The Mom Stop column: Return to school catches family off-guard

Lydia Seabol Avant
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St. James Plaindealer

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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When my first child went to kindergarten in 2014, we were prepared.

I had ordered matching outfits, appliqued with “First day of school,” for my daughter and her little brother, who was still in preschool at the time. I had ordered her a monogrammed Hello Kitty backpack with a matching, personalized lunchbox.

We had shopped online for all the school supplies and had them labeled, ready to go long before the night before school. And on the first morning of kindergarten, I woke up early to draw my children’s names and facts like their age, their favorite foods, colors and friends on an oversize chalkboard on the fence in our backyard, to serve as a “Back to School” photo shoot backdrop - somewhat of a tradition for our kids - until this year, at least.

When our middle child, our son, went to kindergarten two years later, I still had the coordinating outfits, only for three kids now that we had had our second daughter, who was 1 at the time. Each child had their monogrammed backpacks with their school supplies ready and we had our annual photo shoot in the backyard.

I’m not often prepared for much as a parent, but when it comes to the first day of school, I get as excited as the kids. I’m on the ball. I’m at the top of my game.

Until 2020.

Last week, our kids went back to school in person part-time. And while it was a little anticlimactic, after a few weeks of hair-pulling, overly stressful online learning, I was thrilled, as were my kids.

But the night that it was announced that the schools would open up the following week for part-time instruction, something occurred to me. My youngest daughter, officially in kindergarten, did not have a backpack. There was no coordinating, personalized lunchbox, and I had yet to order her any school supplies.

I quickly got online to order her a backpack and a lunchbox in time for school. But the night before classes were to begin, I found myself at 7:30 p.m. combing the aisles of Target, blurry-eyed, desperate for food for lunches and the remaining needed school supplies. I’m still not sure I sent everything on the supply list.

On the first day of school, I got up early and dug through the back of my youngest child’s closet, trying to find an outfit that was remotely “back to school.” Luckily, I had bought one at a consignment earlier this year, long before the pandemic began. But then tears ensued from my 5-year-old over having to wear something “cute” or having to wear a hairbow, when all she really wanted to do was to go to kindergarten in her Disney princess nightgown.

We still took our back to school photos, although they were quick snapshots on the front porch of our new house - no chalkboard this time, and the kids wore their masks. It is 2020, after all.

In previous years, I walked in with my kids to their classrooms on their first day of kindergarten, helped them unpack their school supplies, took pictures with their teacher at their new desk, and hugged my children goodbye before I tried to make it out to the school parking lot where I would begin tearing up.

But like everything else this year, that too was different. I still walked my youngest child to the front sidewalk of her school, before being told by a school administrator holding a touchless thermometer that I was supposed to stay in my car. I apologized before handing over a box of school supplies heavier than my 5-year-old. I then watched as my daughter’s temperature was taken as she stood there, in her back-to-school outfit and her “bunny” printed mask, her new backpack slung over her shoulder.

“Have a great day,” I told her, as I waved and she walked with the principal into the school. But then she stopped, turned around, and ran back to me for a hug.

I hugged her tight, gave her a quick kiss and told her that I loved her.

A lot of things are different this year, but it’s the important things that stay the same.

Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.