At the beginning of a new school year, parents and teachers rely on a familiar mantra to get themselves through the hectic days: “In a few weeks, all of this chaos will start to settle down, and life will get back to normal.” Those words—comforting as they may be to an overwhelmed mother, father, or educator—contain about as much truth as the campaign promises of the average candidate for Congress.
“Things will get back to normal after football/ softball/ basketball/ soccer/ track/ cross-country/ wrestling/ volleyball/ baseball/ trap/ fishing/ golf season.”
“Once we get past Halloween/ Thanksgiving/ Christmas/ New Year’s/ Easter…”
“After parent-teacher conferences/ winter concerts/ DRA testing/ spring concerts/ spring break/ MAP testing/ homecoming/ prom/ graduation…”
I don’t think so.
The simple fact is that for parents and teachers, there is never a time when the chaos really settles down.
“What about summer,” you may ask. Summer? You mean the season of little league tournaments, family road trips, band camps, cheer camps, church camps, and visits to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and cartoon mice?
“Well, after the kids are grown…”
College. Weddings. Grandkids.
“After I retire…”
Fine. Someday, likely many years from now, your life may finally start to settle down. Congratulations. But it almost certainly will not “get back to normal.”
The truth is that I have no idea what the phrase “getting back to normal” means. “Normal” for me is trying to keep three kids, two dogs, one cat, and a handful of aquarium fish alive every day.
“Normal” means subbing at the primary school three to five days per week, driving to soccer practice and games three or four days per week, chaperoning field trips, participating in reading celebrations, announcing football games and track meets, taking long RV vacations, performing wedding ceremonies, scrambling to meet my weekly deadline for this column, taking my kids to dentist, doctor, and orthodontist appointments, taking my pets to the vet, mowing the yard, maintaining our fleet of vehicles, washing dishes, doing laundry, vacuuming the house, and trying to find some quality time to spend with my wife, children, and friends. You know; “normal” stuff.
Being a parent and teacher, I often fall into the trap of yearning for a more serene, less-chaotic life. Raising three children and teaching hundreds more can be very demanding and, at times, extremely stressful. But wishing away the chaos is the same as wishing away life itself. Because life is chaos.
My 94-year-old grandmother is a parent, a grandparent, a great-grandparent, and a great-great grandparent. She was also a second grade teacher for many years. She raised three kids, helped raise a few of her grandkids (including yours truly), and taught hundreds of kids in school (including yours truly).
Grandma survived the Great Depression. She witnessed the advent of television, commercial air travel, and the space program. When her husband joined the Army and fought in WWII, Grandma took over his job at the railroad. She sent her sons off to fight in Vietnam.
My grandmother outlived her parents, her in-laws, many of her friends, her husband, and two of her children. She bought an RV when she was in her eighties and drove herself, unannounced, to relatives’ houses throughout Missouri and Iowa. Despite, (or perhaps because of), all the chaos, she has lived her best life.
And if you ask her, Grandma would probably tell you that her chaotic life has been completely normal, because chaos is a completely normal part of life.
Parents and teachers, if you’ve been telling yourselves that all of this end-of-the-school-year chaos will start to settle down when summer break begins, who am I to burst your bubble? But I hope you aren’t suffering from the delusion that life will get back to normal anytime soon.
Life is already as normal as it will ever be.
Life is chaos. Chaos is life.