My kids had a ball this summer. They bounced from one camp to another happily engaged and enriched by Durham’s many great offerings from the Durham Arts Council, Riverlea and Frog Hollow to Museum of Life and Science and Bull City Gymnastics among others. They explored, swam, paddled, tumbled, danced, sang, made some cool creations and learned lots about the world and themselves along the way. I lived vicariously through them as I listened intently to the giddy stories about their days. As a former camp counselor who thinks that was the BEST JOB EVER! and that our world should be like one big camp, I giggled and sang along with them wishing I could go and play. The patchwork of summer camp scheduling and transportation was a real pain and the cost to our wallets was high, but it was all well worth it.
Now we’re reluctantly and excitedly whirling into the new school year, scrambling to gather school supplies, fall clothes and shoes that fit their summer-stretched bodies and adjusting to a new teacher and new routines. Mostly our kids were ready and eager for this transition – a brand new environment in “big girl school” pre-K for my daughter and a return to familiar teacher and classmates for my son. He actually woke up on his first day of school singing “It’s a brand new day and I can’t wait to________!” (repeated several times with things like brush my teeth, brush my hair, eat my breakfast – basically the whole morning routine).
I think my husband and I were the ones feeling more overwhelmed by the “to do” and “to buy” lists stacking up in our already overflowing pile in the kitchen. My shopping dash to Target before the first day was successful but seemed like too much – the store was crowded with no carts to be found, long lines and already picked over stock. Do we really need all of this stuff? Should parents feel obligated to spend so much? I am all for supporting the schools and teachers and supplying what they need and know that the public schools lack resources, but I felt for those families who did not appear to be of the financial means to be purchasing all of those suggested items. It all really adds up.
Despite our overall positive energy about this fall frenzy, our families’ anxieties have played out in feeling a little overtired, a little grumpier and whinier than usual and my daughter’s regressed thumb-sucking. For all of my woes, I can’t help but think about those families whose stress levels are inordinately greater as they are strained by unemployment, insufficient income, poverty, homelessness….. How they are coping with the pressures and expectations of going back to school? What are their worries and struggles?…How am I going to pay for supplies? Will my child get a good teacher? Where can my kids go for the after-school hours while I work?
For many of these families, the return to school is welcome as they often have not been able to afford summer care. For the children of these families, the summer is chaotic and stressful or boring (often spent with too much time in front of the TV) without the support of the structured, free care and meals. By the time August arrives, they can’t wait to get on that yellow bus and head back to school with or without the required paper and pencils.
Our community is fortunate to have many programs supported by the United Way such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA of the Triangle, The Daniel Center that provide low or no cost after-school programs, summer camps and back to school supply drives. The Food Bank and Interfaith Food Shuttle through programs like Weekend Power Pack also help to ensure that school children have healthy food to fuel more successful learning and Kids Summer Meals to fill the gaps over break.
On our walk to school on the first day this week, we saw kids with smiles and some with tears, parents and kids looking nervous and harried. Going back to school can be blissful or blues-ful or as in our case a little of both, but thank goodness for the creative and caring efforts of our many partner agencies and community volunteers who help to make the transition go a little easier for families who do not have the same access or resources that so many of us do.
So BREATHE… and Go forth, parents as blissfully as you can! Maybe sing a little song of cheer as you go …Here’s one from my counselor days for inspiration:
“One hand can’t build a world of hope, two hands can’t build a world of hope, but if two and two and twenty make one million…we’ll see this world come ‘round, we’ll see this world come ‘round….”