Back To School (Sober)

My big kids started school yesterday, entering 1st and 4th grade without new sneakers. This happens every year; I tell myself we will be better prepared next time, and before I know it, it’s August again.

I’ve historically blamed my lack of back-to-school planning on external factors beyond my control, like finances, but the truth is, I obsess over things that don’t matter (dirty dishes in the sink, the emotional state of the family pet, the clarity of my skin) and ignore the things that do.

The truth is, we have — well, had — the money for new shoes, but I spent it on something that didn’t matter. It mattered in the moment, certainly. That’s what always happens. I don’t drink or take pills anymore, but I still make terrible decisions. Some people call this irresponsibility, but I think it’s more like misplaced responsibility. I have no idea why I do this, but I have high hopes that working a recovery program will help me sort it out.


This is my first back-to-school experience as a sober mother. I don’t know if my family can see a difference since I got sober almost 6 months ago, but I certainly feel different. Yesterday, I stood at the end of our driveway with my sons, holding a cup of coffee, waiting for the school bus to arrive.

After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, I announced that I would drive them to school. My littlest was awake and had already dressed herself in a pair of inside-out pants, so all I had to do was unlock the van and tell them to load up.


First day of school, August 2017.


Maverick is almost 9. He, more than anyone, knows what life used to be like, before therapy and diagnoses and I quit drinking. If anyone is going to notice changes, it’s him. He’s my barometer.

As we sat in the carpool line, I commented, “This isn’t that bad of a wait — if y’all would rather not ride the bus this year, I could drive you to school.”

“Wait — what?” Maverick’s eyes were wide.

“I don’t mind driving you. Unless you want to ride the bus. Just think about it, and let me know! It’s no big deal either way.”

I looked into the rear view mirror. My big boy, all arms and legs and overgrown, shaggy hair — another back-to-school task that didn’t get accomplished on time — was looking at me quietly.

“I thought you didn’t want to drive us,” he said, lowering his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean … you always seemed like you couldn’t do it.”

I turned around and put my hand on his knee. I knew what he meant. It’s not that I couldn’t physically drive them in the mornings — there was nothing I couldn’t do without the help of an extra-strong cup of coffee and a pair of sunglasses — but I lived in such a constant state of stress that any unforeseen circumstance or extra task would send me over the edge. I was always one event away from a nervous breakdown, and my kids could sense that. I mean, obviously.

I looked at him, dead in the eyes, and studied his face for a long time. A car honked behind us. I continued to look at him.

“I can.”

And he smiled.

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Reality Isn’t So Bad.

Somehow I made it through another summer.

I know this because Maverick starts school tomorrow. And I know that because I filled out a bunch of forms today while a toddler pulled on my arm.

2nd grade! How did that happen? And also, isn’t it time for college? They’re all so big and so small and they need so much from me but not quite as much as they used to. So it’s just weird right now. We are all transitioning, I’m sleeping through the night, but there’s still poop all over the toilet seat. So clearly we aren’t out of the woods just yet.

I used to write about everything that happened, and now it all happens so fast that I don’t have time to write it down, because before I have a chance to form the words on paper another thing happens, followed by another. Days and weeks of hard things and hilarity and the monotonous joy of being a mother to three tiny humans who all know the words to Walk The Moon’s Shut Up And Dance have blended together into a chapter that I’ll just call 2015.

SummerToday I was looking at each of my children, thinking about what makes them special and how I don’t have enough time to dwell on their good qualities because I’m too busy keeping them from blowing up the house, and I realized that my job isn’t to document everything for them to review at a later date. My job is to keep them alive.

Keeping them alive is a full time job.

I wish I had more time to soak up the good things, and I wish the bad things would just stop happening, but that’s what they call denial. I live in reality.

So today, after a very long day of the last day of summer, after I split the boys up because they wouldn’t stop fighting, as I was half-heartedly stirring a pot of Tuna Mac with toddler wedged firmly underneath me, Robbie walked into the house and gave me the kind of kiss where you get dipped backwards.

Right there in the kitchen.

Reality isn’t so bad, you guys.

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