Preparing for the coming semester is more than preparing for the obvious. We all know our children need school supplies, clothes, shoes, and backpacks. What I’m asking you to consider are the second-tier needs you and your child will encounter over the coming semester.
It is worth mentioning that I write this from the perspective of someone whose children all attend public school. Some of these ideas may not specifically apply if your children attend private school or if you homeschool, but the approach and mindset hopefully will. Take from this what you can.
Imagine yourself at the end of October. What are the challenges, the speed bumps, the hurdles that make it tricky to power through to the end of the semester after the shine of new shoes has worn off? After twelve years of having children in school (my oldest will be a junior in high school this year!), I have a running list of ways to best anticipate these needs.
Anticipating need is a huge tenant of preparing space for yourself and others, and preparing space is the essence of hospitality. I encourage you to see this exercise of looking ahead to the coming months as a meaningful investment in the life of your children and your family as you create space by anticipating need. It’s a gift.
Today I am sharing four practical examples of how I prepare for the coming school semester. Hopefully these examples will model how I think ahead with intentionality and a healthy dose of reality. I hope they inspire you to do the same!
At our school, there are countless reasons my kids need dollar bills. Out of dress code wrist bands, $3. Ice cream truck after school, $2. Candy grams, $1. It goes on and on and on and on and on. And without fail, I find out about these precious wonderful super special opportunities the morning of the day they are happening.
“Mommy, can I buy an out-of-dress-code wrist band for today?” The answer is yes, but the answer is also full of eye rolls and frustration on my part because who has cash on hand, much less singles?
My solution, and the way I anticipate the need of everyone in this situation, is to take a trip to the bank in early August and get cash, specifically singles. I set up an envelope for each child with twenty-five to thirty one-dollar bills inside, and I keep it in a place they cannot access.
When one of my children comes to me on a Friday asking if they can buy a free-dress pass, then I go to the envelope, hand them three ones, and move along. We both know that when the money’s gone, it’s gone. So they can choose to use it up, or not. But Mommy only goes to the bank once a semester.
Stock up on school supplies at home. For our family, this means pens, pencils, notebook paper, printer paper, and printer ink. It’s nothing fancy. No one needs a protractor or a three-hold punch. My people just need paper and things that put words on paper. We send them to school with piles of supplies, but they do their homework in our home…which means we need supplies in our home.
Maybe your children are different, but my children cannot be trusted to bring home paper on which to do their homework. Oh, you didn’t bring home a pencil? You can’t find paper? And your spelling list is due tomorrow? No worries. Mommy’s got a stash. I have a shelf in my home stocked with the basics. I also suggest getting a pencil sharpener, but you do what feels right. I never regret having a million pencils and ten pounds of notebook paper.
I swear I will talk more about this in detail in coming posts, but you are going to need a plan for how you are going to feed your people. Meal planning and school go hand in hand, so best to give it some thought now before hungry children appear. Every day, everyone expects to eat three meals and a snack, and my husband and I are responsible for making sure no one goes hungry. The food consumption is no small deal, and finding myself without a plan for how to make sure everyone has what they need (including myself) is a recipe for disaster.
My best piece of advice (again, so many more words to say about this down the road, I promise) is to use a meal template for dinner. I am not telling you to cook every meal. I am telling you to plan every meal. Whether it is frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, Taco Tuesday at Rosa’s, breakfast for dinner, or cooking three night a week, make a template. It’s easier to follow a pattern than it is to start from scratch.
I speak from experience as someone who loves to cook, but also has four children and a full-time job. Be realistic with yourself and your current season of life. The template is magical and helps keep me sane. It helps me know the answer to the question, “What are we having for dinner?” before anyone asks.
Make a date with your calendar before school starts. Yes, you are going to need a place to insert all the school-related dates when they come flooding in, but that’s not what this exercise is about. This calendar date is all about considering your values and the values of your family as it relates to the calendar BEFORE the requests come crashing in.
I want you to sit down with your calendar, empty and beautiful, and decide on your nonnegotiable commitments for the coming semester. Then, make sure you communicate these to your partner and your children.
For example, let’s say your parents are celebrating fifty years of marriage in early November with a party, and it is very important to you that your family attends. This is a value-based decision, and you have decided together that the weekend in early November is occupied with a nonnegotiable. Write it in, and then protect it.
When the soccer tournament, or the school party, or the committee meeting, or the church trip, or the band parade, or the concert tickets, or the football game, or whatever comes across your field of vision, you will choose to say yes to what you value (celebrating your parents’ anniversary) by saying no to everything else that weekend.
This practice of setting an intention with your time is a gift you give yourself. Yes, you and your children will undoubtedly miss something. But, expectations can be set right now (“Kids, I want to make sure you guys know that we are going to be at this party as a family, and even if something else comes up, we are not missing this party because we value celebrating your grandparents’ anniversary.”) There will be tough life lessons involved (welcome to parenting), and you will get to move forward fully aligned with your values. You will also get to fully celebrate your parents and fifty years of marriage, which you want to do.
Be careful in choosing a nonnegotiable, because without fail, your bluff will be called by other enticing opportunities for that one weekend in November. This isn’t to say you can’t change your mind along the way, but I do find it so clarifying to know ahead of time the dates that are off limits before potential conflicts come my way. Simple attention to blocking out important events as a way to protect and lean in to your values is one way you can care for yourself and your family and create space for your values.
As a post-script to this idea of calendar intentionality, as our children have gotten older and therefore more involved with evening commitments, we have applied this idea to our dinner plans as well. If we can, and there have been seasons when we cannot, we choose one night a week to protect for all of us to be home for dinner together. The fabric of a family can become threadbare if everyone is going in a million different directions every night of the week.
Monday nights seem to be open most of the time for us, and everyone knows that if last minute plans come up (“Can I go hang out with Kate at her house?”) that aren’t related to school or an extra-curricular activity like band or soccer, then the answer is no. Again, by saying no to Kate, we are choosing to say yes to spending time together at the table as a family. As the parent, it’s my job to have the perspective that although hanging out with Kate seems like the more important activity, in hindsight these nights together are forming in my children a sense of home and place that they will draw on for the rest of their life. It’s saying yes to a value by saying no to something else.
I hope this approach to the coming semester provides a place for you to begin thinking about ways to be intentional with your time and your resources in a manner that serves your values and your family. I would love to hear if any of these ideas become your own!