The Journey To Family Photos

What you see: a precious photo of my family that shows our adoration of its youngest member,  taken in the perfect golden hour by Captivating by Keli

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What you don’t see is the journey it took to get here:

Book a session with a photographer that is both professional and basically a magician.

Wait to share this information with my family until a moment in time when they are well rested, full of sugar, and distracted by their favorite TV show. 

Schedule a hair appointment for myself. (I am realistic enough to know I have no plans to lose my “baby” weight from that youngest member, but at least I can cover my grey hair and grown out roots.)

Even though I have four months to prepare, I wait until two weeks before to decide I should probably start thinking about our outfits.
Which is suuuuuper easy to do with seven people who take their athleisure wear seriously. 

I pick an outfit for myself that says, “When I try extra hard, I can pull together a look,” while simultaneously making sure my chunky arms are well covered. 

Then pick out an outfit for my husband that subtly says, “If you want to remain married to me, you will wear this because it’s the basis for our color scheme.” 

I wait way too late to order clothes for the little people and naively hope that at least one pair of pants from last year fits.

Obsessively check the status of that order everyday to make sure it will arrive in time. (It does, whew!)

Go to my hair appointment. 

Remember that everyone else needs haircuts, too, and rush them to the nearest Super Cuts.  

Tell them I want the cut that looks nice but doesn’t look like I waited until the day before to get it done. 

 

Arrive at picture day. 

My toddler, who is the best sleeper ever, decided to wake up at 4 am and party. 

I am tired, but I am READY. 

I plan out the day, figuring out the timing for everything to come together with the least amount of emotional turmoil. 

My entire day is filled with, “Do we have to? Why do you want pictures so badly? You know what we look like. Can I wear different shoes?”

I break down and cry. That sort of mom guilt cry that is very real but also gets the results I want.

You know the one. I say, “This will literally take one hour of your life. Life, you may remember, that I gave you. As your mother, all I am asking is for you to cooperate for sixty minutes. This is the first family pictures we’ve had in five years, and I want them to be good. Is that too much to ask?”

My son retorts, “Oh good! In five years when we take these again, I will be in college.”

I make a mental note not to think too much about that. 

My daughter assures me, “These pictures don’t have to be perfect, Mom.”

Ummmm…with the amount of money and effort I put into them, YES THEY DO!!
Then I remembered that same daughter lost my lipstick, so I went to Ulta to get a new one. 

They are helpful but make sure to tell me I need some blush on my pale cheeks. (Thanks?)

I rushed home and told everyone it’s time to shower, brush their teeth, and get dressed for the event. 

{Insert more complaining and whining and groaning than seems humanly possible.}

 

My oldest child, who assured me that he tried on his pants last week, informed me that his pants, in fact, do not actually fit. (When will I learn not to trust a child?)

My tween daughter put on her outfit. That looked super cute last week but now is THE UGLIEST THING SHE HAS EVER SEEN. And proceeded to go into an emotional tailspin, screaming empty threats in between the tears and angst. 

My middle son, who likes to go against the flow, willingly got dressed with a happy heart and a smile on his face. Who knew that, while everyone else raged, he would play it cool? 

My youngest son had what I would call a…gigantic tantrum. In which he kept asking me how much I planned to pay him for this photo shoot (spoiler alert: zero dollars). And wailed about how embarrassing it is to wear a collared shirt in a public place. 

My toddler pooped. But otherwise was oblivious to the situation.

 

I squeezed my muffin top into my Spanx and tried not to sweat off my make-up (which included blush…thankyouverymuch, Ulta person). 

Ten minutes before we needed to leave, my husband decided he should probably stop mowing, take a quick shower, and get ready. 

I contemplate whether or not this is grounds for divorce. 

We miraculously leave on time. 

I spend the drive over to the beautiful park threatening my children. Guilt, coercion, manipulation. I unload it all. My husband backs me up, so I decided we can stay married. Good thing, because I’d hate to have to photoshop him out of the pics. 

We arrive at the destination. 

 

Our amazing photographer does the hard work of making my ragamuffin crew look like the Pinterest perfect family I dream we will one day be. 

My children mostly respond well to bribery. (And threats.)

