Mia Freedman: "For every parent feeling overwhelmed already. Me too."

Her wheels are falling off already. They always do.

We’re not even one week into February and already I feel like I’m spinning way too many plates.

You know, like this:


I often have that image in my head of my life.

It resonates more with me than the idea of juggling balls but the premise is the same.

You’re trying to do a bunch of things simultaneously and just when you think, “hey, I’ve got this”, a plate starts to wobble. You rush over to steady it and two more instantly begin wobbling.

Before you can get to them,  you notice three more plates that need your attention. And that’s when you hear the first plate fall to the ground, followed by others.

Some smash into pieces, others kind of bounce and roll away as you dash madly from one to another feeling like you’re going insane because YOU CANNOT KEEP ALL THE PLATES SPINNING AT ONCE AND SOMEONE NEEDS TO HELP ME OR AT LEAST GET ME A PIECE OF CAKE.

What fool leaves it until 5:45pm the night before school goes back to buy school shoes?


That’s been my last 48 hours. The sound of wobbling, smashing plates.

The year started promisingly enough. It always does. Sure, I leave it till the last minute to buy new school shoes for the kids and I always forget to check if my daughter’s uniform needs taking down (it always does) but I pat myself warmly on the back with both hands because I remember to buy new lunchboxes. As if the act of buying them will magically correspond to them filling themselves up each day, every day. For the rest of the school year. If only.


But every year I forget about the crunch of gears as a family we adjust from the unscheduled, unstructured, unhurried bliss of the holidays to the regimented stress of the school year. We do it in phases. First we come back from holidays. Then the adults go back to work. And finally, the kids return to school and we accelerate dramatically into maximum difficulty.

The crunch comes hard and fast. I forget how the children hate to be hurried in the morning, hate to be late. I forget what a terrible judge of time I am and how incompatible these two things are. There are tears. Anxieties surface – the kids’ and mine. New friends, routines, teachers. Re-establishing after-school activities. Returning to normal bedtimes. Returning to stricter rules around screen time. Re-establishing homework routines. Drop-off and pick-up arrangements. After-school care and extracurricular activities. Sports teams and sports uniforms.

Everything jangles in my brain, flabby from underuse after a long relaxing summer break. I’m not match-fit. My husband resumes a familiar competition called “I am busier than you are” where there are no winners. Only martyrs.

Shoes? Tick.


I’m drowning in contact and yet I take a perverse pleasure in covering piles of school books night after night because that’s one achievement that can be measured. Bubbles be damned.

And the notes. The new systems. The packing and unpacking of school bags and washing of school uniforms. The losing of hats. The parent-teacher orientations and introductory meetings. The anxious monitoring of friendships, the reaching out to other mothers and the organising of playdates.


The invitations to social functions for parents. And let’s throw in a school camp early in term just to keep everyone on their toes. Packing lists. Long talks about the prospect of abseiling and managing fear of the unknown. It’s going to be OK, I say. To both of us.

I always forget how hard this bit is. Every year since my first child started school, I’ve been wracked by self-doubt and an overwhelming sense of……overwhelm in those first few weeks of first term. Every year I wonder how I’m going to do this. If I can do this.

Every year I imagine all the other mothers sailing along the freeway at 100km/hr with the music up loud and the wind in their hair, while I awkwardly try to merge into the traffic to try and join them, starting and stopping, struggling and stalling, until I clip a guard rail and lose a couple of hubcaps, narrowly swerving to miss a tree.

Back-to-school time can be a busy time of year. Photo: Flickr
It’s just that chaotic time of year. Photo: Flickr.


Just a couple of weeks ago I found myself warning a friend whose eldest child was about to start school to prepare herself for a bumpy term one. “When my first child started school I thought I was going to have to quit my job just to stay on top of the notes and remember which day was library day and which was PE,” I told her. “But I promise it settles down. It gets easier.”

Somehow I forgot this myself.

And it does. I faintly recall that it does. Doesn’t it? I think it does. Or maybe that particular work/family plate spinning muscle just builds back up quickly because it has to.

So to all the other parents out there – and to me – a reminder to hang in there. None of us are alone. And it’s all totally worth it. A few smashed plates? That’s the stuff of life and love. Just grab a dustpan and brush. Sweep up the broken bits and keep going. We should all be fine by Easter.