The First Day of Two Kids in School

first day of school back to schoolToday was the first day of school. Sort of.

Because of some complicated rules that I don’t fully understand around class sizes, coupled with the fact that apparently a whole bunch of kids show up on the first day without having registered, the first day of school is basically just a chance to take attendance. My daughter Hannah returned to last year’s classroom, where the whole class found out which room they’ll be reporting to this week. While they work out the new class lists she’ll stay with her classmates from last year, doing a whole lot of what amounts to busy-work. On Monday (hopefully) she’ll get her class assignment, and school will actually start.

My son Jacob, who’s starting kindergarten, had to show up to get his name ticked off the list four hours after my daughter did. He will have a ‘welcoming conversation’ on Thursday with his teacher, and we’ll find out which class he’s in then. He’ll start going to school on Monday, and with gradual entry he’ll be up to full days by Wednesday. So, really, there’s more than a week left before I’ll actually enjoy the freedom of having two kids in school full-time.

All the same, this is the first day we had to wake up in the morning and make the trek up to the school. It’s the first time we saw the kids and parents we haven’t seen since June. It’s the day when everyone shows up in their new outfits, collects their school supplies, and talks about what happened over summer vacation. It’s the first time that our family’s schedule has been dictated by the school bell for over two months.

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that I was totally fine. More than fine – I was actually looking forward to having both kids at school. My children are certainly enthusiastic. While Hannah grumbled a little bit about having to get up this morning, the truth is that summer vacation was starting to wear. This morning both kids were up early, dressed in their first day outfits, and raring to go. Fully 30 minutes before it was time to set out they were bouncing around our front hall, putting their shoes on and making excited sounds.

Jacob took the first day excitement to a whole other level. When we headed to the playground after signing him in and picking up his notices, he actually tried to break back into the school building, saying, “I want to go to kindergarten today!” As I called him back to me he answered, “I’m okay, I can go in without you to find my class!” He’s more than ready for this. That makes one of us.

While I didn’t cry today, my anxiety is showing. I woke up several times during the night last night, sweating and unable to remember what I was dreaming about. I had a hard time eating breakfast, and I snapped at my kids without good reason a few times today. I know my kids are ready to go back to school, and I’m looking forward to having more time to work, but I’m also feeling some angst associated with this life transition.

It is a transition, after all, to have both kids in school. My son is five years old – the baby phase is long past. However, today I’m really faced with acknowledging that I don’t have a baby anymore. I have school age children, who have lives and friends and interests that lie outside the four walls of our home. They’re heading into greater and greater independence all the time. It’s freeing as a parent, but it’s also kind of sad. Today, the sadness is poking through.

The road of motherhood is marked with milestones, big and small. As I stand in front of this one, I’m still not sure what to think of it. I’m too close to see the whole picture, too caught up in the conflicted emotions of yet another transition. Tomorrow, maybe, things will be different. But for today, I am giving myself the freedom to just feel, and not think too much, and drink a lot of tea. In the past eight-and-a-half years of parenting preschoolers, I’ve earned that much.

Podcast: In Search of a Greener, Groovier Lunchbox with Lori Alper Podcast Better Back to School Brigade Lori Alper Non-Toxic LunchboxesDid you know that toxins may be lurking in your child’s school lunch? It’s true. While a litterless lunch is a greener way to go, not every water bottle, food container and lunchbox you buy is perfectly safe. For instance, do you remember the controversy around Sigg water bottles a number of years ago? When everyone started to become concerned about BPA in plastic water bottles, Sigg benefited big time. When it came out some time later that their water bottle linings contained BPA, many people felt betrayed. I myself owned one of the BPA-containing bottles, and I was pretty cheesed about it.