Except the toddler. 

She is cutting a tooth (which explains the 4 am wake up call). She would not eat a snack beforehand. And she has decided to use this opportunity to display the fullness of her toddlerdum. The only person who is allowed to hold her is Dad. And even Baby Shark won’t force a smile. It’s dire. 

 

I haven’t worn boots in, like, three years. So my feet hurt.

My daughter forgot to wear socks, so she has blisters. 

One of my boys keeps asking how much longer he has to wear his itchy outfit. 

I try to make him laugh by playing the John Cena theme song. My older kids die of embarrassment. My son tells me to stop playing it because it was the F-word in it. A nearby six year old says the actual F-word, so I don’t think his parents will much care. 

 

We make it 78 minutes before falling apart. 

 

Everyone is alive and will only need minimal therapy. I am still married. My kids all stripped down their clothes the minute we got in the van. WE DID IT, you guys. We survived family pictures. 

 

Because being a mom is weird, I drove away from the park feeling so grateful for my family. And so happy for this moment in time we captured. These days are crazy and they are far from perfect, but they are so very fun. This is the family I prayed for as a young girl, and I can’t believe how graciously God answered. 

 

When I arrive home to this sneak peek, I high five my past self for hiring a photographer who is both a professional and a magician. Because I can assure you, capturing these smiles while hiding my three chins can only be accomplished by the absolute best. 

 

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1 Corinthians 13: Back To School Edition

If I have the perfect chalkboard sign and cutest back to school pictures, but do not have love, I am just another Pinterest mom. 

If I pack a bento box full of vegetables and artisanally crafted sandwiches, but do not have love, I am just a mom with a little too much time on my hands. 

If I buy all the right clothes and the shoes to match, and if I allow my middle schooler to explore all of the terrible trends, but do not have love, I am just a mom who wonders how in the world scrunchies made a comeback. 

If I give all of the best advice and teach my kids all the right things, but do not have love, I am just like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah…” 

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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not demand perfect grades, it does not blame teachers, it is not prouder of the valedictorian than the child with a learning disability. It does not dishonor peers with difficult home lives, it does not live out your unfulfilled dreams through a child, it does not cheat to get ahead, it does not compare to others. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. Where there are Friday night lights, they will throw a final touchdown. Where there are band competitions, they will play their last beat. Where there are report cards, they will never really matter. Where there is calculus, they will never use it again. (Obviously.)  

For we do our best and we hope for greatness, but when the graduation cap is thrown, it will all mostly disappear. 

But these three will remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. 

Follow the way of love. Forever and always.

 

Oh, Ellie.

I am one of those annoying people who was born clean and organized. 

I took two showers a day. One to be presentable for the day ahead. The other at night to wash away the germs of the day. 

I made my bed and cleaned my room every single day. Mostly because I function best in a tidy space. But partly because of the small chance of being involved in a freak accident and my bedroom somehow making the six o’clock news and my last wish being for people to know just how put together I was. 

Then I had five children. 

I still make my bed every day because it’s my way of proving to myself I haven’t totally given up in life. Even though my yoga pant collection would suggest otherwise. 

I thought my first four children broke me. As toddlers, they were run-of-the-mill gross. One painted his room with poop to contest nap time. Another peed in a toy box for funsies. None of them have yet to figure out how to put trash in a trash can. Or how to pick up a towel off of the floor. But their gross is a normal amount of gross. Enough to break me of feeling put together, but not enough to ruin me.    

And then my 5th child was born. 

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I am not sure what’s to blame. Maybe it’s that she endured a geriatric pregnancy (the doctor’s words, not mine). Or the copious amounts of Cheetos she consumed in utero. Perhaps it’s the fact that she was born via c-section and didn’t obtain important life skills that come from passing through the birth canal (that’s an inside joke between me and other moms whose kids “were taken from them” during the Mommy Wars of 2005-2010.)

The point is: my daughter entered the world two months early in a swirl of chaos. And she’s been setting the world on fire ever since. 

This will serve her well when she’s 30. But being the geriatric mother (again, that’s the named medical condition) to a one year old is an experience I was ill-prepared for. 

