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John Engel's The Fatherhood Journey: Keeping pace with school, family demands

Family life accelerates in September. A frenzy of activities replaces the dog days of summer, testing the organizing mettle of parents.

Last year, when our younger Adam started preschool, older Zoe began kindergarten and I returned to college teaching, school-scheduling challenges knocked my wife, Lori, and I off balance. We never stopped wobbling until the arrival of summer, when new scheduling challenges emerged. Now, a bit wiser and two years older, we vow to improve on past performance.

This year it started with the arrival of an August letter announcing the name of Zoe’s teacher, news she had awaited all summer. The letter was accompanied by a list of required school supplies. Granted, our first-grader and preschooler don’t need graphing calculators or I-Pads, yet, but the letter served as a reminder that closets full of pants, shirts, shoes, boots and coats are now two sizes too small.

The welcome letter also signaled the impending arrival of reams of required, albeit important, intake forms. Basically the same forms we completed last year, for each child, and will complete next year, for each child. But this year we were ready, deftly completing and returning the cascade of forms with minimal discord, so far.

Soon after, letters, emails and blog posts from the superintendent of Zoe’s public school, the business director of Adam’s pre-school, Zoe’s principal, Adam’s director, Zoe’s teacher, Adam’s teachers, Zoe’s PTO, and Adam’s parent cooperative co-chairs, started arriving. Each offered gracious greetings and highlighted important, not to be missed, school events.

With school calendars and work schedules in-hand, we now scramble to arrange child care for a string of gaps created by parent conferences, staff development days, early release days and holidays, and cross our fingers about sick days and snow days.

And while overwhelmed by this buzz of school activity last year, we are adapting well, coming to accept our place in this stage of the parenting journey. We also recognize the pace of life during the school year creates stress for Zoe and Adam, who, along with their parents, are still learning ways to manage life’s daily demands.

Following a full day of kindergarten and commuting by noisy school bus last year, Zoe routinely wanted a snack and lots of quiet, alone time to unwind her nervous system, sometimes not coming out of her room until dinner.

After expending considerable energy negotiating the sharing of building blocks and playing pirate on the playground last year, Adam routinely logged two- to three-hour naps, and on occasion would nearly fall asleep at the dinner table.

Two weeks into this school year little has changed: Zoe and Adam continue to crave down time and unstructured play when returning home from school. So, as we did last year, we avoid structured after-school activities, permit one weekend extracurricular per child, moderate social commitments and spend family time outdoors.

It’s not a formula that always works smoothly, and we recognize that as Zoe and Adam age, and their interests expand, they will likely want more active lives.

But for now, as the pace of life accelerates and pulls us in different directions — this September and throughout the school year — we will do our best to remember that slowing down is often what our kids most need, and one of the best ways for us to stay connected as a family.

John Engel is an organizational development coach and consultant living in Florence. Engel can be reached through his website, www.fatherhood-journey.com.

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