You know it’s back-to-school month when your lizard leaves. Last week, Spike, the third-grade classroom pet — who spent August at our house — looked at me with his separately moving eyes, grabbed a big cricket with his tongue, and went back to standing completely still for the next four hours. It was his way of saying goodbye.
It was a good (if slightly reptilian) summer, but now it was time for the back-to-school ritual I’ve performed since my oldest began preschool 12 years ago. Expert though I should be, the first week of September is never without some kind of hectic, gray-hair-inducing excitement.
Our daughter is leaving for high school, commuting with other suburban kids to New York City private and parochial schools. That’s a first. At the same time, our youngest is starting preschool, where I will be the oldest mom. His brothers return to their elementary and middle schools, so it’s four different schools, four sets of emergency cards, four schedules, and four sets of after-school activities.
I was actually pretty organized this year. Thanks to my daughter’s conscientiousness, we’d ordered her school uniforms and filled out most of the required forms. My sons, in public school, had enough cargo pants and Mets T-shirts to see them through the year. I’d purchased school supplies that ranged from crayons to graphing calculators.
But then, on the eve of school, our ninth grader went into the city to meet some new classmates for tea. I don’t know what kind of tea parties these private schools throw, but she came out of it with a strained ligament in her ankle and was unable to walk. Her dad picked her up, literally, and hailed a taxi to my mom’s apartment. There, the foot was iced, the teenaged girl attached to it fed and cared for.
Meanwhile, at home I waited to go to a village meeting, since I am an elected official in our small town. (I can’t shoot caribou, but I did help organize a dog park!) I was counting on my husband to come home since our three-year-old had been running a temperature for a few days and I hoped it wasn’t strep. That wouldn’t sit well with his new nursery school. But as he is my fourth child, I didn’t take him to the doctor on the first day of fever, and I was still only thinking about it as we approached the third.
I was home with no babysitter, and couldn’t in good conscience ask a mom friend to enter a germy house the night before school. But the meeting was important, and I had to at least show up and explain why I couldn’t stay.
I grabbed the nearest twelve-year-old boy who, luckily, turned out to be my eldest son. “I have to go to a meeting to vote on something. Then I will turn around and come right back. Can you handle watching cartoons with your brother?”
He thought about it. He’s a thoughtful chap. “Okay, mom,” he said.
I looked at his eight-year-old brother. “Your brother is in charge,” I told him. “If you fight while I am out, I will kill you.” He gave me a thumbs-up and a grin.
I ran upstairs and put on a suit. I called across the street to the neighbors and told them to watch my house for smoke, power-tool usage, or loose pets.
I jumped in the car and walked in as the meeting came to order. “Pledge of Allegiance, all rise.” I voted on the first order of business, handed the mayor a note of apology, smiled, and left the room.
I was home 14 minutes after I left. Including driving.
The next day, ankles were better, fevers had subsided. Those who had school went off to classes. Those who didn’t rounded up more crickets for Spike. Turned out his classroom was not quite ready for him yet.
After a half-week like this, I can’t help but think the next step for me is a run for vice president.
– Susan Konig is author of I Wear the Maternity Pants in This Family.