By: Sheila Gaudet
I recognize that most people celebrate the New Year on December 31st, with champagne and friends or watching the ball come down in Times Square or in some other momentous way. December and January articles are full of suggestions for resolutions or ways to keep them. I celebrate that holiday too, but mentally the “New Year” always begins with the start of the school year.
I suppose in many ways it makes sense. You spend 12 years in school waiting for the first day of school, to see old friends and enemies, see how people had changed, get new school clothes and supplies, and to be a grade “older.” For me, growing up in a college town was followed by my own travels to college and some graduate school, as well as work at various universities. Labor Day was the end of summer, a last hurrah with a three-day weekend, to be immediately followed by the onslaught of activities the school year brings. Many recreation programs take a break during the summer or run on a different type of summer schedule.
This year is no different, but a little bit poignant. This summer was a weird one with my husband home, my younger son gone much of the summer with his dad, and I wasn’t working full-time at a summer camp. We didn’t move, but prepared for my husband’s deployment (he is settled in at the moment). I am grateful that in many ways we had a few weeks together full-time, a luxury that I know most families do not have. It gave us all a lot of “get to know you” time to hang out and enjoy one another before the new year begins.
This year means the beginning of high school for my oldest, complete with high school sports. When we were discussing the first game recently, another mom looked at a group of us and said, “Wait, I guess he’ll be riding the bus to the games now instead of going with me?!” It seems so simple and obvious, but when you’ve spent 10 years dragging your child, their friends, and their smelly equipment to the field, it is a little bit shocking to realize that you will not be the person doing it anymore. It’s a little bit sad too.
My youngest will be the “Big Man On Campus” as a third grader at his school this year. This means division and cursive writing. Neither one I remember as being particularly enjoyable in the beginning. As a bit of a quirky kid, I always worry about the social issues as children get older and become a little less tolerant of the kids in class who talk too much, or about the wrong thing, or aren’t very good at sports. I hope he finds friends who share his interests and continues to develop resiliency this year. He has come very far in the past few years and I hope that continues.
I, myself, made the decision to go back to school to obtain my teaching license for special education. As a recreation therapist and someone who has worked with a lot of at-risk youth, I feel that this is a natural fit for me. It’s a little scary to be changing careers at this point, especially has teachers and education have come under heavy criticism. However, my own experiences as a parent in the world of special education have convinced me that my background and skills can make the most difference in the schools, particularly in the middle school/high school age. With my husband deployed this fall, I am taking a full graduate course load, with about half the classes online and half up the road at Bridgewater. This meant finding a babysitter for two evenings a week who can manage the logistics of two kids, their activities, and the dog. I found Erin through www.sittercity.com and am looking forward to her start next week. I was impressed by the quality of people who approached me on SitterCity, which you can use for both regular and short-notice sitting. I highly recommend it.
So every New Year comes with resolutions, right? I have made a few for me and my family I thought I’d share with you because they say if you tell someone, you are more likely to keep them. Hold me accountable people!
- Don’t Procrastinate. This is a lifelong problem for me. I always think that there will be enough time to get something done and then a hurricane blows in and takes away your power or a kid wakes up with a fever or the hair cutting place for the boys closes early that night. It increases my stress and that of the people around me. I’m working on using some technology (I succumbed to the smart phone) to help me stay organized.
- Take care of me. Since we moved to the area in summer 2009, I have managed to avoid going to the doctor for myself. My children are well established with a pediatrician I like, have seen specialists, dentists, and started orthodontia. Me…well…..other than starting to check on a problem that I quit the follow up on when it became clear it wasn’t going to kill me…not so much. So since I will be “free” during the school day this fall, I’m going to get myself to a doctor and get some of those nagging things checked out, have some of the appropriate screenings for a fat woman of my advanced age (well over 40), and start taking better care of my health.
- This also will require me to start exercising on a regular basis. I was a very active child and young adult. I was not fat until after I had my kids, but I can’t blame them as I lost immediately after them, then slowly regained weight until I’m at my heaviest. We eat healthily at home, but when I was working probably ate out too much and I did no regular activity. My metabolism is at a halt. No marathon in the plan for me, but regular exercise of 30-60 min per day, 6 days a week is my goal.
- Be more patient with my children. This transition year has really made me realize there is not a lot of time left with them at home (hopefully). I want to work on being patient through the stages and learn to let more things go and make the time we have together count.
- Help them, and me, learn better executive management skills. In a houseful of ADHD, we use planners and calendars all the time but the reality is I am the keeper of the lists. In my head we always have the schedule, the list of equipment, school supplies, whatever is needed. My kids need to learn those skills on their own.
- Complete some of the started projects around the house. We were ambitious when we moved in and did a lot. After a year, the enthusiasm waned on some things, leaving them “almost done.” I plan to work my way through completing the things we’ve started because I have big plans for NEXT summer.
To everyone starting school I have a little advice:
- Be safe at the bus stops and walking. Don’t listen to headphones too loud. Watch out for idiots.
- Talk to the teachers about your child, especially if the child is anxious or something is going on at home. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback. Teachers, as a group, want to help your child be successful. The more they know, the better they can plan and adjust. Be available and respond to their requests. Educating a child is a parent-teacher-child partnership.
- If you think your child needs more help than the average kid, or has an area of performance that concerns you, do not be afraid to talk to the school about getting some assessments done. The earlier a child gets help the better off they are, but if your middle schooler is struggling with something, raise the issue. Many kids can get through elementary school with coping skills but are identified with a learning disability or attention issue when the work becomes more complex as they get older. Every school district in Massachusetts has a Special Education Parent Advisory Council that is independent and made up of parents who have children who receive some kind of service and even then, you don’t have to be receiving services to be part. It does not mean children who are strictly in a separate special education classroom or have a developmental or cognitive disability, it includes ADHD, mental health issues and others. They can be a great resource on getting started or even as a place to talk about the struggles of parenting.
- Encourage your children to participate in school activities. It can be time-consuming and there is often a fee attached, however, if participation would cause a financial hardship there are often fee waivers or reductions available. Talk to your school about it. Extracurricular activities teach things different from the classroom experience, provide your child with opportunities for leadership, engage them in productive activities while you are working, and often benefit the greater community. There’s something for everyone out there.
- Take pictures. The time passes quickly and one day you won’t be carting juice boxes and snacks to soccer games anymore or hanging crayon portraits on the frig. Each of my kids has a plastic bin that we keep art projects, etc. in. They are allowed one bin each and they periodically have to remove some items and replace it with others. It works for us.