Back to school vibes and spiritual prep for the new year

It’s that time of year again. Starbucks is toeing the line of impropriety with the August release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Crayola is tempting mothers everywhere to pick up “just one more” 24 pack for an additional penny, (Don’t do it if you value your baseboards though. Just saying) and school children everywhere are eyeing with suspicion the mounting piles of clean and untorn clothing being amassed in their closets.

I am feeling the forced strain of the fake smile that is the end of summer with kids. They are bored of the trampoline, the slip-n-slide went home to the big recycling bin in the sky weeks ago, and mama has resorted to throwing cold hot dogs and chocolate chip granola bars on a plate every day at noon and calling it good.

I am looking forward in expectant hope to a more scheduled existence, one devoid of neighbor kids knocking on the screen door at 8 and 12 and 6, and 8, again, of too-late bedtimes and wet piles of swimsuits piled moldering in the backs of closets.

But I’ll also miss them. I remember putting our firstborn in his first year of full-day school, and what a shock to my system it was to have a limb missing for much of the day. How strange I found it to field comments of “you’ve sure got your hands full!” whilst strolling the produce aisle with “only” three in the cart.

I remind myself of this when someone is four inches from my nose asking for another episode of Wild Kratts and whining that his brother took his Beyblade apart.

I will miss you, darling child I mentally remind myself at bath time and bedtime and all the times in between, while tugging up somebody’s wet swimsuit and wiping poop off the pool deck and wondering if it’s too soon to start listening to Christmas music.

We’re trying a few new things after a summer of spiritual sloth, hoping that the upheaval of a new academic year will afford us the momentum to make some adjustments to our family prayer time. Since everyone is going to be shocked and awed by the sudden 8 pm bedtime/6 am rise time, may as well toss a family rosary in the mix.

We’re planning to surprise the kids tomorrow night with a big feast (read: not hot dogs) for the Feast of the Assumption, and then pop the full on nightly family rosary on them. We were talking last night during a rare moment of quiet about what we’d like to do to improve in our spiritual life as a family. We take our kids to Mass on Sundays and we pray with them in the morning, at grace, and at bedtime, but we are both feeling like there needs to be more, particularly in the midst of this current cultural and ecclesial climate.

I think it has helped to have a summer of lowered expectations for excellence, as bad as that sounds. We’ve sort of slid into mediocrity and have been going with the flow in terms of media consumption, friends over, endless fun activities, etc. Through it I’ve noticed a creeping sense of entitlement in the older three in particular, a restlessness after they’ve watched too many episodes of whatever happens to be on PBS Kids, and a sassiness when their neighborhood friends are over.

I, too, have seen my capacity for self denial and sacrifice plummet as I bury myself in my Instagram feed or mentally tune out while answering work emails instead of refereeing another sibling smackdown. I wave a hand at the offending party, my face hidden behind a screen, hoping that they’ll somehow resolve it amongst themselves.

I’ve also seen the first inklings of what will be true all too soon: that Dave and I are no longer Joey’s whole world, or the ultimate authorities on all the things.

I figure at almost 8-years-old, we’ve got maybe another two years of holding his complete attention until his peers begin to win every competition – maybe less since he’s a consummate sanguine. I want to savor his intense desire to beeeeee with me, but I also tend to mentally check out by about 8 pm most nights, and so his pleas for more quality time fall too frequently on cranky ears.

Some other things I’m considering as we count down the remaining days of summer:

Praying about/using Jen Fulwiler’s saint name generator to pick a patron saint for each child for the coming academic year and dedicating their year to his or her patronage.

Choosing a Scripture to memorize as a family each month of the school year (though I’d be happy with even a single verse. #cradleCatholicproblems.

Reading the coming Sunday’s Gospel aloud at dinner one or two nights during the week to prepare to receive the Word at Mass.