My point here is that it’s not always easy to tell what’s green, and what’s greenwashing. That’s why I’m re-sharing my interview with the fabulous Lori Popkewitz Alper of Groovy Green Livin with you again. I first met Lori in person at BlogHer 2011 in San Diego. In this photo I’m standing on the far left, and Lori is standing on the far right: Podcast Lori Alper

Lori is a fellow green mom, and I have admired her for a long time. I particularly admire the work she’s done to highlight our exposure to toxins, and advocate for change. She’s started two petitions that have garnered widespread attention. The first is aimed at Proctor & Gamble, and it’s called Tide: Get Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Laundry Detergent. The second is aimed at Disney, and it’s called Disney: Get toxic chemicals out of Princess and Spiderman lunch boxes. Podcast Lori Popkewitz AlperDuring our podcast, Lori and I discussed her own journey to greener living, and what motivates her. We discussed the petitions and why she started them, as well as the awareness that she’s raising. By pointing out the toxins our kids may be exposed to in the products they use every day, Lori is helping to ensure that people can make better decisions. When you don’t know what the dangers are, you can’t avoid them. When you know, you’re empowered, which is why I admire Lori so much. If you’d like some tips for making better choices of your own, Lori shares some of those during the podcast, as well.

Whether you’re a fellow green mom, you want to learn a little bit about how you can reduce the toxins your kids are exposed to in their school lunches, or you’d like to be inspired by someone who’s working hard to create change, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

I’m working on some new podcasts that I’ll be recording in September. I’m really excited about some of these! Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute.

Shopping for School Clothes

better back-to-school brigade david suzuki's queen of greenWe’re in the last few weeks of summer vacation right now at my house. While I know some kids are back at school already, mine don’t head to class until the day after Labour Day. At the moment, I’m simultaneously trying to make the most out of what’s left of summer, and preparing for the return to school. This means – at least in part – doing some back-to-school shopping.

I’m lucky because I don’t have to buy school supplies for my kids, at least not directly. I pay for a box of supplies for each child, delivered directly to the school. I like this solution because it’s easy, but also because I’m convinced that it’s probably greener. When my child’s teacher says she needs seven duo tangs, she gets seven, instead of the twelve I have to buy because they only come in packs of six. Ditto for notebooks and pencils and so on and so forth. Plus, I’m not driving from store to store trying to track it all down.

Most of my shopping right now is for clothes and shoes. There are three things I’m doing to outfit my kids for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

back to school
Heading off for the first day of school last September

Greener Back-to-School Clothes

  • Buy Less Stuff – This is the biggest thing that I do to reduce the impact of my back-to-school shopping. There are a few items my kids really do need for back-to-school, like indoor shoes that fit. The rest of the stuff doesn’t actually need to be purchased now. By waiting until my kids actually need something before I buy it, I’m reducing my consumption and spreading the expense around.
  • Shop Used – You can find great used kids’ clothes, at least some of the time. By heading to my local thrift store first, I can reduce the environmental impact of my shopping and save money. I have more success with some items, like pants, sweaters and dresses, and less success with shoes and shirts. Still, even one or two items bought second-hand makes for a greener back-to-school.
  • Choose Quality – For the things that need to be bought new, I try to choose quality over quantity. I would like to say that I only buy organic cotton, locally-made, sweatshop-free clothes for my kids. That wouldn’t be true. But by buying better-quality pants and shoes I can make them last longer, reducing my consumption and saving money in the long run. For example, the high-quality backpack I bought my daughter seven years ago is going strong, while the cheaper ones we’ve been gifted with have all long since died.

Buying less and shopping second-hand isn’t exactly the most sexy way to be green, but it’s certainly the cheapest.

Now that my daughter is eight years old, I involve her in the back-to-school shopping as well. She has strong opinions about what she likes and what she doesn’t like. I want her to use the stuff I’m buying, and I want her to feel good in her clothes. If I pay for a pair of shoes she never wears that ends up being a waste of energy and money, so I make sure to get her input. As she hurtles headlong into her tween years, I anticipate that she will only become more involved in every shopping decision I make for her.

