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Dear Principal: It’s Not Our Fault!

It has been exactly one week since school started. If you have school-aged children, then you probably feel similar to the way we do: Personally satisfied and somewhat exhausted. It’s tough getting the kids ready, out the door, and to school on time after a long summer break.

So far so good. Our girls have made it on-time, fully clothed and fed each day.

Knock on wood, however. It’s like we’re in the early stages of a foot race. We’re feeling good, but we know the pain and fatigue will set in before too long. There will be days when systems break down, routines are blown up, and we’ll be ringing the buzzer on the school’s front door because our kids missed the morning bell. We’ll sheepishly walk into the school’s office to sign our kids in while staff members half-listen to our half-baked excuses with bemused looks on their faces. There will be days where we’re running late.

So that’s why we’re getting ahead of the issue this year. We’ve managed to navigate some tricky morning scenarios in the first week, and we’re starting to see some patterns emerge. There are certain behaviors that the kids are exhibiting that will, inevitably, trip us up as the school year wears on. Rather than scrambling at the last minute to respond to a missive from the school inquiring as to the reasons why we we’re having trouble making the 8:43 a.m. bell on time, we’re taking some time at the outset to get our thoughts down on paper.

Here’s our preemptive letter to the principal

Dear Principal,

It is with great humility, shame and earnestness that I write to you. My wife, Heather, and I were quite dismayed to receive your letter this early in the school year. Rest assured that we believe deeply in the importance of personal and parental responsibility. The behavior of our children – good or bad – not only reflects upon us, it is us. As the parents lead, the children follow.

But…in this case it’s just not our fault. The children are to blame.

We know, it’s disruptive and unhelpful to the classroom environment for our kids to show up late to school, but there’s a perfectly good explanation for their tardiness: They have zero regard for our morning directives and simply refuse to cooperate.

We are truly at a loss as to what to do. Perhaps you should be communicating directly with them? Our six year old is quite mature for her age and we believe she would be receptive to your concerns. As for the twins, well, it’s never too early for a figure of authority such as yourself to instill a little discipline. We’ve set the bar pretty low, so you’ll likely derive great satisfaction from the positive impact you’ll assuredly make on them during these formative years.

Lest you think we are shirking responsibility for our children’s behavior, we wanted to inform you of some of the mitigating circumstances that, I’m sure you’ll agree, explain why your frustration with Heather and I is misguided (or, perhaps better put, misinformed). Here are a few stumbling blocks in our morning routine.

Toast

Yes, toast. Seriously. The kids love toast. The problem is that they are very particular about how their toast is prepared. Much like the three little pigs and their porridge, our three little ones like their toast “just right.” I know, we’re talking about toast here, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. When bread in the toaster reaches 310 degrees Farenheit, a chemical change called the Maillard reaction begins. That’s when sugars and starches start to caramelize and the bread turns brown. These kids are pretty particular about the color and texture of their toast. Sometimes it takes us a couple of tries to get it right, and that takes time.

Then there are the toppings. Some days it’s butter. Others it’s jelly. Occasionally they ask for peanut butter. We even get requests for orange marmalade (What’s up with that?). Sometimes they ask for one thing then change their mind, requiring us to scrape off one gob of sugary, gelatinous condiment and add another.

And of course there is the mess. Kids don’t eat toast the way normal human beings do. You’re supposed to eat toast from the corner, and carefully work your way in using small bites. Kids go right for the middle, taking a large bite in the center of the slice, resulting in butter and jelly (or whatever the topping du jour is) being smeared all over their cheeks. After a good helping of toast with raspberry jelly, our kids resemble the Joker from The Dark Knight. It’s very disconcerting. Toast toppings almost always end up in their hair and on their clothes as well.

Speaking of clothes…

Getting Dressed

Admittedly, we still haven’t figured out the right routine: Clothes before food, or food before clothes? Any thoughts?

We’ve come to believe that a great way for companies to interview potential job candidates is ask them to manage the process of getting little kids dressed and ready for school. It’s a great test of determination, time management, persuasive skills, patience, and stamina. You can try to be hands on, but you’ll soon learn that you need to learn how to delegate: Most kids want to try to dress themselves. This takes time. And what results is often a debacle.

