5 Tips For Starting the New School Year Off on the Right Foot

back to school Collage

School starts for my children next Wednesday, so this is the last week of summer vacation for us! It definitely went by too quickly this year, and I’m in full on back to school mode: gathering new supplies, transitioning the kids to earlier bedtimes, and meditating (that one is for me). While I do look forward to getting back to the routine that school days impose on our family, I know that the beginning of the year is an opportunity for us set the tone for that routine, so I’ve been feeling the pressure to do it right.

Fortunately, I can reassure myself, this is my 6th year as a parent of school aged kids (if you count Kyle’s one year of preschool). I’ve picked up a few survival tactics along the way that have worked for us. I will be preparing these tools (and my mindset) during this last week of freedom, and I’d like to share them with you.

5 Tips For Starting the New School Year Off on the Right Foot

back to school
Last day of summer ritual

Ritual is very important for our family. We operate much more smoothly when the same things happen at the same-ish time every day. But above and beyond the daily wake-up time, the morning routine, and the bike ride to school, there are other less frequent rituals we engage in to mark the passage of time. For example, one of my favorite new traditions is a special family dinner the night before the first day of school. We live about 20 minutes’ drive from the beach in Malibu California. Our favorite family spot out there is called Neptune’s Net. It’s a greasy shack by the beach filled with bikers, beach people, and tourists. We drive out there before sunset, order a meal of cheeseburgers and fries, and top it off with ice cream cones for the kids. Then we take a short walk on the beach at sunset, and that’s the end of summer. Sad, a little, but it also marks a new beginning.

Paperwork organization
It’s the bane of your existence – the continuous flow of papers that come home from school folded, battered, crumpled up at the bottom of the backpack. Or, just as bad, thrust into your face with enthusiasm by a child who doesn’t care that you have a hot cup of coffee in your hands or you’re on the phone. I suggest getting ahead of the onslaught before it even starts. Here’s how I have wrestled that mess into submission:
Countertop tray:  all papers that don’t need immediate attention get thrown here. So do pens, pencils, erasers, little tchotchke toys, various Legos, and mail. Once a week I go through the entire load setting aside a pile for recycling, a pile to go to my office, a pile to be sent back into the kids’ school folders, and items for each of their bulletin boards.
IMG_4681 IMG_4680
Bulletin boards: I have a large bulletin board for each child. On each I tack some of their artwork, instructions for ongoing projects like book reports or group projects, reward certificates, and various keepsakes and photographs that the children themselves like to save. Having his own bulletin board is an important ownership tool for the child. I also have a smaller bulletin board that’s right in the middle of the family public space. That’s where I keep coupons, reminders, permission slips, and a small plastic baggie to collect box tops.
Plastic filing boxes: School papers and artwork that I want to keep forever (or until the boys move out) get filed by grade year into a see-through plastic filing box, one for each kid. The stuff I like but must throw away or recycle for space’s sake gets digitally archived (I use an app called ArtKive).

Expect the unexpected

You can pre-make lunches, stock up on Post-It Notes, and set out your kids’ outfits the night before. No matter what you do beforehand, life will get crazy. Sports, after-school activities, group projects, field trips, sick days…all of those will happen and throw you off your game. So prepare your “just in case” resources. A trusted backup chauffeur. An extra house key hidden in a strategic location. A doctor at your beck and call?

LiveHealth Online is an app that allows you to video conference with a physician from the comfort of your own home. It can make your life so much easier – imagine getting a diagnosis and treatment, if needed, for a potentially sick kid or yourself without leaving the house on a busy morning before school. This actually happened to me and it was as great as it sounds. A typical visit is $49 but LiveHealth Online is a covered benefit for many Anthem Blue Cross PPO, EPO, and HSA plans. The cost is the same or less than a primary care provider office visit.

Empower the children

Whatever age your children are, find appropriate tasks for them to handle. While this helps you get out the door faster in the morning by dividing up the labor, it also makes them feel more responsible and proud. Plus your whole job as a parent is to prepare them to be adults. Might as well do this gradually instead of all of a sudden kicking them out of the nest at 18 not knowing how to do anything. Mine have finally mastered brushing their teeth and dressing themselves – Brady is very fashion conscious and careful to pick clothing items that are “cool.”


Now they are 7 and 9, so even though I cringe at relinquishing control over any part of my finely orchestrated mornings, I think they’re ready to assemble their own lunches. We’re doing a dry run a few days before school starts. Wish me luck.

