It happened again last night.
I looked at the upcoming week and wondered how I would make it to Friday. Two nights of soccer practice. One night of gymnastics. Five nights of dinner to plan and make and clean up from.
Four nights of homework.
Five days of lunches to pack for three kids who won’t eat cafeteria food.
School picture forms to fill out and uniforms to iron.
Two class Halloween parties to coordinate. Not to mention that little thing that I do during the day called work.
The excitement of the first day of school has faded and the reality of the work-school-sports-homework juggle with three kids has set in. And when you are the only adult in the house like I am, it can also be the time of year when you are one missing cleat away from losing your mind in a way not even a Pumpkin Spice Latte can fix.
Most days, despite the odds, four of us are out the door to school drop-off and work on time. Lunches are in backpacks and permission slips are signed. I cook dinner and we get through soccer practice and gymnastics and bed time with only a few tears (mostly mine).
I have come a long way from that newly-divorced, mom of three-kids-under-five, who barely crawled into a laundry-free bed at night.
So how do we make it work, especially when I don’t have family nearby to help?
Some days, I have no idea. And other days, it doesn’t. But on the days that it does, it’s often thanks to a group of women in my life: my School Mom Squad.
This is not the kind of group who does Girls’ Nights or brunches or weekends away together. They weren’t there when my kids were born or when my marriage fell apart. I don’t call them to vent when I’ve had a long day.
My School Mom Squad is the group who sends me a copy of the spelling words when I spill coffee on them the night before the test. Who offers to carpool to the birthday party when I can’t be in two places at once. Who sends me pictures of my kids at school events and field trips when I have to work. Who texts to ask what I actually need for that classroom Halloween party instead of just sending in napkins.
If you’re picturing a group of parents standing around gossiping at drop-off each day or a bunch of hovering, helicopter parents, think again. You won’t find us with perfect blow outs, wearing matching yoga pants, micro-managing our child’s every move and baking intricate after-school snacks each day.
In fact, you’re more likely to see us dressed for work, dashing out of the school parking lot to make a 9:00 a.m. meeting. We are working parents. We are married and single and divorced and remarried. We live in big houses and small houses and apartments. We are different ages (though my daughter proudly informed me last week that she won a “who-has-the-oldest-mom contest” with her friends).
Some of us have only children and some of us have four. We send in delicious cookies from the grocery store and we send in Pinterest treats, too. But we have one important thing in common: our kids.
I didn’t always have a School Mom Squad. When my daughter started kindergarten, I didn’t know any parents at her school. And I managed to keep it that way for the entire year. I didn’t talk to anyone at pick up; I didn’t volunteer or join the PTO.
I honestly can’t even remember sending anything in for class parties. It was the year I filed for divorce and there was no energy left to make new connections. Everything was just so hard.
When she started first grade, though, I decided it would be different. I didn’t have more time than I did the year before, but I needed to make connections. We needed to be more connected. We needed a school community.
So I showed up. I volunteered to be room parent, which led to emails with other parents, which to led chatting at drop off and pick up. Eventually, I started hosting movie nights and group activities at our small house on a Dollar Store budget. Everyone in the class was welcome (which, thankfully, was possible with a small class size). It gave the kids a chance to connect outside of school and the parents a way to get to know each other, too.
Slowly, a group started to form. We would visit at birthday parties or soccer games and text to set up play dates. Then, came the social media connections and glimpses into our lives outside of the school parking lot.
“Love M’s new haircut!”
“Aww… A was such a cute baby!”
By the time our kids were in second grade, a group message began and our safety net took shape.
“Hey, does anyone know if tomorrow is a dress down day?”
“Is the field trip form due this week?”
“What time does the costume parade start?”
My School Mom Squad understands the juggle. They do the same balancing act that I do. They are trying to find a way to make it to the meeting at work and to the Color Run at school. They want to remember when the permission slips are due and when it’s Crazy Hair Day.
Knowing that there are other women whom I can rely on when life is overwhelming often means the difference between feeling like I’m not enough and feeling like I’ll make it to June in one piece.
Here’s the best part about our School Mom Squad: it is open to anyone.
Your son goes to school here, too? You’re in.
Come sit next to me at the school concert.
You can’t be at the concert because you have to work? Don’t worry. I’ll text you a video.
We are in this together. The School Mom Squad has my back and they are happy to have yours, too. If you want to see what women supporting women looks like, come sit with us.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, The parents at my school are too cliquey or judgey or unfriendly. Or I want to be part of a group, but I just don’t have time or energy to make this work. I know. I’m a working, single mom to three kids, including twin boys. I didn’t have the time or energy either. I am not naturally outgoing. And, yes, it can be intimidating to start a conversation with parents whom you don’t know well.
It took time and effort and energy, but trying to connect was worth it for me. And if you are wondering just how you will make it through another school year, it might be worth it for you, too.
What is there to lose by asking “How are you?” while waiting in the pick-up line. Or by sending a quick email to classroom parent offering cookies (the grocery store kind) for the holiday party. Or by following another parent’s business on Instagram and liking a post about her work.
It just takes one little step and before long, the small conversations could turn into longer chats at school functions. And then, one day, a parent might message you a picture of your child at the birthday party you missed because it wasn’t your weekend.
Slowly, you might feel less alone in the School Year Shuffle. And on the days when it feels like you don’t have enough hands, you will.
My School Mom Squad has saved me more than once. They have carpooled with me so that my daughter could be at a school rehearsal at the same time my boys had to be at a birthday party. They have stayed when I’ve hosted drop-off parties to help me manage sugar-crazed kids and clean-up afterward. They have texted me things like, “You’ve got this!” at precisely the moment where it doesn’t feel like I do. And we have sat together at more school functions than I can count, making things like freezing at a Friday night football game fun.
Is having a School Squad the only way to make single-parenting work? Of course not. And if this is not for you, that’s fine.
But it is for me.
My School Mom Squad is not a group of friends that likely would have formed in high school or college. We are as different as our children are. We are friends because our children happened to be in the same class at school. And I am grateful that we are.