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Challenge: Back to School

Striking a Balance: My Biggest, and Ever-Growing, Back-to-School Challenge

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Early wake up calls. Packing lunches and backpacks. Scrambling to get out the door in time to make the bus. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour. In many respects, summer bears a striking resemblance to the school year around here. That's because my husband and I both work full-time. Translation? Full-day camp programs for our two kiddos for as much of the summer as possible.

For the most part, summer is business as usual. My husband and I have our respective clocks to punch, meetings to attend, clients to please. Same old, same old. For the kids, swimming, fishing, and arts & crafts replace math, spelling, and science. Short of rehearsing lines for camp plays, decorating t-shirts for capture the flag, and creating outfits for camp spirit days, homework is nonexistent. As the kids like to say, it's all fun all the time. And, they fall into bed exhausted every night.

Sometimes I feel guilty about running them ragged all summer. Until I remind myself that it beats the alternative. They could be home with a sitter, bored to tears, plopped in front of the television, using devices, playing video games. I shudder at the thought and I feel blessed that I've been able to give them freckles, sun-bleached hair, dirty feet, and new friends.


Most days, they get off the camp bus and we immediately head to the community pool until dinner time. When school starts again, it'll be homework and sports. And, that's what makes me nervous.

I used to consider back to school my break, my chance to make everything normal again. The past several weeks may be the very first time I have ever embraced the summer schedule. And repeatedly tried to step on the brakes a bit. As my kids prepare to start sixth and fourth grade (I can't believe they're 11 and nine), I worry so much more about the school year than I used to, and I truly appreciate how summer gives them - and me - a small chance to come up for air.

My kids each have their own set of challenges with school. My son, the older one, has a knack for irresponsibility, forgetting homework assignments. He's smart but prefers not to do the work. He would rather play hockey - on the days he doesn't have practice, he's out shooting pucks in the driveway. My daughter doesn't mind homework. But, she struggles with spelling, reading, and writing. She always has. Consistently failing spelling tests, despite working hard to "get" the words, has taken a considerable toll on her confidence.

Far from over scheduled, my kids each play one fall sport. They may add a one-day-per-week after school activity if schedules permit. I can't allow more than that and still feel capable of setting them up for overall success.

I worry more than anything about striking a balance - pushing them to overcome some of their challenges and feed off the inspiration success delivers, but not shoving so hard that they burn out, hate me, feel alone, or (gasp!) lose their confidence.

You see, as a kid and into adulthood, I was your classic over achiever. Nothing less than an A was good enough. Ever. I worked way too hard. Making mistakes and needing help were simply unacceptable. I thought being wrong meant you were stupid. My self-confidence was nonexistent. I don't know where the drive for perfection came from. Did I think I saw it in my parents and think I needed to be like them? Did it come from them directly? I have no idea. And, at this point in my life, it doesn't matter. All I know is I don't ever want my kids feeling the same way I did.

The pressure to be perfect, whether or not it was self-inflicted, was too much. I was always wanting to run away. And I did. Many times. For several hours. Whether on foot or in my car. I remember often wishing I was dead. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure I suffered from some kind of depression and/or anxiety.

While I have no desire to assign blame to anyone or anything, as my kids get older, I absolutely must remain ever cognizant of the incredible pressure I experienced and my constant feelings of inadequacy. Because, ultimately, these things contributed to the adult I became. The adult who, over a period of several years, became so afraid of not achieving perfection that she managed to sabotage personal happiness and professional success and slipped into a state of active addiction to alcohol.

I never got caught committing a crime. And, I never attempted suicide. But there are at least a dozen times I was close. Frighteningly close.

It's my job to make sure this never happens to my kids. But I also need to be tough enough on them that they have every opportunity to excel and enjoy happiness throughout their lives -- today, tomorrow, in high school and college, and personally and professionally.

Luckily, I found my way. All on my own. Before it was too late. And, I'm approaching my second sober back to school. I hope my kids know it's alright to get lost, make mistakes, and ask for help. Any time. I tell them this often. I crave proof that they are listening.

Like any mom, I want greatness, confidence, happiness, and success for my kids. I promise to push them. Hard. Harder than they want to be pushed. I also promise to stay sober and aware and curious about their emotions so I can be one of their strongest sources of support every step of the way.

Driving home with a car full of groceries the other day, a back to school ad came on the radio. I've heard it enough already to tune it out. But, with a clenched fist my daughter objected to the voice. "Stop talking about school," she demanded. "It's still summer."

"Exactly, sweetie," I sighed. "Exactly. And, we're going to enjoy every last minute."

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