How do you green your own back-to-school shopping? And do you bring your kids with your, or leave them at home? I’d love to hear! Plus, bonus points, by leaving a comment you can be entered in a fabulous giveaway for some seriously sustainable swag:

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Reflections on After-School Pick-Up

It’s rainy, because it’s January in Vancouver. I just thank my lucky stars it’s not snowing, because when it does the entire city loses its head, and I’m first in line. I’m wearing rain boots and my long winter coat, and carrying an umbrella. I remember buying this umbrella for my husband, some 14 years ago. Only he wasn’t my husband then. I don’t think we were even engaged yet. The umbrella hasn’t held up as well as our relationship, I’m afraid. It’s missing the little piece of plastic at its top, which has allowed water to seep into the metal frame, leaving telltale rust signs at the joints. Each time I use it I fear it may be the last – it’s harder and harder to force it all the way up until I hear the telltale click.

Luckily, today is not the umbrella’s last day. Today, it comes through for me. And so I am mostly dry, if a little chilly, as I make my way towards the school for afternoon pick-up. I hurry, having left the house just a little too late. Fortunately for me I don’t have my four-year-old with me today, so I’m making good time. I look around me at my rain-soaked neighbourhood. The trees on the mountain ahead are sort of pretty, shrouded in mist. Nearer to where I walk purposefully along, the houses and cars are the same as they always are, but their colours appear less vivid in the gloomy light. The bright, puffy holiday lawn ornaments that some of my neighbours have neglected to take down just seem sad, now. Like me, I imagine that they’d rather be someplace warm and dry.

after school pick upAs I think about the feelings of the giant inflatable polar bear, I am reminded of that old IKEA commercial about the lamp. Do you remember it? This lady puts her old lamp by the side of the road, where it sits sadly on a dark and rainy night while she sets up her new lamp inside her window. At the end a drenched man with a Swedish accent says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.” (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can watch it on YouTube.) I know the lawn ornaments don’t have feelings, either, but I still see them as sad and bedraggled, despite their permanently smiling features.

As I reach the intersection just down the hill from the school, I’m joined by a number of other people headed in the same direction. Sometimes, we smile and nod or chat. Today, we don’t seem to be up for much conversation, huddled under our umbrellas. We stand silently, until the light changes. At the other side, we join the line of parents, grandparents and caregivers trudging single-file up the hill. Some of our number are pushing strollers, while others are holding tightly to the hands of younger brothers or sisters. As we walk, it occurs to me that we’re like the most boring parade in the world, and the rain that’s falling relentlessly down on us only makes it worse. No one would set up their lawn chairs to watch our sombre figures marching along.

As we near the top of the hill, everyone peels off, heading to their own designated meeting spot. Mine is around the back of the school, and so I am one of the last to leave the line. Sometimes I think I should ask my daughter to meet me somewhere else, to shorten my walk at least a little. But somehow, I never seem to remember to bring it up when she’s actually with me, so it’s around the back I go.

after school pick upThe bell rings as I reach my destination, and things change suddenly. The back door of the school swings open, and children pour out. Unlike their parents, who favour dark colours in their outerwear, the children are dressed in a riot of hues. There are pinks, blues, yellows, oranges, greens – not just in their coats, but their rainboots, their clothes, and their backpacks. They stop under the covered area outside the door, scrunching up their noses, frowning when they realize it’s raining. They’ve been waiting for this, their moment of freedom, since lunchtime. The rain has interfered, but being children they just shrug and move on.

It feels like my daughter is always one of the last to leave, but soon enough I see her. She takes my hand, and makes her good-byes to everyone in eyesight that she has even a passing acquaintance with. Once she’s done, she turns her attention to me, as we walk more slowly towards home. She chats away, telling me about what happened at school, asking what she can have at home by way of a snack, discussing what TV show she’ll watch before we go pick up her brother. The quiet, sombre part of my day is over. The walk back home is a very different affair. It’s the reason for the parental parade, the outing in the rain, the cold fingers clutching my umbrella. This girl who won’t let go of my hand is one of the few things that can pull me out of my warm home on a rainy day. And as I look at her, I don’t even really mind the weather so much at all.