Establish a human relationship at school

Okay so I’ve taken this one way over the top – I’ll be the co-president of the PTA this year. Don’t do that. That is not my tip. (I mean, you should totally do that if it’s your thing – it’s a lot of work but it can be fun if you have the right attitude.) My point is, don’t just communicate by email and permission slips. Even if you are a busy working parent, it is worth the time to go into your kids’ school early in the year to meet their teachers, put your face in front of the office staff, say hello to the principal, and get a feel for the vibe at school. Your kids see you taking an interest in their lives, they feel like they can confide in you or tell you stories about what goes on because you can visualize the places where they learn and play. And the school staff can put a face to your name if you ever need their help, which you probably will.

Bonus: breathe and roll with it. As with anything parenting related, once you get a system in place and you think you’re golden, something will change: your kid’s attitude, the school’s personnel or process, your own availability, whatever. The Universe has a way of messing with you once you settle down and think you’re getting good at this. So take a deep breath, count your lucky stars, and be flexible.

This post is part of a campaign sponsored by LiveHealth Online. You can try it for free using the code LHOHouseofPrinceVisit when you register to see a doctor. You can use LiveHealth Online 24/7, 365 days a year to talk securely and privately by two­-way video chat with a U.S.-based, board-certified primary care doctor. Please do take advantage of the free code, which is valid now through October 31, 2014, and let me know what your experience is like!

Wordless Wednesday: End of Summer

brady swimming

Last chance pool days of summer.

5 Days of Gratitude: Day 1, Estate Planning

estate planMy friend and fellow writer Rina tagged me in that old-school way to do an exercise in which I list three things that make me grateful, five days in a row. But it was on Facebook, and I still have my love/hate relationship with Facebook dialed too far into the wrong side to want to do something there consistently, so I decided to do it here.

I still can’t quite articulate why I cringe about the Facebook. I had no problem sharing stuff there last week when I was at an event for social media promotion. That was fun, and I liked engaging with my friends about the updates and images I shared. But something feels off to me lately about sharing deeper feelings, like feelings of gratitude. Not always, but more often than not. So, I will wait for the pendulum to swing back around to the love side and then I will act like my old Facebook friendly self again.

I have no problem sharing all kinds of personal feels here on my blog, especially because its 10th birthday is approaching. With that in mind I have slowly but surely been crawling through each post, one at a time from the beginning, recategorizing, tagging, correcting, deleting, and even pulling some posts for my book. That’s 120 months of blog posts – it’s definitely slow going. In the process I feel like I am revisiting my old self, my 10-years-ago self, that woman, that new mother, that new blogger, navigating the world of journaling online just as “online” was becoming a thing that people knew about.

I am SUPER nostalgic for those times now, and for the way I wrote, and for the way I shared. If you want to know what the heck I am talking about, here is a link to the first full-fledged story post that I wrote, back in October of 2004: The Great Flu Shot Caper. Let me know if you agree with me – that shit stands the test of time, in my opinion. I am proud of what I saved here.

Back to gratitude. I’m totally going to cheat on this tagged challenge. I’m going to pick one headliner for the list of three, and then include two others at the bottom, almost like footnotes, but you the reader may intuit that a gratitude footnote is much more than that, and maybe I’m just burying something huge in a footnote. Or maybe it’s just a footnote.

Gratitude List Day 1

estate plan 3

1. Estate Planning

Morbid and unsavory as it is, the task of estate planning is absolutely necessary for someone who has children, or a spouse, or even any person on the earth who cares for him or her. And if you don’t have an “estate” (I would not argue that Casa de Prince, with its lack of direction-labeled wings, pool, and butler, is an estate) that doesn’t mean you are not a person who needs a will and/or trust depending on what state you live in. My primary goal with our estate planning was to draw up easily-found instructions about how to care for my children in the event of disaster. And also a will and trust etc. etc.

I tried to do it myself and save money. How hard could it be? It was hard. I was too afraid of making a misstep and mucking the whole thing up. So we finally buckled down and hired a lawyer, the same guy who does our taxes actually. We met with him and his paralegal in a polished wood conference room while the kids were at school. I tried not to but I pretty much wept through the whole thing. It was awful. I had that terrible post-cry headache the rest of the day. But I got through it.

And now we have our official documents, and the people who will care for our children in the event of disaster know who they are, and our healthcare proxies are in place, and our house will transfer easily without the interference of California probate (P.S. I read the code while I went through the drafts of the documents and holy cow is that stuff boring. Great sleep inducer for the insomniac.), and I can rest now knowing that it is all handled. I am grateful to have found a person to handle this for us at a reasonable cost, and I am grateful that it’s done.

Overall, I am, eternally (as they say), grateful for what it protects.

boys in ocean

2. Two working cars, even though they both have over 100K miles and almost 10 years on them.

3. The forgiving nature of children.

Wordless Wednesday: State Line

massachussetts state line