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What not to do on the first day of school

Think you're supremely unprepared for the fall grind? Think again. Chances are you've got some competition from the Mayhem family. Check out our expert tips to avoid your own back-to-school nightmare.

By Missie Mayhem

The Sunday before Day One at our twin sons’ new middle school, we caught a morning flight from Miami to San Francisco. My husband wanted to save money with a redeye flight, but I put my foot down. The kids need to get ready for school, I told him. I thought my plan would give us time to get home for frozen pizza, hose the sand out of their hair, and buy two of those new Munch Boxes with self-cooling thermology they’d been nagging me for.

As it turns out, the plane was late, so we had to skip the family dinner and school supply shopping. But that’s why God invented fast-food takeout and paper bags, right?

After 20 consecutive days at the beach, Sammy started whining about not wanting to go to sixth grade. I tried to brace him: “Honey, you’re not going back to elementary school, so you better get used to it.” My wise counsel didn’t have the intended effect. Somewhere over the Rockies, he began whimpering, and when he saw the silhouette of San Francisco in the sunset, hyperventilation took hold.

“I’m … not … going,” he said between gasps.

“Do you know how many deprived kids around the world would happily eat their shoes to attend your school?” I pointed out.

“Then let them!” Sweat appeared on his upper lip.

I started to panic too. “You need to get a hold of yourself,” I said through gritted teeth. “I have to go back to work tomorrow.” The flight crew was giving us the eye. “I’ll give you a new iPod if you can just calm down.”

Jacob wasn’t complaining, so I assumed he was ready for his new life in middle school. Granted, he’d been playing video games 24/7 until blisters appeared on his thumbs. When he was asked to put away his Game Boy at takeoff, the nervous energy had to go somewhere. His legs began jiggling with maniacal intensity, and I tried to distract him by suggesting he do the math problems he’d been asked to complete over the summer.

“Not now, Mom!”

“It’s only 10 pages. You’re so smart — you'll finish it in no time!"

Nothing worked until my husband threatened to take away his Game Boy. That roused his inner Einstein.

By the time we got home, both kids were complaining that they wanted a treat for the last day of summer. I let them stay up until 11:30 watching Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.

The next morning was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to hell and back. We slept in. I surprised the boys with matching school outfits their grandmother had sent. They burst into tears. I explained they had no choice but to wear them anyway because nothing else was clean.

Missie Mayhem lives on a cul-de-sac of the American dream with her devoted husband and two tween boys. She never reads GreatSchools articles but occasionally contributes her parental torments and traumas to make the rest of us feel better.

