You're Already Failing At Managing This School Year

by Nicole Leigh Shaw
Originally Published: 
A lot of green and yellow paper files stacked on top of each other and two pencils on top of it

How much are you already failing at school? I’m at about 67 percent these days, a solid D+. But have faith, I’ll be pulling 20 percent in no time.

A week ago I was the valedictorian of having my children’s school junk in order. A week ago, I had a system. Before school, I’d put bowls and spoons out with the cereal. There were berries, tangerines or bananas at the ready. I woke up 30 minutes before the kids to make coffee and check on permission slips or homework pads that needed signing. I have my own folder marked “mom” with a label maker, a place for school newsletters, the carpool number and a calendar noting school closings and holidays.

After school, before the bus hit our stop at 4 p.m., I had the table set with fruit, a wholesome snack and cups filled with chilled water. “Hang your backpacks up,” I chirruped at the kids as they filed in the door. I made sure shoes made it to the shoe closet and culled old school papers from the counter.

Last week, I was going to be the mom Pinterest promised me I could be.

This week already I’ve been woken by a hungry child 20 minutes after her usual wake-up time because I forgot to set my alarm. In the after school rush, my kids have snacked on cookies, ham slices and the snacks that I expressly forbade them to eat a week ago because they are “only for school.” I’m not sure what the pile of papers on my counter are for, but I think I need to sign at least 56 of them and return them to school with a check or a promise of indentured servitude.

They have barely even scratched the surface of the school year, and I’m already off my game. By winter break, we’ll be using our toes to do addition problems, and by the year’s end, the children will subsist on a diet of leftover holiday candy.

I’m not ashamed though. Shame is for people who have higher opinions of themselves. I’m just wondering how it is that all this organizing and prep is so motivating for the month of September, but becomes just one more way to measure my un-success as the calendar ticks over into October.

In school years past, I’ve tried to switch up my game by moving backpacks from hooks in the hall to the dining room chair backs. I’ve hung cork boards and calendars and set times for everything from reviewing the contents of our back packs (4 to 4:15 p.m.) to family reading (the 20 minutes after we clear the table from dinner).

No mater what system I try to impose, inevitably, someone pulls out a homework assignment at 7:51 a.m. that I never saw because we didn’t check backpacks the night before because where the hell did your backpack even get to? (Answer: It was under the back porch.) Without fail someone has to go to the potty (“It’s a poop, Mom!”) when we are supposed to be together in our living room reading like a family that even Clifford the Big Red Dog would feel the urge to piss on for being so fucking twee. My kids are halfway to a friend’s house to play before I can ask them, “Do you have anything for me to sign?!” Their shoes are under couches or in the driveway and the dog is, literally, eating someone’s homework.

In short, it’s not us, it’s them.

The reason we can’t get our kids organized and keep our shit and our sanity together for more than the first four weeks of school is because the very fabric of our children’s being is woven by chaos theory and stitched together by whimsy. Toss in a healthy dose of school fundraisers, flyers igniting a passion in our kids for trapeze lessons or combat chess club, PTA volunteerism, and shopping for sneakers to replace the ones you bought in late August which your big-footed freak show kids have already outgrown, and it’s no wonder that you can’t find a single pencil with an eraser on it.

We were never gonna win. We are players in a game where we can only manage losses and to hell with victory. When it comes to rule and order this school year, we are, as we always have been, intended only to survive. Victory is for Pinterest and that one mom with the always-clean car interior (may her children step in dog poop, amen). The rest of us will need to put on our resigned faces and help junior locate the power cord for the school laptop, the one that should be at the family charging station you set up back on Labor Day.

So put on your rubber gloves and keep an extra pen and notepad in the car for all the times you need to recreate a permission slip at the last possible moment, because someone took the field trip form to the bathroom during reading time and let’s just say your odds of getting that slip to the teacher tomorrow are really shitty.

This article was originally published on