Last week was the first day of school in Woburn, MA. From the outside you would have thought we’d started weeks ago. After all we’d been planning most of August. I started to believe we suffered from First Day of School Syndrome (FDS). It started with a back to school clothes shopping trip four weeks ago. Followed quickly by looking up teachers, buying supplies and packing back-packs a full five days before go live.
A friend at work teased me “OCD much”. For those who suffer from this condition it’s anything but funny. But for busy, working parents, a little obsessive planning comes with the territory.
And it turns out I’m not alone. I started to do an informal poll of my friends and family via Facebook and casual conversations. And you know what – almost everyone had pulled together “get ready for school” to -do lists. School supplies were purchased well in advance, and back-packs (and in the case of my sister – school lunches) were ready to go days ahead.
In talking with so many other parents (admittedly mostly moms) it occurred to me that we weren’t displaying an unnatural obsession. Rather we had simply planned well.
1. Learn from the past – With a senior, seventh, fourth and third grader you’d figure planning to go back to school would be old hat to me. First day of school battle scars – “Mommy you forgot to pack tissues for the classroom”, and “Mom I was the ONLY one in school with a pink eraser” tend to leave their marks. I’ve learned to shop early – that’s when the sales are hot, and the choices wide. And most importantly, to bring the official school list with you. It’s long, and dull, and you’re bound to forget something without it. And trust me, your kids won’t let you forget even the smallest of first day of school transgressions.
2. Honor traditions – Without a single word passing between the bus stop kids or parents, everyone knew to meet at 60 Kilby Street after school. A first day of school celebration cake would be waiting. It reminded me of our “Beer Thirty” Friday afternoons at Dataupia. Both were a fun way to settle in after a long, hard day of work, and both seemed to happen organically. These organizational traditions are what makes a culture come alive- whether it’s in the office, or in the neighborhood. Don’t underestimate the motivation and comfort traditions bring to your kids, friends and colleagues.
3. Heed the advice of others – Last year was my now 12 year old’s first time in middle school. While I was well entrenched into the protocols of elementary school, I was not familiar with his school. Lucky for us, his friends had older sisters and brothers that attended the year before. So I called their moms, who helped us answer some of the most important questions plaguing my almost 6th grader — Bring or buy lunch? Walk or get dropped off? Trapper Keeper or Three Ring Binder? The consequences for mistakes in your office might be more impactful than the terrible 6th grade nickname you’ll earn by making a FDS mistake, but the principal is the same. Find people who have gone before you, ask questions and then take their advice. We went with buy lunch, walk with friends while the weather was nice and Trapper Keeper.
4. Expect the unexpected – Despite weeks of careful planning, unexpected things will happen. At work your competitor might launch a new product, or a strategic supplier might go out of business. On the first day of school – our bus didn’t stop to pick up the kids! Yep, it slowed down, waved, and kept on going.
5. Lean on others – Although the bus didn’t turn up, there were plenty of willing parents to drive the boys to school. Together we stood in line at the office to make sure the ride home wouldn’t end in the same disaster. And thanks to some polite team work on our part, the principal personally rode the bus home to make sure there was no more confusion. Him going above and beyond was really appreciated, and it saved the driver from a loud rendition of “STOP” from six anxious kids if he tried to go by their drop off on the way home. Everyone benefited.
It turns out getting ready for school has a lot more to do with planning in the office than I thought!