Just when I thought I had seen it all (which includes, but is not limited to, said child eating a stranger’s french fry off the floor of a dirty Burger King in rural Alabama), it turns out I am a mere novice with much to learn. 

Tonight, I was scrubbing my toilet with a toothbrush covered in Comet (because my life is nothing if not glamorous). I quickly rinsed it in the toilet water and set it down to retrieve more paper towels. 

When I returned a short FOUR SECONDS LATER, my daughter was BRUSHING HER TEETH!!

With the toothbrush that cleaned the toilet that is so gross it requires I wear medical grade latex gloves for the task.

My precious little cherub was brushing her teeth with the same toothbrush that touched unspeakable bodily fluids. 

There is not enough Clorox in the world to wash away the disgust. And not enough cookies in the world to eat my feelings about the situation. 

I should have known this would happen. Because earlier in the day, a stranger complimented me. Sure, the compliment was how succinctly I ordered my kids’ lunches at the Sam’s Club Cafe, but it was a compliment nonetheless. And the universe will not allow a mother to be praised for her efforts without balancing it out with her child doing something totally heinous within 24 hours. It’s science. 

Here I was gloating about how well I order lunch from the place we eat once a week, and my daughter might as well have eaten dinner out of a urinal. 

If I happen to make the six o’clock news anytime soon, make sure to tell them how put together I was. You can omit the part about it being two decades ago. 

 

   

 

The Summer of 2019

Well, guys, we did it. My children got to their first day of school on time. Which is no small miracle considering that we spent the summer living like college students.

My ordinarily normal home became a total frat house, minus the underage drinking.

I only cooked real food when we had friends over. Which was not nearly enough to sustain my family. Fortunately, my seven year old son, who would be just fine to solely exist off of gummy bears, assured me that all food is real food.

And I embraced his logic as if he were writing his PhD dissertation on the matter.

Because a mother should totally trust a child who, like his brothers, has not yet figured out that a toilet is meant to be peed in, not on. Or around. Or on the wall nearby. Or their summertime favorite, from the front porch.

Honestly, I am surprised they even had to pee at all considering the copious amounts of sodium they ingested from living off of Ramen and chips.

You probably think I am kidding. You guys, it got so bad that my one year old learned to sleep in until 9. NINE IN THE MORNING. I’ve never met a toddler who sleeps in, but lucky for me, she adapted well to the frat life.

There was an overabundance of television. And a whole lot of doing nothing.

Summer was fine. We took a few trips. Went to some summer camps. We did have fun. It probably won’t be one my children look back on with great fondness. Unless they one day appreciate the number of Fortnite wins they achieved.

But it was just what my soul needed.

The last three years have been one thing after another after another…we closed our business, moved halfway across the country without a job, away from our dearest friends, spent nearly a month in the NICU when my body decided 43 months of pregnancy was its limit, took a long time to find a job, found out my dad had cancer, lived with that and then his subsequent passing…all while being responsible for the upbringing of five humans who like things like food and clean clothes and an education.

Sound exhausting? Try living it (or don’t. It wasn’t great.)

Earlier this year, around the time when birds started chirping and flowers started blooming, my life actually…dare I say it…calmed down.

After years of trying circumstances, it was time to deal with it all.

As an Enneagram 7, the last thing I wanted to do is face the pain of the recent years. If you know nothing of the enneagram, just know that it is in my nature to avoid pain at all costs. And I don’t mean to brag, but I am really good at it. I have been able to see the good in everything, until there just wasn’t much good to be seen.

I knew that I knew that I had to sit in the pain and grieve some of life’s greatest disappointments.

The way I processed was by doing only what I had to and giving myself time and space. I wasn’t a good friend. I was a subpar mom, at best. I didn’t make a bucket list. We barely went swimming. I think my kids bathed at some point?

And guess what? My kids survived. Thrived, actually. They needed the downtime just as much as I did. Not necessarily to process but to just be kids. The magic of childhood isn’t found in the over scheduled moments Fall is sure to bring…it’s in catching fireflies in June and eating slushies and sumo wrestling your brothers and staying up too late.

The days spent without an alarm or a meal plan or any sort of plan didn’t make for a particularly memorable summer…but it made for a refreshing one. It’s not like I will never be sad again, but I got to a place of gratitude for the sweet memories and for the part life’s hardest moments have played in my story.

