Even though giving up the relaxed schedule of summer is always a hard transition, back-to-school season has its perks, too. I, like many parents the world over, use going back to school as a recalibrate button, almost akin to New Year’s resolutions. It’s a fresh start with squeaky clean clothes and new school supplies.
This year, I tell myself, I will have organized menu planning and creative lunch ideas. This year, I will follow through on chores and discipline, and we will wake up early and arrive at school on time. This year, I will get in a consistent exercise routine, and I will manage our busy household calendar with ease and peace. I will volunteer in the school and help out with extracurricular activities. And, like New Year’s resolutions, my fabulous new school year intentions last about . . . seven days.
Nevertheless, every school year, I give it my best. I attend the parent meetings for each child’s classroom, and I sign the volunteer sheet to contribute in some way to the responsibilities of the class. I sign up for sports snack schedules and buy Boy Scout and dance uniforms and look for ways to stay connected and involved with what my children are doing. For the most part, I enjoy being engaged; my personality is wired for “doing,” for being active and informed and connected. But sometimes, I reach a threshold of overcommitment, and I have to admit to myself that I cannot do it all.
Last September, I went to the initial parent meeting for an after-school activity my son attended. The organization is wonderful and depends on parental involvement to make it successful. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed that day thinking of all the things to which I had already made a commitment. The clipboard with the volunteer opportunities began making its way around the room. I panicked. Where could I find more time to squeeze in some extra hours of my time? I already experience from time to time the working parent guilt that I can’t chaperone every school field trip and make copies for the teachers in the work room. How could I add another obligation?
My friend, who knows me well, was sitting next to me and intuited my anxiety. She looked and me and said firmly, “Pass the clipboard.” Was she serious? Did she mean that I should pass the clipboard without signing up for something? Do people do this? Is that even an option? I have always signed the clipboard, no matter my level of busyness. She noticed my hesitation and said again, “Pass the clipboard to the next person.”
I sheepishly scanned the room of parents to see if anyone was watching my horrible transgression of not carrying my share of the load. I was certain everyone would be staring at me, judging me for not putting my name next to something I would most likely later resent.
My heart racing, my palms sweaty, I looked around the circle. No one was even looking in my direction. I let out an audible sigh, and I passed the clipboard to the next parent without signing my name next to anything. I did it. For the first time. And it felt exhilarating, like a weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Moms cannot do it all, all the time. And sometimes when we try to do it all for every kid and every opportunity, we do not do it well. We do not do with our best selves because there is so little to give. We give to others to the point that we have little to offer our partner, let alone ourselves. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to pass the clipboard. It’s healthier for you as a person and as a mom to dial back occasionally to be present to all that is going on in the scheduled lives we live.
It’s okay; you will sign the clipboard another time when another parent cannot. You will not sign the clipboard when another parent has the space to carry the load. We are all in different seasons of our lives, and we trust that our working together as parents and communities will carry us where we need to go.
I love the image of an oar across a big ship, where many hands are rowing together. Some people exert more strength than others at certain times, and some people are limply hanging on for dear life. And when those who were rowing hard run out of energy, those who were dragging along gain the momentum to continue the journey forward.
So, moms, as we approach another busy and well-intended back-to-school season, I give you the same permission that my thoughtful friend graciously gave to me: Pass the clipboard if you need to. There will be so many more clipboards on which to sign your name, and there will be lots of chances to offer your gifts and yourself to the world and its needs. Don’t worry; I will sign the clipboard for you this year. I am ready to dive again this year, thanks to the courage to learn from passing the clipboard last year.