Back-to-School Means No More Whining
posted by Amy

My theory about summer is that we're all meant to get so bored that the kids want to go back to school and I am happy to pay someone my entire salary so that I can go back to work. So last week, when Henry announced that he couldn't wait for school to start so he wouldn't have to listen to his sister whining all day, I knew I'd succeeded in providing the perfect summer experience for my children: one which gave them ample time to read and play and fight and watch movies and swim and whine and pause the television so that they could yell at me to come and watch this commercial for this really cool toy/show/fishing pole-that's-like-a-gun.

(Note to parents of young children who think getting TiVo means no more commercials: it doesn't. Because, as we all know, kids think the commercials are the BEST part of TV, and TiVo gives them the chance to force their parents to watch the very commercials they got the damn TiVo to avoid having to watch.)

This week, with its kindergarten orientation morning and back-to-school BBQ dinner and hours of early morning worrying about how exactly we'll all get where we need to be starting next Tuesday, when three kids must be taken to two schools and two parents to two workplaces, all ON TIME, has been a tiny bit anxiety-provoking. Add in a second-grader with selective mutism and a kindergartener with the regular old pre-kindergartener anxieties, plus a sixth-grader whose normally easygoing ways seem to be ever-so-slightly morphing into those of a monosyllabic preteen, and you might understand why I'm just hoping we all make it to next Tuesday.

This year, for the first time, we're also trying to figure out what to do with our oldest kid on the one day a week when I teach during the time he gets out of school. Paying for afterschool care for the hour a week we'd need doesn't make sense, as the fees are based on much higher usage levels.

The issue is complicated by the fact that he goes to a nearby school--not the one three houses away from us, but one a few miles away--for the GATE program. When he started there several years ago, the bus picked him up near our house and brought him back. Then the district cut the busing program, which means we now have to drive him there each morning (thus making it harder for my husband to commute to work by bike) and pick him up each afternoon. (Don't even get me started on the hellish experience of picking a kid up at a school where every single other kid is ALSO being picked up by car, all on a crowded residential street.)

We'll figure it out, and he'll be fine, but that's because he has two parents with fairly flexible work schedules, hardly the norm. So Geeky Mom's post about the challenges of making work work when community resources like afterschool programs are scarce struck a chord for me.

One difficulty we've encountered in the six years we've had kids in public school is the lack of predictability. We can't count on school arrival and dismissal times staying the same from year to year, which sounds like a petty complaint unless, like many working parents, you plan your whole work schedule around your children's school hours.

A few years ago, for instance, our local school did away with afternoon kindergarten because of busing issues. Okay, fine. Except that this all happened just about a week before school started, leaving working parents who had counted on having kids in school until 2 in the afternoon scrambling to find care and/or money to PAY for that care for their kids who were now going to be out of school at 11:20 in the morning.

If we'd been affected by the change--say I'd planned to teach a noon class, which would have allowed me to work while my child was in kindergarten and so not pay for childcare, but with the elimination of afternoon kindergarten had been forced to pay for several hours a week of afterschool care--our monthly income would have been drastically reduced. That's assuming, of course, there would be space in the afterschool program, which was also taken by surprise by the schedule change and had to hire staff at the last minute to accommodate the doubling of the number of students needing afterschool care. In my house, we spend a lot of time planning out when we'll work and how much afterschool care we can afford. Last-minute changes mean much tighter finances for us, and I don't think we're the only ones.

Another year, the school changed arrival and dismissal times a week before the first day of the school year. The change was minor, but it was enough to push some families into the next fee category at the afterschool program. This was not a big deal for some, but it was a major (and unanticipated) financial burden for others.

The schools, of course, aren't doing this to make our lives more difficult. They're struggling with scarce resources, too. Could they be better at communicating with parents? I think so, but then again, I know how hard the teachers and other staff members at these schools are working. And we're lucky to have afterschool programs at both the schools our kids attend; that isn't true even for all the schools in our district. But still. It wears on a mama after a while, you know?