If I didn’t work as a school teacher, I would insist that my children return to school a week before I return to work. That would give me a chance to ease them back into routine, before I tackle the task of educating and inspiring young minds. Sadly, I didn’t have that luxury this week. I’m going to tell you about it in some detail. I’m not sure yet what I hope to achieve by doing this, but it feels necessary to share.
Let me start by saying that I am VERY good at being on holiday. I am a single mother with two beautiful daughters: Noodle is 11-going-on-17 and Scary is very nearly 7. The normal school/work week consists of constantly juggling my children’s needs and my work requirements, with very little time for anything other than the obligatory stuff – which is why I love the holidays. I love the lack of routine, the spontaneity of each day, time to do things one doesn’t normally get to and lots of time for socialising. I love NOT having to make lunch-boxes and not having to wake the girls from their peaceful slumber, race them through breakfast and dressing and get them in the car by five to seven. As a result, when Back to School/Work looms, I do tend to get that Sunday Night feeling (up to a week before Back to School actually happens). I always try to approach each new year with a positive attitude and hope that things will get easier. As my children grow up, things generally are getting easier. But not this week!
When I returned to work on Monday, it was wonderful to see all my amazing colleagues and briefly catch up on holiday news. We had a training workshop from 9 – 3. That’s a long time to expect me to concentrate under normal circumstances, but on the first day back it felt torturous! When I returned home, my children had cabin fever and were bickering with each other. I didn’t have the energy to take them out of the house.
Tuesday followed with back-to-back meetings. There was no time between meetings for my poor little brain to assimilate what had gone on before, and I left quite grumpy. I had a minor road rage incident with a road painter who treated me rudely behaved aggressively. I behaved equally rudely and aggressively in response. I took my girls out for ice-cream to get them out of the house and save my sanity a little. And forgot my appointment with my therapist (which would have saved my sanity a little more).
By Wednesday morning I was tired, but tried my best to ease the girls into their new school year. I woke up early and got myself ready and prepared healthy and wholesome and enticing lunch-boxes for the girls. Scary was starting Grade 1 and I wanted the day to run smoothly. She woke up early and got dressed, thrilled to be a “big girl”. The change was going to be relatively smooth, because she wasn’t changing schools, and only her uniform and her teacher were going to change. Or so I thought. All was going well until Scary put on her new shoes. They were uncomfortable, and she was having none of it. I mustered together every inch of patience I had and attempted to get her to give the shoes a chance. I tried to put cotton wool in the offending places. Every attempt on my part was met with flailing and wailing and kicking off of said shoes. After half an hour of tantrums, I lost my cool and shouted like a fishwife. I also had things to do – new children to meet and greet and assembly to get to. Noodle found me sobbing in the bathroom because I was ruining Back to School for my kids. She was amazing. I calmed down and calmed Scary, and by the time we got in the car, everyone was calm and quiet and looking forward to the day. Except Noodle had a quiet sob at that point because she was worried about being late and she always finds the upsets upsetting. I allayed her fears and apologised for the shouting and we got to school (just) on time and everything was fine. Both girls had a wonderful day, and mine was fine (despite the shell shock I was experiencing).
That evening when we returned home, both girls unpacked their school bags and my next job emerged: Noodle had 16 books that needed covering. Scary had about 100 items of stationery that needed labelling. Despite my fatigue, I stayed up until nearly midnight covering books. In paper only. Didn’t even get to the plastic. Thankfully Noodle helped to label Scary’s glues and crayons and pastels and pencils and HOW MANY PIECES OF STATIONERY COULD THEY POSSIBLY USE! Oh, and Noodle had requested some material book pouches – the plastic ones we had bought last year cracked and broke and were no good. Not having any knowledge of where to buy such things, I undertook to make some, which was a simple enough task, except I had to re-learn how to use the zipper foot on my sewing machine. I completed only one before midnight and undertook to finish the other 4 the following afternoon.
Thursday followed with a much smoother morning (plasters on the blisters and a concerted effort on Scary’s part to persevere with the offending shoes), a regular school day for the girls and for me, and an afternoon/evening of covering and sewing until almost 11. My efforts to read the Grade 9 set work book I was supposed to have read in the holidays fell on stoney ground.
By Friday afternoon, when the girls went to their father, and I had caught up my missed appointment, I collapsed in a little dishevelled heap on my couch. Joburg’s heat wave exacerbated my exhaustion but the week had taken it’s toll. And I only had 24 hours to catch up on a heap of school work and other admin before my girls returned!
I’ve had a little reflective time to gather my thoughts and while Scary needs to realise that screaming and shouting and kicking and lashing out will never get her what she wants (on Wednesday it was her old, broken, too-small and already-given-away school shoes that she wanted; this morning it was access to the TV remote control – which got her banned from the television for today), I also have to acknowledge that change is always a stressful thing, and little people don’t know how to express that stress other than throwing a “tantroom”. Grade 1 meant a new uniform, a new class, a new teacher and uncertainty about how that was all going to play out. So she lashed out about uncomfortable shoes. Of course, my patience was also thin because of my exhaustion and a panicky sense of not having enough time or space to do everything that needs to be done (expressed beautifully in a nightmare I had last night about needing to catch a plane and being late and losing my ticket and finding my luggage packed into dozens of small bags which were open and spilling their contents in the airport!).
This week I will try again. I will try to be firm but understanding with my little defiant butterfly child, and I will try to guide my growing-up-too-soon almost-teen, and I will try to fit everything I need to do in amongst my children’s needs, and I will try to live in each moment and not worry about things I cannot control, and I will try to be a good mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, employee, mentor, role-model, human being. And I will also try to forgive myself and not judge myself if I can’t be all those things at once.