Finding a new normal

How to find your new normal when starting school is exhausting
I bought the thermos and the water bottle. I was ready with lunchbox snacks and juice boxes. I even baked fresh chocolate chip cookies for the heartwarming after-school mother/son chat we’d have on the first day.

But I certainly wasn’t prepared for the exhaustion that accompanies the first couple of weeks of school.

In a previous life (i.e. a few weeks ago) I would put the kids to bed and thoroughly enjoy my evenings. I used to stay up until 11 p.m. most nights, sometimes a little later, because we never had to be up very early. For the two years our son was in preschool, we didn’t have to leave the house until 8:30 a.m. We could “sleep in” until 7:45 a.m. even on our earliest days. I didn’t realize how lovely that was until it was gone.

Now, however, we’re a two-school family — preschool twice a week, elementary school five times a week. Monday through Friday, we need to hustle our five-year-old to the bus stop at the crack of dawn. The bus does not arrive at a reasonable time in the morning, like 8:20 or even 8:10 a.m. No, the bus arrives at the red-eyed blinky yawn-y hour of precisely 7:25 a.m.

If you’re fuzzy on the numbers, three of us need to be washed, brushed, dressed, fed, and down the road a full 20 minutes early than our previous “early” wake-up time. Open mouth, insert all the Diet Coke in the world.

The 7:25 a.m. bus means we scoot ourselves to the bus stop by 7:20 a.m. I’m compulsively early for everything, so don’t try to convince me I can stroll down right at 7:24 a.m. I’m the girl who arrives at a movie two hours before showtime so I can be the first one in the theatre and choose my ideal seat — 3/4 of the way back, dead centre.

Waking up when it’s still dark isn’t a problem for our newly-minted Primary student, because he’s always been an early riser. It’s not so easy for the rest of us, though. My husband is usually sleeping off the back shift, so I need to bring our sleepy three-year-old along for the walk to the bus stop. She is not a morning person. Actually, she’s not much of a late-afternoon person, either, but that’s besides the point.

I have been trying all of the tricks so we can sleep in as late as possible. I pack his lunch and lay out his clothes the night before. I put the backpack by the door. Sometimes I even lay out my own clothes. But it still seems like there’s too many boxes to check as I race up and down the stairs half-asleep.

It’s a brand-new pressure knowing the bus will be there whether you’re ready or not. Sure, it wouldn’t be difficult to drive him, but I think it’s become a twisted game for me. We cannot miss the bus. We are leaving in one minute. Go, go, go!

Tuesdays are the hardest, I’m learning, because it’s a two-school day and it’s the morning I’m volunteering at the elementary school’s breakfast program. We need to leave the house at 7:20 a.m., and the whirlwind of activity slows down at 9 a.m. when I finish the preschool drop-off. Then I get to go to work, which feels like a freaking vacation after so much rushing around.

It’s been an adjustment for all of us. There have been bedtime meltdowns, meals where the kids could barely lift their head off the table, and afternoons where everybody was cranky and overtired. It’s like how you feel exhausted during the first week at a new job — everything’s new and you’re absorbing so much, you feel completely drained. We’ve bumped up their bedtime to accommodate for the extra-early starts, and we’re slowly seeing an improvement.

So as much as I hate to give up any precious free “me-time” in the evenings, I have started forcing myself to go to bed earlier. It’s the only way I’m going to get through these insanely early, hectic mornings during the school year.

Because the only other solution is to drink my body weight in caffeinated hot tea every morning, and that’s probably not the best idea.

How to find your new normal when starting school is exhausting

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