Back-to-school: A transition for moms, too

As Sonia Mendes sends her daughters off to a new school year, she reflects on how this time of year means a big transition for moms, too.

20130903_084502 Lily and Elissa head off to school. Photo: Sonia Mendes

Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. And with all those away-games, his wife, Sonia, deserves her own version of the Stanley Cup. This week, Sonia writes a post.

I can distinctly remember the one time in my life when I deeply offended my Oma (that's "grandmother" in German), way back when I was a teenager.

It wasn't for anything you might imagine, such as using foul language or wearing clothes that showed too much skin. It was a much more serious transgression... I turned down dessert.

I know, I know; turning down my beloved Oma's homemade dessert... it's not my proudest moment. But before you judge me, let me explain.

You see, it's not that my Oma wasn't a good cook back in the height of her guest-hosting days; quite the contrary. Her food was so very good that I was compelled to eat two or three helpings (possibly sneaking a few last bites straight out of the serving dish before it was cleared away). But therein lay the problem on that fateful day; by overeating during the meal, I literally didn't have room — in the entirety of my expansive digestive tract — for even a small portion of dessert.

Oh, the horror! I tried to explain to Oma, to somehow justify my hurtful inaction — but it was too little, too late. The damage was done. I recall being struck by how truly offended she seemed. I think she even made a noise, something like a "hmmphf."


At the time, I remember finding it funny. How could someone get so offended over food? The great irony is that I get it now. A lightbulb went off for me the other day. In fact, I caught myself doing exactly the same thing — and I'm not even an aging, off-the-boat German immigrant!

Last Sunday, I had cooked a lovely dinner for my kids — oven-roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and corn — and they turned their little noses up at it. This is not the first time this has happened, of course, but on this occasion I was so distressed I even took to Facebook to complain about my little ingrates (I believe I also complained to an extra-large glass of red wine later that night).

The truth is, it's not about the food; it's not about the fact that I wanted to serve them a healthy, home-cooked meal and they refused me. It's not even about how whiny and ill-mannered they were during the whole process. It's simply about feeling affirmed as a parent (or grandparent in my Oma's case); about being able to provide something special for the ones you love the very most.

At our house — like every other young family home across the country — it's been a really hectic week. Not only are the kids back at school, but all of the extracurricular activities are starting up again after summer's reprieve. Plus, with the start of a new hockey season, my husband is back to work reporting on the Ottawa Senators (with Daniel Alfredsson nowhere in sight!!).


As a mom, I intuitively want to help my family to get through their respective transitions as smoothly as possible. While I can't do much to lure Alfie back to Ottawa, I did bring my A-game to the back-to-school prep. Just like every other parent of school-aged kids, I was running around buying school supplies, kid-sized lunch containers, new "indoor shoes" and even those bizarre tennis-balls-with-a-slit-in-them to put on the bottom on my kids' chairs (I don't think "noise pollution" was a thing back when I was in school).

But after all the pencils are sharpened, after all the registration forms have been filled out for swimming and piano and art class; even after all the parent-teacher introductions have been made and we've seen their cute, organized class desks with our own eyes, there's one thing that gets forgotten: It's also a huge transition for us moms.

Amidst the happy, hectic busyness that fall brings, we moms tend to overlook the shift in our own lives. We focus on hustling everyone out the door on time each day, then return to a house that feels unnaturally quiet.

Don't get me wrong, that silence can be incredibly sweet — especially when you have personal and professional goals of your own to pursue. But the reality is that it takes adjusting to, and it can be really lonely — especially at the start of a new school year.


So, to all the other moms out there who can't quite understand why they feel so sad to see their little ones trek off to school — after waiting for it for the last couple of weeks of summer — know that it's OK.

It's OK to shed a few tears with your second cup of coffee after the school drop-off — I know I did those first few mornings that my youngest daughter headed off to grade one. Just be sure to give yourself some much-deserved credit for bringing all the pieces together, for facilitating this most important time in your children's lives.

Unlike our kids, we won't get a sticker at the end of the day that says, "Great work!" or "Way to go!" We won't get an official job progress report or a raise. Heck, we might not even get a thank-you for the effort of cooking a meal, spending our evenings helping with homework or chauffeuring our little ones to their many activities.

But just like the women that came before us, we do make a huge difference. So be sure to take the time you need to look proudly at your kids and say, "Hey, I did that!" And for goodness sake, be sure to save room for dessert the next time you're having dinner at grandma's house.

This article was originally published on Sep 12, 2013

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