Here we are, already in August. I have no idea how it happened: the last time I looked it was May, our family was entrenched in all the end-of-the-school-year nonsense. It feels like just last week we were attending 1,000 concerts/plays/graduation ceremonies, telling teachers goodbye and thank-you-so-much and see-you-next-year. I recall breathing a monumental sigh of relief as I thought of the long, languid summer stretching before us, of days and nights without packed activity schedules and book reports and math homework. The 2019-2020 school year was a distant blip on the horizon, infinitesimally small and so very far away.
And yet, here we are: the first day of school looms large on the calendar, just a few short weeks from now. This seems improbable; I’m fairly sure I’m in denial. We’ve had a lovely summer — a family trip to Disneyland, camp for many of the kids, watching Stranger Things together — but it has gone far too fast. For blended families like ours, who share joint, half-time custody, summer is sliced in two; it is never long enough.
The upcoming school year will be crazier than normal in our household for a number of reasons. First, we are losing our teen driver, as she is heading off to college. We relied fairly heavily on her for help schlepping younger kids to and from activities and school. My eldest won’t have his license until December, so there will be a few months that are insane.
To complicate things much, much further, the four remaining children will be attending (wait for it…) four different schools. I will not even attempt to explain the (lack of) logic behind it because it would far exceed my word count for this column. In short, it is what occurs when ex-spouses reside in different parts of town, when one child needs to choice into a more diverse school, and when one is still in middle school.
Finally, to top it all off, I am also going back to school this fall. Decidedly middle-aged at 45, I am going to seminary to study theology. I am so excited, as I finally get to deep dive into a subject that has captivated me for a good portion of my life. I am looking forward to all the hours of reading and writing and conversations with other students.
I’m also terrified. I tend to get overwhelmed easily as it is, and adding my own school demands into the swirling vortex of our blended family life seems perhaps ill-advised. However, I am assured it can be done, that people manage to balance school with family or full-time jobs all the time.
Still, I can feel the anxiety rising even now as I think of back-to-school shopping to be done and orthodontist appointments to be scheduled and meals to plan and a budget to make and laundry to be put away. How will I manage once our multiple class schedules and activities are in full swing? Where do I even start?
I’ll share with you an outstanding nugget of wisdom that I have heard from several sources on multiple occasions, yet (sadly) still forget to employ: Do the Next Right Thing. It’s honestly genius. There is no way to tackle every task simultaneously; staring at all that needs to be done and wringing my hands often keeps me from accomplishing anything. But, I can choose one item on my list — the next, right thing for this particular moment — and do it. Then I move to the next item, then the next, reevaluating all the time, choosing thoughtfully.
Sometimes the next right thing might not be getting anything done; sometimes the next right thing might be a nap or a snack or a tiny little Facebook browse. It might be self-care in the form of going for a run or buying a new top or having brunch with a friend or breaking down and having a good cry. We parents need to remember that we can’t take care of others if we are running on fumes.
Instead of trying to do it all at once, just do the next right thing. Rather than freaking out about everything that has to be done before next Tuesday, take a breath, maybe pour a small glass of wine, and do only the next right thing. This is so critical and yet I forget it so often. I think I will post it on index cards in multiple locations in my house, or perhaps consider it for my next tattoo...
Happy 2019-2020, everyone! Good luck, and don’t forget to breathe.
Elizabeth Eden is a mom, writer, yoga instructor and musician. She lives in Northgate with her big, beautiful, messy clan. Send ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.