I never thought life would hold so much disappointment. Having walked through a lot of it in recent years, I can now see it also holds so much redemption.

(These are vulnerable words for me to write, and I enjoy vulnerability about as much as I enjoy pain.)

As I bring my frat house back from the brink of several health code violations and pick up the pieces of unmet expectations, I think it’s important for you to know there is hope on the other side of what you’re going through.

The very thing that breaks you will be the gift you have to offer the world.

The most disappointing circumstances and life’s greatest heartbreak serve to make you into a person that people need. Deep down, I think we all want to be significant and make our life count. Your life story, with all its beauty and joy and ugly and painful parts, matters. Who you are and the experiences that have shaped you have important purpose.

Personally, I know it’s so much easier to complain and get angry when life is hard. And there is certainly a time for that. But the fiery trials of life are refining you into the most beautiful version of who you are meant to be. It is tempting to believe that trials are ruining you. Quite the opposite is true: the world needs who you become when life doesn’t work out quite the way you had hoped. That person holds so much more kindness, gentleness, and mercy. And I promise people need those more than anything.

I honestly planned to make this a light hearted post about going back to school. I wanted to make you laugh as you battled nerves for the year ahead (and feel better about all of the summer reading you did or did not do). But as I sit in my quiet house with my big kids gone and my toddler napping, thinking back on the summer, I think the better thing is knowing your life is tremendously valuable.

The road paved with broken dreams, unmet expectations, and painful experiences (of course, in the midst of all that is good and awesome) will lead you into your greatest calling in life. And that will leave a legacy far beyond what a completed bucket list or perfect summer tan could ever do.

Your story matters, my friend. And chapters that are particularly hard to write matter all the more ❤️

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The Boom Boom Talk

Pregnancy (like, the entire nine months). Potty training. Taking a one year old to a restaurant. A stomach bug that makes its way through all five children.

There are many parts of parenting I dread. Certainly, lots of moments I do not enjoy.

Of all the difficult things, the one I most loathe is THE TALK. You know the one.

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The word I cannot even utter to my OBGYN, despite being fairly competent at it (see: aforementioned five children).

I don’t even like saying THE WORD to the husband who went in halfsies on those five kids.

So to actually talk to those same children about IT, is quite possibly the most awkward experience of my life.

And now I am making it even more awkward by writing about it on the world wide web for all to read. But, as much as I dread it, I think it’s one of the most important parts of parenting. And because I had children earlier than most of my peers (see: I didn’t know how birth control worked), I get asked on occasion how we approach this subject.

While everyone else is posting their super cute back-to-school pictures, I will interrupt your feed and fumble through my official Facebook Boom Boom Talk.

I cannot remember where I heard this (Moral Revolution, maybe?), but years ago, I heard that kids believe the first person who tells them about sex (**clutches my pearls as I write the word**).

And that’s why it’s important for you to tell them before they learn it on the playground or from a movie. If they hear it from you first, they will base everything else they hear off of your truth…instead of basing everything else off of a wealth of misinformation.

You have to decide what is true about sex and what you want your children to know. Obviously, the physical logistics are universally the same. But the mental, spiritual, emotional implications behind it vary greatly.

This will be different for each family, and I will happily share my personal stance if you want to message me privately.

The point is: if you are the first person to tell your child about sex, they will believe what you tell them. With the obvious caveat that kids become adults who make their own decisions, so they may eventually act in a way you don’t support…but by setting the standard, they have a much better chance of having a healthy sex life as adults.

In order to be the first to tell them, you have to tell them earlier than you want to. It is frustrating (to say the least) that kids are inundated with strong sexual messages so young. But the upside to talking about it early is that it’s way less awkward to talk to kids who are totally clueless. Talking to a teenager with raging hormones is way more embarrassing than talking to a nine year old who has no idea what you’re even saying. Because they aren’t flush with humiliation, you can explain everything. As they grow and develop, it will all make sense in due time.

