Brother Lawrence’s Guide to the First Day of School

Last night, after the kids were in bed, their first-day-of-school outfits spread on the floor, complete with necklaces and socks, I started to feel stressed.

Summers are often hard for working parents because of childcare issues, but the fall brings a whole ‘nother level of stress: for us this year, it’s three kids, two schools, piano lessons, Girl Scouts, a new activity for the girls (community choir), and a renewed commitment to fitness on the part of the parents (Robert is now on the Couch to 5K bandwagon too).

Oh, and let’s not forget the little matter of paid work for the grownups.

And writing a book.

And a commitment to Sabbath time each week.

The hectic-ness of the school year came back to me as I set the table for breakfast, put the morning lists next to each place, along with hairbrushes and toothbrushes, and put the vitamins in a little cup next to my plate. This is really anal retentive, and not an evening task I love, but I’m always grateful the next morning to have everything laid out—it means less time spent setting the table while ravenous kids run by in various stages of undress, less yelling on my part to put your shoes on!!!!! The morning starts peacefully with this preparation, even if it doesn’t always end that way.

But ugh, what a pain, to always be on top of things.

After setting the table I dug the lunchboxes out of the cabinet. They’re new, and differently shaped than before, and the containers I use for sandwiches and chips aren’t going to fit quite as well now. Then I began to think about making two lunches instead of one, and pictured myself doing that Every Single Day. I thought about the convenience and prevalence (and non-eco-friendliness) of juice boxes and Doritos in individual serving bags, and wondered whether a trip to CostCo is in my future.

So I was grateful for the spirit of Brother Lawrence in my inbox this morning, before the kids were even up:

Gerald May described this process of awakening to God’s presence through five steps: pausing, noticing, opening, yielding and stretching, and responding. In the spirit of Brother Lawrence, who saw every encounter as an opportunity to experience God’s blessings and praise our Creator, this process of awakening can be utilized both as a momentary call to awareness or as a regular practice of self-examination.

Ah, yes. I love those five steps, woven together. This morning we all woke up a little early so we could pause over breakfast and relish this milestone of a new school year. I noticed how Margaret got on the bus without even a sideways glance toward us, and I didn’t worry too much about the camera. When the power went off at home ten minutes later, I remained open to my own irritation about it, was curious about it, acknowledged it and moved on, rather than “shoulding” on myself about not letting little things bother me.

This allowed me to yield to the day looking a little different than I’d planned: because we were without power, our neighbor who provides childcare was also without power, so after taking James to meet his preschool teacher, I took him to lunch so our neighbor would have one less kid to wrangle and feed in the dark. At the Panera, I watched James squeeze the yogurt into his mouth with nary a drop on his shirt—that’s a new skill. And I beheld the way he bit right into the middle of the PB&J triangle for maximum cheek stickiness. And the delighted way he reacted when he saw his teacher there: “She’s following us!” he declared. And the sound of his guffaws as we dodged raindrops to the car. And I responded to all of this the only faithful way one can: with wonder.

So thank you, Brother Lawrence, for turning your little omelette in the pan for the love of God.

I will do the same.

I will spread peanut butter and slice apples and roll turkey into tortillas and dole out chips and write notes for the love of God.

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8 thoughts on “Brother Lawrence’s Guide to the First Day of School

  1. Rachel Heslin says:

    That is lovely.

    I’ve been experimenting with my morning routine, getting up early enough to exercise first thing, and it makes a difference. I’ve been dabbling in daily meditation; I think I may start being more mindful of when I awaken Hunter as well so the two of us can ease into the day a little more gently, allowing time for more presence and appreciation of our moments.

    (On the prep side, I almost always make 2 or 3 of Hunter’s sandwiches at a time, assembly-line style, so I don’t have to do it every single night. I also make a huge batch of oatmeal on Sundays that I can dole out throughout the week with breakfast.)

  2. Erin Sikes says:

    I feel the same way about the fall, especially the night before set-up, and I don’t even have a job. During the school year, I meet my running partner at 5:30 am, so I can be home, showered, and half-way through my tea before they come bounding down the stairs at seven. If the mom is dressed, the lunches already made, and the clothes pre-selected, we have a much calmer, collected morning, and all four of us are loaded up and heading to school with plenty of time to spare. If I’m trying to get myself ready, while also pouring cereal and tying shoes, then I am cranky, and rushed, and everyone is miserable and I end up with plenty for which I need to apologize during the two minute drive to school.

  3. Sue says:

    love this. and just wait till your oldest makes her own lunch. I am tempted to have older sister make for younger brother this year…

  4. Roy Howard says:

    nice. very nice.

    And this from one whose girls are much on the own way now, as young women, so I only remember (mostly) fondly those days of which you speak.

  5. jillsusan says:

    You so get it! Blessed be. and I learn from you everyday. Life is good.

  6. anne says:

    our family configuration is/was much like yours—with 3 closely-spaced (now adult) children. we managed the lunch-packing thing by each child packing his/her own lunch. i kept a variety of things they liked to eat for lunch and let them pick what they wanted to have for lunch (within parental guidelines) and pack it. all of this was accomplished during the breakfast window while i read long wonderful chapter books (whole series really) to them. now in their 30’s the kids all have such fond memories of the great books that we shared over breakfast. and they love owning the books that we read together. (when our son was ~10 or 12 he asked that we put it in our will that he would get the roald dahl books. a few years ago when we downsized a bit we gave him the dahl collection.) and when we get together or talk on the phone now we often discuss what we’re reading.

    and as for morning lists, all of us can still recite the morning list: hair, teeth, bed, jobs, tidy room. did it all get done every morning? ha! but we all recall the list.

    finally, before the kids i was more of a myers-briggs enfp. during the child-rearing years i had to function as an enfj to keep the family ship afloat. now i’m back to my more comfortable enfp-ness.

  7. Sarah says:

    I second the make a bunch of sandwiches ahead of time/freeze – did it a fair amount!
    But mostly want to ask – do you write notes in the lunches daily? My mom did – on the “placemat “aks paper towel she packed. I did the same. Fond memories. Every.Single.Day. I packed their lunches. Sometimes I do miss those times.

  8. Monica says:

    This post stuck in my head from last week. When I had a long commute/early rising time, I always laid out my clothes and got my papers together, fixed breakfast, etc., ahead of time. For some reason, I got out of the habit. We’re having to be out the door early each morning of the week, and things have been–ahem–not so pleasant. So, since you are wise, I thought, “hey I’ll try that again.” Did everything I could last night, even things that seem little, and this morning was muuuuch better. Trying to hurry the almost-four year old is like…uh…anyway, it’s not easy. So, thanks for writing about it.

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