School-age

What the first day of school is really like

Messy kitchens and temper tantrums—this is what the first day of school was really like for Jennifer Pinarski.

Pinarski-back-to-school

After a rough morning, Isaac manages a forced smile. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

It seems like every surface in my kitchen is covered in something sticky or broken: smeared handprints of what I hope is Nutella, a hairbrush snapped in half and crumpled pieces of painted paper. The Nutella is from our traditional back-to-school breakfast of crepes, but it was spilled (along with a plate piled high with bananas and whipped cream) when my kids started fighting over the last spoonfuls in the jar. The broken hairbrush is from my daughter, who pitched it across the room when I asked her to comb the tattiness out of her hair. And the paint on the paper is still wet—I know this because our dog stepped on a few pieces and tracked yellow and pink footprints all over our hardwood floors and into the living room.

It’s the crumpled paper that makes me feel the worst: They are my daughter’s discarded attempts to paint her new kindergarten teacher a picture welcoming her to the school. In my eyes, the pictures were perfect: small hearts and flowers painted as carefully as her five-year-old hands could manage. But, according to my daughter, the flowers were too small and the “W” in her teacher’s name was too big. Those misshapen letters triggered a tantrum I didn’t see coming.

So, instead of perfectly posed first-day-of-school pictures, I have a blurry shot of the back of my daughter’s head of hair (still messy) as she ran for the bus in tears. My son’s picture is a little better, but he’s smiling awkwardly—smiling because I told him to and I can tell his heart isn’t in it because he is worried about his sister.

I’m glad I don’t have to pose for a picture because my own eyes are puffy from crying. This isn’t what back-to-school is about; it’s supposed to be a new beginning and signal some exciting changes. Instead, I’ve got a filthy kitchen piled high with dishes that I just don’t have the heart to tackle right now.

I don’t get a redo on this morning. And even though I got a message from a friend that Gillian arrived at school smiley and tear-free, I don’t feel any better.

For someone who rarely feels the pressure to be perfect, I don’t know why it mattered so much to me that Gillian’s normally unruly hair be perfectly smooth or Isaac’s shorts be spotless. I’m sure both of them left the house with mismatched socks, but the fact that they found clean socks is a miracle at all since they’ve been barefoot most of the summer. I felt more pressure to make this morning flawless than I do on Christmas morning or birthdays, which I realize is ridiculous. But knowing that my kids boarded the bus anxious and upset because I spent the morning stressed out about breakfast and hairbrushes breaks my heart.

So, I’ll wipe up the Nutella and paint and throw the broken hairbrush in the garbage. I feel ashamed—like I’m hiding the evidence of our horrible morning—but my hope in doing this is to set the stage for a better day tomorrow. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past six years, it’s that it’s only one day and then the pressure to be perfect is off. My Facebook feed won’t have my friends’ smiling children in their new outfits and Pinterest won’t boast back-to-school supplies anymore.

We can go back to being our family—messy, tatty, barefoot—and be perfect in our own special way.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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