Comments from readers

"intersting article but i would have made my kids where matching outfite the middle schools let them have some indivuality "
"I am a veteran teacher having seen 20 back-to-schools. My heart goes for those students coming to school TIRED. In our busy world, we adults want to stretch time awake to get it all accomplished. This cannot be for our children. Sleep is so important for health and well-being. Children who have late bedtimes and too early risings suffer academically. Back 'in-the-day', our parents gave us the structure of adequate sleep schedules. Don't let modern parenting fool you- Elementary-aged children need 10-11 hours; middle-school; 9-10 hours a night. "
"For those of you that are criticizing the parents with their eating choices and 'bribe' techniques, I would say to you: Get over your better-than-you attitude. We as parents faulter on occasion. We are human, not everything goes as planned... My daughter just started 6th grade this Monday. She is a very confident girl that doesn't get freaked out by much. As I approached the stop sign right around the corner from her school, she turned to me with fear and tears in her eyes and said 'Mommy, I'm not too sure about this.' I couldn't help but to tear up myself, but held it together enough to calm her down and put her at ease. The funny thing about it is that when I picked her up, she told me that her day was boring!! We all go through some sort of anxiety before we start something we haven't done before. This story was humorous to me..."
"I just read the various comments appended to this article. People!! Have you never heard of satire? The number of respondents who seemed to think this was a true account was incredible. The article was to make you think (and smile) by showing bad examples, in a humorous tone. The writing is quite cute, a welcome relief at this time of year."
"I enjoyed reading the story and I empathize with parents today. It is not easy disciplining kids today when so much revolves around them. We are bombarded with technology from every direction and parents are so stressed out with most households where both parents have to work to scrape by or with single parents. Then to top it off everybody is analyzing everybody elses parenting style. I think parents are so lenient because they are "
"We actually visit Disneyland the last day before school starts because we've completed the rat race early. Since our school year starts so late, the park is empty, and the kids never had time to fret about the small stuff. A nice, long, pleasant day wears them out, and they end up crashing in the car--far earlier than they ever would have if they'd bounced out of bed 10 times with 'I can't sleep--I'm too excited.' It might not work for everyone, but it's been a lifesaver for us. With the school year starting on a different date this year, it won't work, so we'll look for something else to distract them the day before school starts--maybe the Science Center."
"This seemed a little nuts. A child should not be terrified to start the sixth grade. It's one thing to be nervous... but not down-right terrified. As for the advice... It always worked well for my family to just jump into the first day of school. You get tired enough that you get right back onto your original school plan. Last year, we came back from Disney World at 3 AM on the first day of school. We encountered a house full of flees. (No fun!) But everything ended up working perfectly and there were no issues. The first day really isn't that important. Teachers give out small amounts of homework... but it's usually get-to-know-you stuff or see-what-you-know work. The best advice is to find out what works best for your family when it comes to the back-to-school routine. For mine, it's jump-in. For others, they like to plan ahead."
"This story was anxiety provoking and demonstrated poor planning, poor judgement and lack of limits on the parents part. WHen ya plan a vacation, never come back the night before start of school--and then let the kids stay up soooo late, gosh, ya set yerself up for potential problems without much reserve. There are reasonable ways to have a good balance between fun and discipline/responsibility, so you do not have to resort to giving in to your kids to counter the stressed you have caused from not planning well. That being said, sometimes unexpected things happen even with good planning and then need to regroup and do what is best, not always what is easiest for all."
"Parents stop trying to be so... perfect. Just relax and laugh a little. This story is only one example of what many parent do go through at one point. Although many parents wont EVER admit to it. We all sometimes loose sight of being parents and act more as friends to our kids. Which is only a normal stage. This parent seems to be a dedicated, FUN , LOVING. i bet she is also strict when needed. this story shoulD serve as a lesson to all parents. Start sharing out of control moments. We all have them. "
"Very funny great story. Makes me feel well prepared. I have twins entering Kindergarten. It is stressful the story brings me some relief!"
"I hope this isn't a real story, because this family is nuts! No wonder the kids are so spoiled...a 20 day vacay and a new ipod if the kid will just agree to go back to school! Someone call Children's Services!"
"If the mom promises an iPod for the boy for just agreeing to go back to school, is it any wonder they are spolied?"
"Maybe Missie should be reading GreatSchools articles. Do parents really act like that? Please give us something more realistic not an example of parents who give into their child's every whim because they have stressed their child out."
"Parents have back to school night to meet with teacher and other parents. Should the kids have some type of back to school night before the school even starts? This will help to ease some pain. Can’t remember how I felt when I was going to middle school, but certainly didn’t complaint to my parents. It is privilege to have education provided. There are millions of kids in other part of the world have to travel several miles, every single day, with their bare feet, to go to school. I am a bit concerned that we, parents and society, even allow that to happen. If the kids are feared of going to school and get educated, I can’t imagine the future of this country. "
"Try to avoid frozen pizzas and fast food as well."
"Okay, the advice on this page wasn't good---at all. The only thing that was a little helpful, was starting the routine a little early, that's all. One of the worst things that i've heard that's escalating between ignorant parents was probably the whole 'Notes in the Lunchbag' thing. Kids hate that. They don't want to hear from you while they're hanging with their friends in school. You would be ruining one of the best things about school for us kids. I know, I have personal experience. And they're not worried about not making friends or anything. But they use being afraid to be alone as an excuse for almost not going because they don't want to go. Duh people. Kids like me and the rest of my peers are progressing. And getting sneakier and more manipulative."
"Glad my boys don't cry like these kids. Must be difficult."
"I loved it--very funny."