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I Thought I Was an Exhausted Working Mom. Then My Kids Started Elementary School.

When I returned to work after my first maternity leave, I learned how to prepare for each upcoming day as quickly as possible so that I could maximize my time each night with my little one. Even once I had three kids, prepping for preschool wasn’t a daunting task. Tiring, sure, but not that hard. After all, the school had just about anything that my little one could possibly need, from changes of clothes to extra food and even resting mats and blankets. Once my oldest entered kindergarten, though, that’s when the exhaustion really set in.

The extra requirements that come with elementary school roll in before the kids even show up! There’s a seemingly never-ending list of supplies that each child needs to have on the first day. While you can buy them all at once through a gloriously convenient website, the total is almost double the price of buying the products individually. With three kids who need totally different supplies, I’m compelled to maximize my spending power, so I run to many different stores to pick up the random assortment that each new grade requires.

Then, there’s the paperwork. Oh, the paperwork. Stacks and stacks of it. “But they require medical forms at daycare too,” you say. Ha! Those are easy! You send them to the doctor’s office for the staff to complete. I, however, have no staff to complete the field trip permission forms, sign-ups for conferences and handwritten checks for random events. This paperwork isn’t one time, either. It’s nonstop throughout the year. I'd be happy to write a $100 check in August to cover everything, rather than sending in 37 separate ones. And with each check comes its own medical form. I know, you thought those were done! I unintentionally memorized my insurance card number after documenting it so many times.

I keep an old-school, handwritten calendar on the bulletin board in our kitchen, and I write down every field trip, school event and important deadline. But it’s not enough. I need additional reminders on my phone so that I can ensure that the kids have what they need each day. That’s because their elementary school runs on a six-day schedule. Forget Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We have days A to F, which leaves me constantly asking, “What day is it?!” Depending on the letter day, one kid may have gym and need sneakers, another could have art and need a smock, and another could have library and need to return books. Heaven forbid we forget their books on library day; they can’t take out new ones.

Picking them up from the bus is another change from our preschool days. If I were stuck in a meeting or caught in traffic while my kids were in preschool, I knew they were safe and I could take my time getting to them. The bus that drops off my elementary-school kids does not wait until I arrive. True, their driver wouldn’t let them off the bus without an adult to receive them, but my kids would be in tears if Mommy didn’t show up in time. I find myself ducking out of work meetings and driving like a maniac to avoid the hysterics that would erupt if the bus were to beat me to the stop.

In addition to the normal holidays like Valentine’s Day and birthdays, elementary schools tend to add additional school spirit activities like Field Day, Teacher Appreciation Week and author celebrations. So many author celebrations. And they all come with tasks for the parents, like bringing a special food or rearranging your work schedule so you can be at school to eat said special food.

Remember that delightfully unscripted play routine from post-preschool afternoons? GONE. It has since morphed into more formal, organized activities like sports practice and music lessons. I get home before my husband, so I’m on carpooling duty, driving my kids all around town, most days of the week.

Later in the night (after unpacking school bags, making dinner and cleaning up), we tackle homework, practice words from the spelling lists and fill out miscellaneous forms. When everyone is finally in bed, I do a quick sweep of the calendar and make sure that we are all prepared for the next day’s activities. Even after all of the list-making, planning and organizing, I sometimes forget to pack a spoon to accompany the yogurt in the lunch box or a library book on library day. Blame Daddy.

The to-do list may seem ever-growing, but ultimately, when I arrive in time to the bus stop and receive running hugs from my kids, I know that all the stress and exhaustion to get there was worth it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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