School has started. With the start of school comes the annual Back To School Nervous Breakdown. For 20 years or so, I was part of that process, if you count graduate school, which I do. I count pre-school. I count it all. During these years, I had school supplies to buy and nervous breakdowns to diagnose and medicate. I’ve run the gamut from crayons through CPA review and the buying part was usually much easier than the soothing part. The one constant seems to be that both involve boxes of Kleenex.
There is nothing like the annual Back To School Nervous Breakdown. We usually had at least one every year, but sometimes several. They usually happened the night before school started. But could pop up a week before or after. When Emily went off to college in another state she still called me long distance on the telephone for hers. You have to be pretty experienced to do one of these things over the phone.
We didn’t actually recognize them for what they were until around middle school. Before then, we just assumed we were bad parents because we couldn’t afford the right kind of book bag. Or that our children were mentally ill because they had a fit over the color of the spirals I purchased. Eventually, we came to see this as part of the stressful process that all kids and adults go through together.
“What if something major happens that will ruin my whole year? Like what if the teacher tells us the first five minutes of class that on the next to the last day of the second semester she wants us to turn in a daily journal but she’s not going to mention it again and if you don’t turn it in, you’ll fail the entire year, not just the semester. AND WHAT IF I get lost getting to her class that first day because my schedule said room 209 instead of 207 and I kept looking for 209, which doesn’t exist, while I walked by the correct room three times looking for the other room. And SO I’m five minutes late to that class and I don’t hear the part about the daily journal??? THEN, at the end of the year, she shows up and asks for the daily journal for the whole last nine months, OF COURSE I don’t turn in the journal because I never knew about it and, OF COURSE, nobody in the class told me about it because I’M UGLY AND NOBODY LIKES ME. So, I fail the class and my life is ruined because I never get a high school diploma and since I’M UGLY AND NOBODY LIKES ME I can’t get a decent job and I starve to death.”
This is the reason they always want you to buy Kleenex. Just remember to get a box for yourself.
And the reason you, as parents, can’t do a very good job of soothing your kids about this fear is that you know how true this really is. No, not that YOUR kids are ugly and nobody likes them. You know that your kids are brilliant and beautiful and popular and their fears are totally ungrounded.
But, the quiet little secret you possess that you dare not tell anyone is that there really are kids out there who really ARE ugly and nobody DOES like them. You went to school with kids like that. But now they’re all millionaires who own gigantic corporations and live in fantastic houses and drive fast cars. And they’re still ugly and nobody likes them, mostly now because they’re the boss.