Making a specific sacrifice for each child during the school year, to correspond with a challenge they’re working to overcome or a virtue or quality I’d like to see them attain. What comes readily to mind is making it relevant to each child’s struggle/aspiration. So delaying my morning cup of coffee by 30 minutes and offering it up for Joey to grow in patience or focus, or giving up complaining about housework (not that I would ever) and offering it up for John Paul’s attitude about getting ready in the morning, etc.

I’m all ears over here as a still relatively fresh school mom, so come at me with your big ideas and best practices for preparing your little saintly scholars.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to thank my awesome, faithful readership for the two categories Mama Needs Coffee took home in the 2018 Sheenazing Awards: Best blog and Smartest blog (beating out Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire was a personal high for sure. Dave made sure to bring me down to earth by pointing out the heavily-populated-by-moms voting demographic. Thanks, honey.)


  • Dee

    Just wanted to say I highly recommend the daily family Rosary! I started to panic when my eldest turned 6 and my fourth kid was just born, thinking I may “lose” my eldest soon to secularisation and his peer group in the next few quick years. So we kicked in and I started to pray the Rosary with my kids every afternoon when Mr 6 came home from school. It has helped hugely in bringing my children closer together, defusing conflict between them when we talk about why we’re actually praying, and creating a personal connection with Jesus and Mary, where you could say they’ve really had their hearts “caught by God” through the profoundly deep mysteries of this prayer. A few tips: persevere (because it will be rocky and seem fruitless and chaotic for the first few months), make it early in the afternoon rather than later at night (the rest of the afternoon will flow better if you start it with the Rosary, plus they’ll be too tired later), make a small production of the lighting of the candle and buying everyone new Rosary beads, expect lots of broken Rosary beads without any drama/reprimanding and seek out cheap rope beads of herculean strength over time, buy some picture books of the mysteries of the Rosary to spread out on the floor while praying, consider it totally OK for the younger ones to just play quietly at your feet while you and the older kids “actually” pray, and did I say persevere, persevere, persevere? You’ve listed incredible extra tips for me in your list above too – thank you as always for sharing, and helping so many of us!

      • Dee

        I really like “Praying The Rosary With Mary” by Angela Burrin! I also have various books of the nativity story at hand for the Joyful Mysteries (I adore “Entertaining With Caspari Christmas Pop-Up Advent Calendar Story Book”) or Catholic classics on topics like the corporal/spiritual works of mercy (we just have a copy of the “Corporal And Spiritual Works Of Mercy” distributed by Holy Heroes), plus a range of children’s bibles (my all-time favourite children’s bible is the “Usborne Book Of Bible Stories” by Heather Amery). My children love flicking through these while we pray. Sometimes they’ll linger on a page, sometimes they’ll drop the book and get on their knees for a decade of the Rosary, and then they might sit back down and pick up another book. I’m really organic about it, but we do have boundaries, so I tell them we can’t flick through secular or regular reading books, although they can pick these up straight after the Rosary, or leave the room and flick through those books anywhere else in the house. But strangely, they have all come to love the Rosary, and they just don’t want to do anything else for those 15-20 minutes.

  • Momofmany

    My husband’s mom forced him to do “all the holy things” as a kid and he grew up with a hollow spiritual life which then turned into resentment and rebellion. They did the rosaries and the saint days and homeschooled and everything. I’m telling you this because it is so easy to fall into the trap of moralism or “what I do makes me holy; I become holy by my own efforts” which will undo a lot of good. Everything must start from that first encounter with our Lord, the wonder that He is really here. Hammering prayers for the sake of themselves will not capture hearts. Perserverig in prayer because of a love that overflows will. I would recommend the book Disarming Beauty by Fr. Carron.

    • Dee

      So sorry to hear about your husband – that sounds terrible! The concept of. “persevering in prayer because of a love that overflows” sounds truly lovely. What do you suggest for periods of dryness, distraction or even a “dark night” experience, across the lifetime of your children’s spiritual development? What if the feeling of love just isn’t “overflowing” spontaneously? Is there a case at all for persevering in prayer, even if you aren’t momentarily feeling it? Thanks for your advice!

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