Enjoying a Walk

walking to school better back-to-school brigadeToday, for Enviro-Mama Thursday, I’m going to be lightening things up a bit. Let’s all take a deep breath in and out, and get ready for a little more ease, as we take a walk.

Walking to School

A little more than two years ago, when my daughter Hannah started kindergarten, I committed to walking to school and back every day. The ability to do this was one of the big reasons we chose our local public school. While there are a handful of cases when we’ve driven instead of walking, I’ve stuck with my commitment. Every morning and afternoon I make the walk up the hill to the neighbourhood school. I continue to do this for three reasons:

  1. It’s better for the planet.
  2. It’s better for us.
  3. The parking situation at school is a nightmare, so walking is just easier.

The garbage truck is loud, but fun to watch
Pausing to watch the recycling truck on the way to school

Unexpected Benefits

While I predicted all of those benefits to walking, there are a number of benefits I didn’t predict. For example, I feel a greater connection to my neighbourhood, as I walk through it every day. I recognize (and greet) more of my neigbhours – and their pets. I chat with other parents and kids as we happen to walk in the same direction on the way to school and back. I notice right away when a house goes up for sale, or someone does some landscaping work. I’m out walking all the time, and as a result I’m more in the loop when it comes to what’s going on around me.

Another benefit that I actually viewed as a drawback before I started is spending more time out in the elements. I’m not going to pretend that it’s super-fun to head out for a walk in the driving rain. It’s not. But on the whole, I enjoy getting to spend a whole lot more time outside. Breathing fresh air, feeling the change of seasons, and seeing the world from the sidewalk are all good things. I think they’re good for my kids, too. They’re experiencing what our suburban environment is like first-hand.

Playing on a barrier
Playing on a barrier on the walk home

Alternatives to Walking to School

I know that not everyone can walk to school. For one thing, not every child goes to school. For another, not every school is within walking distance, and not every parent’s schedule allows for it. But there’s no reason why you can’t get out and walk on a regular basis. Spending 15 or 20 minutes out walking around your neighbourhood a few times a week would give you the same sort of experience my family gets with the walk to school and back. If you live in an urban setting, or you don’t have the option of driving everywhere, you’re probably doing it already. If your family spends a lot of time in the car like mine does, you can just think of it as replicating the experience that’s a daily reality for others. It may even make you healthier.

Do you get out and walk with your kids on a regular basis, whether to school or someplace else? And how do you build outdoor time into your daily life? I’d love to hear!

PS – You can start a better back-to-school year by entering to win a $200 waste-free lunch giveaway – here’s the prize! Leave a comment and tell us how you’re making our back-to-school greener to win!

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Reflections on Summer and the First Day of School

Today is the first day of school. My daughter Hannah is starting grade two. I feel like I should be writing a tear-inducing post about the awesomeness of my daughter, and just how quickly kids grow.

Both of those things are true, but the way. My daughter is awesome, and kids do grow quickly. Way too quickly, in fact, as any parent can tell you.

In spite of the fact that today marks a milestone, and significant point in the year, I really have nothing. I may have reached my current quote on sappiness, or maybe I’m just not in the right mood. Or maybe – and I think this is most likely reason – everyone is just ready for today. I know Hannah is ready to head back to class, and excited about embarking on new learning adventures. I know I’m ready to get back into a more predictable routine. Plus, let’s face it, grade two isn’t exactly the milestone the last two years were. Starting kindergarten is a big hairy deal, and moving from kindergarten to grade one felt like a big step, too. This year is much more about making a natural transition than about starting an entirely new journey.

