re not going to win “top seller” of trash bags, wrapping paper, or popcorn tubs. Of course we will financially support the school, and we will honor the oath we took outside the hospital nursery to always purchase the obligatory two fundraising items. But no, sweetheart, we will not be guilting any co-workers into overpriced peanut brittle tins, no matter how awesome the hype guy made the top-prize cotton candy maker sound during the fundraising kick-off assembly.

We will perform random lice inspections like your head is a bunk in prison and a nit is a homemade shank. If I see you scratch your head, I will go full-on Orange is the New Black. (As a kid I looked just like Carol Anne from Poltergeist, with long locks that were like a luxury condo to head lice, and it skeeves me out and makes me itch just thinking about it.)

There’s a good chance we’ll forget some kind of spirit day. You’ll glide unwittingly to your faux-wood desk only to be horrified by the realization that you have on plain, white cotton ankle socks and not bright-neon-glittery-tie-dyed-monkey-covered-overpriced-Justice knee socks for crazy sock day! Better just keep zany shirts, hats and socks in the ol’ zebra backpack for such spirit week-related emergencies.

You can pretty much expect that I’ll drive to work with Taylor Swift’s “Never Grow Up” on repeat the whole way that first day. My playlist, my business.

And I’m going to cry. Try not to be weirded out. It’s just nostalgia and how small you seem in this sea of kids I don’t know. That, and the fact that it was seriously like last Tuesday that I was staring at a stick that said a thousand things with just two pink lines.

You held my hand last week, walking in to back-to-school night, and the fact that your grip has gotten softer was not lost on me. But still you grasped it, and I felt like I wanted to pull a Rose from Titanic—“I’ll never let go, Lyd. I’ll never let go.” But with less icy death.

Just one more hard family truth you should know, my girl: we are raising you the best way we know how, doing what fits our family, our beliefs, our humor, our interests, our passions. Other families will do it differently, more consistently, and sometimes better. Other kids will have fewer rules and cooler parents. The truth is, there are a gazillion ways we could guide you, and no matter which way we choose, we will always worry and wonder if we’re doing it right.

But even if we’re not, from now until forever you’re stuck with us—your goofy, lucky, forgetful, loving, second-guessing, making-it-up-as-we-go parents.

Hallmark writer Amy Trowbridge-Yates and her wild and wonderful family

Hallmark writer Amy Trowbridge-Yates and her wild and wonderful family

Amy Trowbridge-Yates is a senior writer at Hallmark whose witty, tell-it-like-it-is attitude knows no bounds. She’s a lover of tiny animals in clothes, bad reality TV, chewy Sweetarts and her two goofy girls.