Parents are frantically running around, waving their credit cards in the air, trying to get their children ready for school. I don’t envy them. That was me for nineteen years, and it all had to be done on a teacher’s salary.
I learned early to be resourceful. I spaced out doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments throughout the summer, sometimes starting that huge expenditure the week after school ended in May. I did the same when upgrading their wardrobes. I bought them nice jeans and shirts, underwear and shoes throughout the summer, and we used the back to school sales for only a few new items. Hand me downs were acceptable, so my kids often swapped clothes, and even I inherited rock band t-shirts that no one else wanted.
I made my three bring back all their unused school supplies instead of donating them to their teachers or throwing them in the school dumpster. They were horrified that I saved their old rulers, protractors and compasses, those little watercolor cases, and usable markers and pens. I even salvaged clean paper out of old composition books and ring binders. They soon learned that my thrift freed money we could later use on cooler stuff, like name brand shoes, shirts, jeans, and the latest hairstyles.
I stretched my teacher paycheck further than a politician stretches the truth by hoarding extra school supplies during back to school sales, knowing that reams of notebook paper would cost ten times more come January.
I became a Coupon Master. I always used a grocery list and clipped coupons (still do). Anyone who has ever raised teenagers knows that without the grace of coupons, shampoos, hair gels, and pimple creams cost a fortune, leaving little else to spend on food.
Our menus fluctuated with our schedules. We made easy meals on busy evenings and saved the more complicated for evenings where we had longer prep times. When school activities took over our lives, our “basic four group” was made up of fast food - hamburgers, pizzas, tacos, or fried chicken. I offer no apology for that. We were on survival mode during those years.
My three lived with a list making, calendar checking teacher/mama. They sat at the kitchen table every evening and did their homework while I made dinner. And if they dared to complain they didn’t have any, I made them organize their backpacks and read to me for an hour, usually from the textbook of the class they had the lowest grade. Funny how that always prompted them to remember some forgotten assignment they HAD to do.
I expected them to read during the summer to earn privileges. They had chores and regular wake up times and bedtimes, though in the summer and holidays they ran a little later than during school days. A week or two before school started, we would go back to their regular school year bedtime schedule so that their internal clocks would start to reset.
And every night before bed, they prepped for the next day, setting their backpacks by the back door, choosing their school clothes, and double checking if they needed money or a sack lunch, a clean spirit shirt, or an ironed uniform.
It sounds like a lot of structure, but I wasn’t a total ogre. Getting their homework done, preparing for the next day, and doing their chores, usually took an hour every evening. After that, they had free time until lights out.
I watch them now with their own families. I see them do some of the same things I did with them. Their kids have chores and are encouraged to have after school activities and read books and make decisions. It pleases me to see them involved in raising their children. The shared responsibility and the struggle of working together is what makes it all worthwhile.