And yet, today is a transition all the same. We’re all getting back to the business of the school year, and wishing the lazy days of summer vacation a fond farewell. So while I’m not feeling sappy or talking about the bittersweet nature of parenting, I am engaged in some reflection. I’m thinking back on summer 2012, and all that it held. It was a good one. Here’s what it looked like for my family:

Eating ice cream at  Lynden Chocolate Happy birthday! Piloting the ship / wading pool
Having a chat Dressed as a water spirit Me and my littles
I made a (wobbly) pot Boy on grass Happy birthday Great Grandma!
My son the superhero I'm a carnival daredevil, but I literally thought I would die on this ride Jon in Times Square
Little Lady Liberty Happy Birthday Jacob! Funny kids
He says, "I am drawing about our hearts and love." Kid and caution cone Blackberry pie in progress
Kid and blueberries Hula hooper Kids on tractors


Looking at these photos, I suspect that I’m feeling ready for today because this was a good summer. I feel like we squeezed all the fun we could out of it, so there’s no sadness that it’s over. We’re ready for the next thing to start.

What about you? What did your summer vacation look like? And how are you feeling as the kids head back to school?

Green Back-to-School: When Time and Money are Tight

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on, and today I have been inspired by my friend Micaela Preston – a.k.a. Mindful Momma – to write about greening back-to-school.

Here in Vancouver the kids will be heading back to class the day after Labour Day, which is September 4. That’s still a week and a half away – but on the other hand, it’s only a week and a half away. As I consider it, I realize that it’s time to get hopping on my preparations for sending my daughter Hannah off to grade two.

Challenges with Greening Back-to-School

I would like to do my part to make back-to-school a little more sustainable. However, the truth is that I’m running into the same problems this year that I run into every year:

  1. With only a week and a half to go, I don’t really have time to thoroughly research school supplies and clothing, and order them all from ethical sources. Because, really, there’s no way I’m going to find everything on my green list at my local mall.
  2. I don’t want to break the bank. I absolutely love beeswax crayons, for instance, but I need two packs and at almost $30 a pop I’d have spent almost my entire school supply budget on a single item. I can’t afford to go green on everything.

Green back to school shopping she loves sparkly things
Sparkly things catch Hannah’s eye while we do our back-to-school shopping

Going Green and Heading Back to Class

So, I face limitations around time and money. Join the club, right? All the same, there are a few things I’ll be doing to help go green as my daughter heads back to school:

  1. Buy less stuff. This is the biggie – reducing our consumption is the single greenest thing we can do. This is why my daughter will be going back to school with a six-year-old backpack and a five-year-old water bottle. The items are still in pretty good shape, and I’m not about to replace them. I’m also sticking to the basics and the real needs when it comes to school supplies, clothing and shoes.
  2. Go second-hand. We buy a lot of our clothes second-hand, whether it’s back-to-school or any time of the year. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and I often get some really great items that I would never buy new.
  3. Buy for longevity. There are some things my daughter really needs that I just can’t buy second-hand. By opting for quality, and buying clothes and shoes a little on the big side, I can ensure that my kid will get lots of use out of them and I’m getting more bang for my buck.
  4. Look for eco cred. Labels like “organic” aren’t fool-proof. But often, when you’re making a buying decision, they’ve all you’ve got to go on. I’ll admit that I’m thrilled to see more and more organic cotton at my local H&M, at an affordable price point. I also look for school supplies and other items made from recycled materials, or FSC certified wood and paper.
  5. Think litterless. I’m going to be sending a lot of lunches and snacks. In preparation, I’m going through my reusables and making an assessment about what I need and what I already have enough of. By planning now, I’ll have what I need when I need it so that I don’t have to resort to plastic.
  6. Choose the neighbourhood school. This will be Hannah’s third year at our neighbourhood school, and I’m more glad than ever that we went this route. We can walk to school and back every day. We also get to know the people in our community. It’s greener, it’s free and I feel more connected to the place where I live.

Am I doing enough? I don’t know. I do know that I’m certainly trying, and I trust that my efforts will make some difference. I think that’s all we can do, really.

What about you? Are you greening back-to-school? What are you doing to reduce the environmental impact as your kids head back to class?

For a bunch more suggestions for a greener back-to-school, stop by Mindful Momma, who is hosting Green Moms Carnival all about heading back to class sustainably.

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