My older sister Camille and I recently decided to take our seven combined kiddos on a bike ride on one of the last full days of summer.
It was a beautiful day. The late August sun was burning hot, and as I watched my little men on their Spider Man and Lightning McQueen bikes pedaling down the lane, I thought, “I want to always remember my boys like this — young, energetic, carefree, innocent and full of laughter and life."
Later that day, it was back-to-school night. My oldest son is starting kindergarten this fall, and we were both excited to meet his teacher and explore his new school. We hurried to the store to pick up a little treat and then raced home to start dinner and get ready.
And that’s when everything fell apart.
The lasagna I was preparing for that evening was way more time-consuming than I thought. My 18-month-old kept pulling on my pant legs and screaming, tripping me every few feet and throwing whatever scraps of food I gave him on the ground.
About three cups of spilled water and one entire Costco box of spinach later, I half-assembled the lasagna with slightly undercooked butternut squash and slightly overcooked sausage and called it “good enough.” Now, with only 10 minutes to spare, all thoughts of showering and getting ready went flying out the window. I threw on some clean clothes so at least I wouldn’t reek of garlic, onion and sweat, and stuffed all three boys in the car.
Why I thought I could handle my very first back-to-school night with my preschooler and very tired, napless, starving toddler tagging along is beyond me.
I pulled up to the school and quickly realized I’d have to park on the crowded street. “Hurry! Hurry,” I kept yelling at my three bewildered boys (and some slow-walking parents) and bustled into the school looking and feeling quite frazzled.
The only seats still available for the orientation were, of course, front and center. I scooted past everyone, trying not to hit too many heads with my gigantic purse and settled in for the longest 15 minutes of my life.
Two very pretty and polished-looking kindergarten teachers stood up and began the slideshow. Just as I was figuring out which one would be my son’s teacher, my toddler slid off my lap and ran to the back of the gymnasium, shrieking.
Luckily, we were seated on the end of the row, and I quickly stood up and followed him.
Well, my preschooler thought this was great fun and ran after us, yelling even louder and trying to “catch” his little brother, who then screamed even louder.
Needless to say, people were no longer really listening to the slideshow. The sideshow happening on Row 1 was much more interesting.
Up and down, back and forth I went, chasing one, two, three boys all around the gym while desperately trying to remember what homework box we needed and how to do drop-off and what dates were available to volunteer.
The icing on the cake was when, after another escape, my baby managed to squeeze open the old, warm Go-Gurt he had been holding in his hand and it exploded all over the floor. Praying for mercy, I dug through my purse until I found a dirty sock at the bottom and stood up too quickly to mop up the mess, tripping over a metal folding chair and landing in the splits.
As I limped down the gym floor in shame and glanced horrified over my shoulder, I know — I just know — that behind their forced smiles, both teachers were thinking, “Heaven above, please bless that woman’s child is not in my class.”
After the presentation was finally over, I gathered up my two boys, found my baby (he was on the other side of the curtain, dancing for a group of first-graders) and walked to my son’s classroom to meet the lucky teacher.
At this point, any hopes of a magical evening were dashed and I just wanted to go home. But, trying to still make this a positive experience for my son, I walked into the classroom, which was (for the moment) clean and organized, and said, “Boston! What do you think?”
I then set the tornado loose.
Well, that tornado tore around the room emptying toy bins, whacking other kids with giant magnifying glasses (“Whoa, babies are VIOLENT!” one kid laughed as my baby whirled around) while I tried desperately to calm him down.
Finally, the teacher sweetly walked toward the chaos that was us and said, “And what is your name?” Boston spoke quietly and nervously, and quickly handed her the treat. I made a feeble attempt at a joke about how crazy we were and she was polite enough to laugh. After a few questions and apologies, we were gone.
I arrived home almost in tears. I was SO MAD. I was embarrassed. My inner thighs ached from the splits. And more than anything, I was heartbroken that our first impression was of a crazy, out-of-control family. I wanted Boston to be excited about school. Instead, I had to focus all my attention on his younger brothers.
My husband came home and laughed and laughed at my awful story, which made me even more mad. I excused myself to go to the grocery store and I bought a giant tub of peanut butter chocolate ice cream and cookie dough because, yes, I’m one of those girls who thinks almost any bad day can be cured with rich treats and reality TV.
As I sat in bed stuffing my face and watching “American Ninja Warrior,” I thought back on the day. How could something that started off so good turn so sour? I thought about what I could have done better. I could have had someone watch my younger two boys or asked my husband to come home from work earlier. I could have nixed the homemade lasagna and gone with a $5 pizza.
I was trying so hard to make this day perfect. Now that I’ve entered into the world of “school days, dear old golden rule days,” I already feel totally behind and inadequate.
My boy is about to leave me every weekday for the rest of his growing-up years. Like most parents, I’m worried about him feeling loved by his teacher. I’m worried about him making good friends. I’m hoping that he’ll be challenged, that he’ll continue his love of learning. And I really hope he doesn’t remember how overwhelmed and stressed I was on his first back-to-school night.
But then I realized, it doesn’t really matter what brand his jeans are or how much his backpack cost or if he has an Uncrustable sandwich to eat. Most kids his age are not as obsessed about keeping up appearances as us parents are. Most kids just want to have fun, know they are loved and feel free to be themselves and explore their world.
So the next time you are thinking, "I am not as put together as that mom is," please think of me. Think of me and my dirty sock and sticky Go-Gurt fingers and clumsy feet. Think of my overturned spinach, bad lasagna and ice cream. Think of all the others moms out there who are just doing their best, and that NO ONE loves your kid as much as you.
And always remember to bring extra wipes. Just in case.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.