Starting the conversation early keeps the conversation open. When I give my kids The Talk, I tell them, “If you have any questions, always always always ask Dad or me. Google will show you things you wish you could unsee, and your friends have no idea what they’re talking about.” I am not naive enough to think kids won’t consult those avenues, but I want them to know I am trustworthy and always available for questions they have. From time to time, I will ask if there’s anything they’re curious about. And usually the answer is yes. Don’t make it weird, but having the conversation early and consistently is important.

Your kids don’t think you’re cool enough to know about all the things they’re hearing and learning…because you’re old and married and grossly kiss their dad. So, when the time is appropriate, tell them you know about it all. As much as I dread it, I am very honest as my kids get older. I talk to them about porn and Snapchat and how the Internet and browsing history are forever. If your kids don’t think you know something exists, it’s unlikely they’ll talk to you about it. Let them know that, even though you may drive a 12 passenger van and wear sensible tennis shoes, you were once an 8th grader who desperately wanted to kiss a boy. So you know what they’re going through.

Once you’ve had THE TALK and while you’re continuing the conversation, set your kids up for success. Set restrictions on their phones. Seriously, kids cannot be trusted. Even the best kids have inquiring minds, so as much as it depends on you, restrict their ability to access unlimited content on their devices. And check what they’re up to. I do not believe kids should be allowed any privacy on devices. They aren’t cognitively able to handle that freedom, so help them out!

To wrap up the most mortifying Facebook post I will ever write, please know I do not pretend to have all of the answers. Or even some of the answers. My kids are still fairly young. I have no idea if any of this will work. But it seems to be working so far, and my kids are pretty open with me. Which makes me happy. I am learning as I go, and if you have helpful wisdom to share, I’d love to hear your perspective! And I know others will benefit, as well.

If you’ll excuse me, I will now go hyperventilate in a corner and pretend this Boom Boom Talk never happened.

I Don’t Want To Come Back Down From This Cloud

“Bush and Live are coming to KC in July. Let’s get tickets and go,” read a text from my husband last Spring.

Bush was my first concert ever, and I’ve listened to Bush and Live faithfully since the 90’s. So the opportunity to see them on their 25th anniversary tour was more than my middle school heart could handle. That my husband knows me so well was more than my middle-aged mom heart could handle.

Last weekend, the time had finally come! The concert was AMAZING. It was equal parts total happiness and pure nostalgia. I loved every minute of it.

During each song, I thought a lot about who I was the first time I heard Bush play. A middle school girl unsure of the world, my place in it, and having no idea what the future would hold. Then last weekend, rocking out with a husband I adore while our five kids spent the night with Grandma back home. If only that young girl could have known…

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I don’t write much about marriage. Partly because the last time I did, I got trolled so hard by strangers on the internet (fun times!). But mostly because every marriage is so unique and nuanced that it’s impossible to generalize. What I can speak to, though, is my own experience.

And going to that concert with my husband was probably the best thing we’ve done for our marriage in a long time.

We communicate well, and we go on date nights fairly regularly. I would say our marriage is pretty good.

But in the dailyness of raising five kids and working and homeschooling and coaching and volunteering and all of the things life requires, our relationship can start to feel more like roommates.

And a great way to get out of that rut is to do something novel. This was actually the first concert my husband and I have ever gone to together. The novelty of enjoying music on a perfect summer night was enough to fill our souls. What made this especially awesome is how quickly the songs took me back in time.

My middle school self could have never dreamed of the life I now get to live. It’s chaotic, it’s loud, it’s stressful…but it’s so, so good.

And it’s very easy for me to forget how good it is.

And even easier for me to forget how great my husband is.

Because he leaves laundry on the floor and gets stressed out and forgets to unload the dishwasher and zones out mid conversation.

It’s so easy for me to focus on the few shortcomings he has and forget about the many things I love about him. Believe me, my middle school self would have swooned so hard for this guy that none of those things would have mattered. And my adult self would do well to remember that.

People often refer to marriage as hard work, and I think that largely has to do with the little things that become big things that create divisions that are hard to repair…because it’s so very human to focus on the bad and hard.

But when I step back in time and remember what I dreamed and hoped my future would be…and spend a weekend away from my kids and my busy life…I find that I really like the man I married. And I know he feels the same.

