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This mom needs a ditch day

September 19, 2007|Erika Schickel | Erika Schickel is the author of the memoir "You're Not the Boss of Me: Adventures of a Modern Mom."

American youth is a prison of drills, homework, early mornings and high expectations. I spent most of my childhood waiting to be done with it. I resented that the best years of my life were being consumed by academic obligation. By my sophomore year in college, I was completely phoning it in, cutting classes and skimming books. On graduation day, I tossed my mortarboard skyward, giddy that I was finally done with school forever.

Then I had kids.

The school year is but two weeks old and I'm already burned out. Once upon a time, school meant packing a simple lunch, patting the kids on the head and sending them off to the school bus stop. Then we happy housewives would settle in for eight hours of discretional time -- have a nice cup of International Coffee with a neighbor, clip some coupons, get some stuff Martinized. (If we were one of those really driven, work-minded career gals, we'd trot off to some underpaid job to be sexually harassed by our bosses.) Those simple days are gone.

Having school-age children today is a full-time job. Just to get your kid enrolled requires reams of paperwork and forms. Then there's the insane ritual of "back-to-school shopping" to get the kids new backpacks, even though last year's are still perfectly good. Lunches are no longer a simple sandwich-and-apple affair: Tuna is tainted, peanut butter-and-jelly has a high glycemic index and an L.A. Unified School District lunch is better for greasing up to swim the English Channel than for eating. One of my children has declared herself vegan, and the other has food allergies, so I do a lot of short-order cookery at an hour when I should be in bed sleeping off "The Daily Show."

Busing and the magnet system left our neighborhood without a middle school, so we engage in an elaborate carpool scheme with six other families that requires a spreadsheet to keep track of. All across the city you can spot moms in reflective vests holding up stop signs and waving the other moms through the busy carpool drop-off lanes.

Once the school bell rings, a school mom's day is just beginning. The "involved" parent (and shame on you if you aren't one) will have PTA meetings, booster group meetings, room-parent obligations, arts assemblies and the potluck and party snack provisioning that never seems to end.

After school come the enrichment activities, which for most of us means sitting on the chilly sidelines of some field, making business calls on our cellphones, hoping that the sound of cheering 'tweens won't undermine our sheen of professionalism. Then its home for two hours of overseeing homework while cooking dinner.

All of this schoolwork rankles a lazier-than-average mom like me. Then, last Friday, my seventh-grader came home with an assignment from her history teacher. For me. A note to parents opened with: "Homework is not just for children. . . ." It seemed that I had a timeline due Monday. So Sunday night, after an eight-hour day spent at two back-to-school picnics, I had to sit down at my desk and create a timeline of my daughter's life. It was the last straw.

As I jabbed resentfully at my keyboard, I reflected on a decade of being a school mom -- baking sugar-free cookies for her preschool bake sale, building a wedding booth for her kindergarten carnival. In second and third grade I wrote, directed and produced the all-school musicals. In fourth and fifth grades, I launched and edited a student newspaper. I realized that I had a whole resume here.

I'm right back where I was, spending the best years of my life trapped in school. Only now I don't even get to rebel or slack off. Back in the day, I could fall back on CliffsNotes and ditch days for relief, but now I have to model something for my children that I never really got a bead on the first time around: toeing the academic party line. As I sit my tired, twitchy kids down with their sharpened No. 2 pencils and drill them on their multiplication tables (which I'm still shaky on myself), I am so tempted to say, "Oh, let's just blow it off and watch 'The Simpsons.' What are they gonna do . . . fail you?"

But then I will have failed. And when it comes to motherhood, I guess I really do want that "A."

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