If Florida was a country, our national holidays would be Snowbird Return Day, Panicky Hurricane Prep Day and the Back-to-School Tax-Free Weekend.
Ah the BtSTFW, when generations of Floridians engage in our time-honored traditions and customs such as “trying to find a parking spot at the expletive Target.” It’s an important time of the year, as studies have shown that children who don’t get the specific Paw Patrol lunchbox they wanted are 73 percent more likely to drop out of school and join a biker gang. And not one of those nice biker gangs that collects toys for charity and appears on HGTV shows. We’re talking proper Mohave Desert chain-beatdown gangs and a life on society’s fringes, all because somebody got the Paw Patrol lunchbox with Rubble and Rocky on it when the clear request was for the one featuring Marshall. Point being, enjoy that tax-free shopping.
This will be a big BtSTFW, and indeed a big August, for the Petersens – our small human starts kindergarten this month. Small Human is nervous, and we are nervous for her. Because there’s nothing like a big, monumental school moment to give parents that warm feeling that all parents get – that warm, sinking, panic-sweat feeling that everything you’ve done is wrong and your abject ineptitude will, from this moment, either doom your child or become the great obstacle she overcomes en route to a brilliant law career and ascent to the Supreme Court followed by an inevitable memoir with an overall narrative thrust that paints you as a loving but patently unfit nincompoop.
It’s tough to fault parents for this. Parent Judging has replaced baseball as America’s national pastime. Whatever parenting choices you make – up to and including the choice not to be a parent – there will always be someone putting on their Judgy Pants and letting you know what they think. Sometimes these people are on the radio, sometimes they are behind you in the Winn-Dixie checkout line – but always, they find you.
Of course, there’s also plenty of great advice out there. It’s just that wading through it all can get a bit fraught. Whenever I get confused about parenting, I try to lean back on my basic Manatee Dad principles.
Remember Tiger Mom, the woman who wrote that book a few years back about chaining your kids to a radiator until they master the cello and get accepted to Vassar? I’m more of a Manatee Dad. I try to have just a few guiding principles for Small Human. Don’t hurry everywhere. Stay warm. Eat plenty of vegetables. Be careful around boats.
Of course, I still sweat the details. Is School A better than School B? Is it OK to let her watch 4 consecutive episodes of Doc McStuffins while I sleep on a Saturday morning? Did the child’s mother really say she could have mac-and-cheese and an Arby’s ice cream thing for dinner? (Answers: They undoubtedly both have their merits; hey, this’ll help her get into Stanford med school; probably not, but that sounds delicious so let’s do it.) We don’t want to ignore the details, but we don’t want to drown in them either. So I try to plod along like the humble manatee, sure in the general direction I’m going and unbothered about exactly when I get there.
Unless where I’m going is that spot right there in the Target parking lot. Then get out of my way unless you want to feel the Wrath of the Manatee.