And that’s my point. Invest in your marriage. Do something besides dinner and a movie. If you’re so lucky, see your favorite band in concert. Laugh together at a comedy club. Hike a new spot. Eat chocolate cake on a park bench.

If you find yourself getting irritated with the littlest things, text a babysitter right now and plan a fun date!

A few hours away, doing something you don’t usually get to do, will do wonders for your soul. I promise.

It won’t magically transform your spouse into a perfect person who does everything you ask and fulfills your every longing…that’s an impossible ask…but it may just remind you of how awesome he is when you’re apart from the dailyness of life that threatens to suck out all of the fun!

Your middle school self probably could not have imagined the life you now get to live…in all its imperfections and joys and sorrows and fun and frustrations…and it may just do your middle-aged self well to remember that 🙂

It’s your turn: what is the BEST date you and your spouse have ever had?

The End Of Summer and We’ve All Given Up On Parenting Guide

It’s Day 4,387 of summer. You know what that means.
 
VBS has come and gone.
Your kid had his final at bat of the season.
The sunscreen is running low, and patience is running lower.
 
And it’s that time of year where all good and decent parenting goes to die.
It’s okay. We are all there.
 
You will totally rally in a few weeks when the pencils are sharpened and alarms are set.
 
But until school starts and angels sing, take a deep breath, keep ignoring your kids’ cries for snacks, and accept the reality of your worst parenting self with these helpful tips.
 
 
The End Of Summer and We’ve All Given Up On Parenting Guide:
 
1. Your kid went to summer camp last week and still hasn’t unpacked the bag that contains his toothbrush. Don’t worry about it. Teeth don’t decay in the summer.
 
2. A shower might be a real shower. It might be a pool shower. It might be a sweat (that has now dried) shower. Any form of water touching the body constitutes as a shower when you haven’t peed alone since May.
 
3. Make sure your children eat from all of the food groups everyday. You can use my personalized meal plan:
 
Dairy: ice cream
Meat: lunch meat (that may or may not be expired?)
Veggies: chips (=potatoes=veggies)
Fruit: popsicles
 
And if you’re feeling particularly awesome, include all of the food groups at once in the form of Dominoes.
 
4. No child has ever died from watching too much YouTube. At least I don’t think so. (The jury is still out on whether or not a mom has given up the will to live after hearing Ryan review one too many toys.)
 
5. Start a Go Fund Me for your children’s snack fund. I’ve always known kids are expensive. I did not, however, anticipate them to drain my bank account one Goldfish at a time.
 
6. When you see another mom lose her business on Little Mikey at the pool, be thankful there were no judgmental eyes yesterday when you lost your business on the child who dared leave his Goldfish crumbs on your freshly vacuumed rug. (Also, maybe give her a hug. Every mom needs a hug in late July. It won’t even be weird.)
 
7. Check on your friends with toddlers. They are enduring life on the surface of the sun without the hope of school starting in a few weeks. The water table lost its novelty six weeks ago, and their garbage cans reek of stinky diapers. THEY ARE NOT OK. Take them a Frappuccino post haste. (And grab yourself one while you’re at it.)
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8. Bedtime has become a Lord of the Flies situation. Just roll with it. Every night, when I’ve heard my name for the 742nd time and every child has come out of bed 386 times, I declare TOMORROW NIGHT EVERYONE WILL BE IN BED BY 8 PM AND NOT COME OUT ONCE. And my kids will laugh and laugh and laugh. Because even they know they hold the conch. Ain’t nobody going to bed until they decide they’re good and ready.
9. When you’ve been touched one too many times, load everyone up in the car and take a scenic drive. I swear the inventor of carseats had to be a mom who was tired of being touched by her offspring and needed to find a legal way to restrain them.
 
10. Watch a movie set in the fall (like When Harry Met Sally). As a reminder to your on-the-verge-of-sanity self that you won’t always smell so bad and a normal routine will allow you to be the parent you know you can be.
 
 
* This guide expires on Labor Day. By then, I fully expect you to incorporate all of the meal plans, chore charts, and laundry systems your back-to-school self wholeheartedly believes you’re capable of.
 
And then I will come out with a new guidelines for the October selves we actually are.
 
Until the school bell rings, may the odds be ever in your favor…