by Meredith O’Brien
I identified perhaps a tad too much last week with the season premieres of Modern Family  and The Middle  as they related tales of saying goodbye to the old car you used to drive when your kids were little and trying to keep one step ahead of the chaos of all things school-related.
Pangs of nostalgia were what I felt as I watched the Dunphys from Modern Family prepare their old station wagon -- which they’d kept in their garage for years after buying a replacement vehicle – for sale. As the mom, Claire, went through their wood paneled car, she found item after item that reminded her of the time when her children were wee ones, clutching her oldest daughter Haley’s security blanket (“Blankety”) and an old glass jar “filled” with “sunshine” that her youngest child Luke had brought back from the beach so he could always remember that day with his family. So sweet. Makes your heart ache.
Even though the memories contained in that vehicle weren’t all sunshine and soft baby blankets – the dad, Phil, reminded his wife that Luke threw up on Blankety when he was a toddler and couldn’t get to “Buckety” in time (apparently Luke puked a lot during car rides when he was younger and had a designated vomit bucket) – Claire had twinges of sadness about “that whole part of our life driving away.” “Come on, a minute ago, they were babies, now they’re driving,” Claire said tearfully when she was standing in her house and gazing at the baby pictures on the wall.
While watching all of that I couldn’t help but think of how mournfully members of my own family reacted when we sold our tan minivan and replaced it with an SUV. We’d had that minivan since I was pregnant with my now-9-year-old son. My twins were 2 when one of them christened it “the funny van.” Inside that mom mobile was the detritus of our young family’s days: Boxes of restaurant-issued crayons (broken, melted), stray Legos, maps from trips to Cape Cod, a brochure from a New Hampshire amusement park for young children called Story Land which they’ve now outgrown, sea shells and battered board books. *cue the tissues*
However when I saw what the Heck family was going through during The Middle’s “Back to School” episode, there was no nostalgia and no tears, quite possibly because I’m smack, dab in the middle of the madness that is having three kids in school (grades four, six and six, to be precise) like the mom on the show. Trying to keep on top of my three kids’ school stuff makes me absolutely insane because it oftentimes feels as though I’m spitting into the wind, regardless of how organized I attempt to be. Not that that harsh reality ever stops me from trying to get a handle on all of it.
Since my kids started school at the beginning of the month, I’ve been diligently reading and signing all papers they bring home right after they’re deposited in my hands, after first asking threesome if they have any homework to complete. I’ve already written the checks for field trips and other school fees immediately so I wouldn’t forget about them. I’ve inputted the dates for curriculum nights, field trips and half-days into my BlackBerry and onto the family calendar. I thought I was on the ball.
Despite all this, I’ve still found myself scrambling on several recent mornings to race my boys to school because they suddenly remembered that they had to get to school early for band practice. During open houses at my kids’ schools, I learned that I had no idea one of my kids was supposed to be doing reading assignments and heard teachers make references to text books that they’re “sure” the parents had already seen. (Um, nope, I hadn’t seen them yet, bad, disorganized, uninvolved mom that I am.)
On The Middle, the school year for the Heck family started out pretty crummy. The episode opened only a few minutes before the school bus was set to arrive and the youngest son, Brick, hadn’t yet brushed his teeth and his mother Frankie (Patricia Heaton) discovered that Brick had left his lunch from the previous school year in his backpack all summer long, so the backpack stunk. The teenage daughter, Sue, raced into the kitchen to ask where her school supplies were, but since the parents hadn’t gotten any, her dad handed her a bowling pencil and a paper clip. The teenage son, Axl, had just woken up, was still in boxers and was apparently unaware that school started that day. “When was I supposed to find out about this?” he shouted. “Nice parenting Mom!” Needless to say, they all missed the bus.
This debacle prompted Frankie to commence a one-woman campaign to get out in front of the kids’ school schedules. The following morning, Frankie got up early and prepared a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, got and set an alarm for Axl so he’d wake himself up, bought Brick a new backpack, baked a freezer full of brownies for a year’s worth of school bake sales, filled out all school paperwork immediately and wrote out a check so Sue could be the first one on her cross country team to get a team sweatshirt. She also arranged to meet with Brick’s teacher to give her a head’s up on his quirky behavior.
However her Martha Stewartesque attempts at uber-organization all backfired dreadfully and she eventually gave up trying to stay ahead of anything. I’ve so been there. Every single school year, in fact, usually right around late-October, that’s typically when I cry “uncle.” But this year, this year’ll be different. I’m going to cling to that myth as long as I can. After all, it’s still only September . . .