If you’ve ever waited at the bus stop after school for 20 minutes before remembering your kid stayed home sick that day, forgotten groceries in the back of your car, or sent photos of carpet samples to the soccer coach, you’re not alone.
The epic demands of elementary school parenting often outweigh our capacity for organization, turning seasoned multitaskers into harried wrecks who can’t keep track of their own offspring. For the easily distracted among us, it’s even worse. Mounting responsibilities and increasing obligations spell imminent disaster, threatening our already marginal classroom cred and pushing us one step closer to a total unravelling.
Through my own trials as a distracted mom, I learned to survive by developing a set of skills that focus on simplicity and necessity, while mitigating chaos and decision making. I’m going on seven years as an elementary school parent, and so far, no one has perished.
Here are the details:
Embrace the power of one
Volunteer for one thing at school. Be on one committee. Raise money for one group. Sign your kids up for one extracurricular activity. Let them have one friend over at a time. Throw one birthday party a year. Remember, there is no yes in one, but there is a no.
Emails, texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, carrier pigeons, smoke signals, etc. – answer as soon as you read them, before they get shuffled below the next batch and you lose whatever imperative tidings they brought. Communication is nine-tenths of elementary school law, and you know as well as I, that this is where most mishaps take place. Replying now is simply a habit. Force yourself to do it, and before you know it, you will be known as the Responsible One.
Wear a uniform
I don’t mean dress like a police officer or a train conductor. I mean have prearranged outfits that don’t require thought or planning. We don’t have time to worry about fashion or matching. Those things are like rabbit holes to the easily distracted. Dress your kids using the same method, or better yet, teach them your ways.
Simplify your hamper
Maybe the problem with overwhelming amounts of laundry is that we have too many clothes, too many sheets, too many towels. There is no rule about only wearing something once (and if there is, it’s a stupid rule). If it’s not dirty, don’t wash it. When you strip the bed, wash the sheets, and then remake the bed with the same set. This also eliminates the horrid task of folding the fitted ones. If your family is of the fresh-towel-each-day mentality, you need to nix that ASAP. Tell them they are the cleanest they’ll ever be right after bathing; no new towel is necessary.
Write stuff down
Even if it’s on a used napkin that gets thrown away, the act of putting a thought to paper (any sort of paper) via your hand creates a deeper imprint in your “to do” neuropathway than just thinking it. The more senses you incorporate, the better your chances are that you will remember.
Ask someone to remind you
I have a friend who understands my distracted tendencies, and periodically, I text her to remind me to do things. She doesn’t always remember, either, but just by my asking her, I increase the chances of getting it done. Much like the theory behind writing stuff down, action creates memory.
Lower your standards
My dad has a saying, “Better is the enemy of good,” meaning, well, just what it says. My trying to espouse this concept any further is counterproductive to its message, so I will move on.
Prioritize and then let yourself off the hook
You have more things to do than you have time to do them in. What gives? Baths and showers can usually wait a day. Math homework cannot. Store-bought baked goods are better than none at all. Pizza is a fine option for dinner, as is take-out or fast food. And for God’s sake, no one cares about your housekeeping. My grandmother used to say, your kids are only young once, but you will have the rest of your life to clean your house.
What I try to keep in mind during this perilous elementary school season is that the hectic pace is only temporary. It will pass, and soon, we will be reading each other’s ruminations while sitting in a quiet, clutter-free room, drinking coffee that’s still hot.