Pants inside out. Head stuck in a shirt armhole. Even if they get the clothes on right, the color, pattern and seasonal combinations they choose look like something that Bjork would wear on the red carpet. The only upside to an outfit that is outrageously mismatched is that other parents know that it must have been your kid that picked it out. It’s when they pick something to wear that is only borderline ridiculous that there’s the potential for ambiguity.

Once the kids are dressed, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. While we’re busy packing lunches and getting shoes out (more about this in a moment), an opportunity for the twins to slip away presents itself – and they seize upon it like a “just take one” basket of Halloween goodies left on a porch.

The first sign that something is awry is the eerie silence. “It’s too quiet,” Heather says. “Something is wrong.” We hurtle toward their bedroom, but it’s often too late. We find them exhibiting toothy grins, their school clothes strewn about, now dressed in light pink ballerina leotards, complete with tutus and dance shoes. The process begins anew.

Finally, we wrangle them to the mudroom where their shoes are neatly arrayed – some sort of Velcro sneaker or sandal that is easy to slip on. Now, Heather and I both graduated from college with decent grades. Neither of us was a math major, but we did take basic statistics. We learned that, when flipping a coin, you may get a run of heads or tails. But if you flip the coin 100 times the result will end up, more or less, 50/50.

That being the case, maybe you can help us out here. How is that they end up putting their shoes on the wrong foot 80 percent of the time? This defies all laws of probability. We are left to conclude that they must be doing this intentionally. We picture them chuckling themselves to sleep every night (okay, four nights out of five) while recalling the looks on our faces as they walk reverse pigeon-toed into the kitchen.

It’s frustrating, but at least that’s an easy fix. At last we’re able to shuffle them out to the car…

Onboarding

The kids spend the better part of an hour doing everything within their power to avoid getting in the car to go to school. They lay on the floor complaining that “my legs don’t work.” They have to go potty for the third time. They’re thirsty again. Their shirts are itchy. Pretty much the same stuff they pull to avoid going to bed at night.

And then, at some point, one of them wriggles into her over-sized and over-stuffed backpack and goes for it. She makes a break for the door. At this point, the other two bolt into action. They’re in a race to be the first one in the car.

The result is almost always the same. One of the twins trips and falls. The other one starts crying because she’s dropping her arms-full of toys. And Maddie “wins,” because, of course, she’s the only one tall enough to actually open the car door.

Once they all get in there’s the usual: Fighting over which car seat to sit in, futile attempts by the twins to buckle themselves, etc. Then there’s the endless requests that result in Heather shuttling back and forth from the car to the house like a roller skate waitress at a drive-in restaurant.

lifeandwhim-gettingkidsreadyforschool2

Before I can pull out Heather has to do a lap around the car to “high five the windows.” Then comes the grand finale: The Momma Dance.

There are two prerequisites to The Momma Dance: (1) loud music, preferably “Our House” and (2) that Heather dance like no one’s watching in our driveway as we pull away (slowly, which doesn’t help when it comes to getting to school timely).

You’re familiar with “Our House” right? Not the one by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but the catchier tune of the same name by British ska band Madness. I’m sure the kids have never listened to the lyrics, but nonetheless they light up when it comes blaring out of the speakers. It’s kind of our anthem.

Father wears his Sunday best
Mother’s tired she needs a rest
The kids are playing up downstairs
Sister’s sighing in her sleep
Brother’s got a date to keep
He can’t hang around

Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our

Our house it has a crowd
There’s always something happening
And it’s usually quite loud
Our mum she’s so house-proud
Nothing ever slows her down
And a mess is not allowed

Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our

Father gets up late for work
Mother has to iron his shirt
Then she sends the kids to school
Sees them off with a small kiss
She’s the one they’re going to miss
In lots of ways

That about sums it up. Again, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. But now we’re sure you understand.

Sincerely and with Deepest Apologies,

Jay and Heather