By Lisa Sugarman
Before I say what I’m going to say, I want you to sit down. Or, at the very least, I want you to find someone or something sturdy to hang onto to so that when your legs buckle you’ll have something to grab on to. I’d never forgive myself if 23,000 people collapsed and hit their head all at the same time.
You ready? Here we go.
Summer’s. Almost. Over.
Steady. Steeeeeeeeeadyyyyyy. You’re ok. Breath. In. Out. In. Out.
You still with me? Good. Look, we’ve all been here before and we’ll all be here again. The start of the school year works a lot like muscle memory when you’re lifting weights. Even though we’ve been away from a routine for a period of time, our bodies and our minds remember how to go through the motions. There’s usually a small amount of initial pain, though, before we get our groove back.
Our amazing little brains have the capacity to store data and skills learned from the past in the form of emotion and memory. I’m not going to bother getting into the physiology of all the parts of the limbic system because then I’d be the one getting lightheaded and falling down. Suffice it to say, going back to school is like that first painful day back in the weight room—everything feels 10 times heavier than usual and it’s the last place in the world you want to be. But we slog through it and eventually it gets easier.
Feel any better? I didn’t think so.
Then let me put it all another way. Let’s make it a numbers game. Maybe that will help.
So we’ve got over 3,200+ kids in our little school system, spread out between eight schools. Now I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what that translates to in terms of actual number of families with kids in the system, but I can’t. That’s a tricky number to find. So because I have no choice, I’m going to guesstimate. And thankfully for me I’m not a news reporter, so my data can be completely skewed and it really doesn’t matter.
Let’s think of it this way, there have to be well over 1,000 families living all around you, many of whom you know well, and every single one of them, in one way or another, is flipping out right now just like you. They’re stressing and scrambling and shopping and panicking in all the same ways you are. But to me, that should be almost comforting. It means we’re not alone. It’s like death and taxes—we all agonize over them but they impact every one of us no matter who we are.
Fortunately, in most cases, we have the ability to choose how we react to things. Even the things that panic us. We can choose to step up or we can concede to fall down. We can decide to waste the next four days agonizing over re-entry, or, we can just say IT IS WHAT IT IS and reconcile with the inevitable. Embrace it even. Because when you think about it, it’s much easier to digest something after you’ve chewed it up into little bits before you swallow it. A big bite of anything isn’t quite so overwhelming once you’ve pulverized it into something squishy.
So that’s what we’re doing here. We’re chewing. We’re swallowing. And we’re digesting.
It’s like I always say to my girls, we can’t always control what life throws at us, but we can control how we receive it.
So here’s the plan (because I love a good plan): We all stay present in the moment until Monday night, sucking every last drop of summer out of Labor Day until we drain it dry. We focus on the now, knowing that the later is always a given.
Because, like it or not, Tuesday morning will come. The alarm will go off. And the nausea will swell up in your belly. But that’s ok. It’s expected. We just need to be prepared for it. We need to be able to anticipate and then to reconcile. We have to remember that back-to-school anxiety has existed since the beginning of time, when all the little cave moms used to stress about whether or not the antelope carcass would spoil before the second lunch block. We all go through it and we all magically come out on the other side every time, in spite of all the anxiety.
As long as we acknowledge, ahead of time, that going back to school unleashes a bucket full of some crazy emotions, we can head them off before they take over. Kind of like a preemptive strike.
Because I honestly believe that if you get and maintain the upper hand in the back-to-school fight, you can win. Maybe not by knock out, but definitely by a TKO.
You can actually gain the upper hand in just about any situation with a set of good organizational skills and a little bit of prep work. In this case, we’re talking about skills like pre-making all your sandwiches for the week and storing them in the freezer. (That means no freezer packs needed in the lunch box.) Or by setting the breakfast table the night before. Or by having everyone lay out their clothes ahead of time. Or by packing backpacks the night before school. Or by labeling everything over the weekend and not on Monday night at 11:45. It’s these little things that give us control. And control usually trumps fear. And without fear, one is free to put one’s head down, dig in, and get the job done.
So let’s review. While thoroughly enjoying these last few days of summer, you’re going to devote a modest amount of time each day to preparing for re-entry. Think of it like stowing your personal belongings and putting your seatbacks up and your tray tables in their upright position when you’re anticipating a rough descent. You’re doing all the little things you can do to make the landing smooth in bumpy conditions. This is not to say that you’re not allowed to scream into your pillow when your alarm goes off on Tuesday morning. That’s absolutely fine.
The main thing to remember is that the rabbit hole does, in fact, have an exit, in spite of how long and dark and frightening the tunnel might seem. Just take a deep breath, anticipate the other side, and then start crawling. You’ll make it to the other side, I promise. You’ll be filthy and exhausted, but you’ll make it.
No worries, right? You got this.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.