The highs, the lows and making it all work

The clan on the first day of school, 2018. From left, Nathan, Nichole, Michael, Pacey, and in front, Makayla and Bella.

Listed among the most stressful situations people face are the death of a loved one, divorce, moving, loss of a job and imprisonment. But somewhere in the list there has to be getting a kid — not to mention a flock of them — ready for school in September.

Susan Cronin knows about looking at a calendar set to turn and changes coming for a flock of kids. She’s preparing six of them, ranging in age from 18 to 6. Those six are part of the great seasonal migration back to school that numbers 56 million K-12 students and about 20 million college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Reporter caught up with Ms. Cronin on the family’s annual camping trip to Montauk, where they spend time in August. She spoke about the challenges of getting children set for another school year, and the financial burden that has to be borne every September to outfit children who were one size in May and a very different size in September.

Her husband, Tom, was taking Nichole, 18, Shelter Island High School Class of 2019, to the State University of New York at New Paltz for her freshman year.

Asked if Nichole was nervous, Ms. Cronin said, “Nervous and excited. It all gets wrapped together.”

But she was more concerned for Pacey and Michael, both 15, who are going into the their sophomore year.

Being sophomores, she was asked, do they now know everything?

“Pretty much,” she said, but admitted she was nervous about the boys’ heavy load of a schedule.

“There are so many different classes, and they don’t have a lunch break,” she said, but the teacher for the mid-day slot has said the students can eat their lunch in class.

Is it too much? “Absolutely,” Ms. Cronin said, speaking of the pressure on youngsters with “Regents and Advanced Regents. I wouldn’t make it as a student today.”

The boys are athletes, so after school they train in cross country and track. In some ways that’s good, Ms. Cronin said, since it frees them from constant studies, but it also adds another structure to their days.

Managing emotions
Pressures on high school students have spiked over the years. In a survey conducted by the New York University College of Nursing, about half of all high school students reported feeling stress on a daily basis, with girls having higher stress levels than boys. School work, college applications and parental expectations were all listed in the survey as causing students to feel pressured.

Nathan, 12, going into the 7th grade, is not altogether pleased about it, Ms. Cronin said. “He’s my one anti-school child,” she added.

She said she’s sympathetic, to a point, with her 12-year-old, but then there comes a time “when you have to be a parent,” and say it’s time for school and you have to get with the program.

Makayla, 9, is entering the 4th grade, and it’s a real transition for her, Ms. Cronin said, since at this age and grade-level, “they’re not babies anymore.”

Also, Makayla is nervous, the same as many children who have only known one or two teachers and now will be in a class with a new person.

“She had Ms. Eklund and Ms. Knipfing and absolutely loved both of them,” Ms. Cronin said.

She’s encouraging Makayla by letting her know that her new teacher, Claire Read, will be someone she’ll look forward to seeing in class and come to admire.

“I’m very excited about it,” Ms. Cronin said, “ since I’ve known Claire since she was a baby.”

The same sense of nervous anticipation goes for Bella, 5, moving up to kindergarten, and her mom is also thrilled at the teacher, Natalie Regan, who will be instructing her youngest.

“I’m thrilled she’s an excellent teacher for kindergarten, which is so important,” she said.

Money matters
Changing gears for the children’s schedules and the expense of back-to-school shopping isn’t as easy as preparing them for new situations at school, she said. The expense is daunting, but one advantage of a large family is hand-me-downs, and the children will only get new clothes and sneakers “on an as-needed basis,” Ms. Cronin said.

If shoes are worn out, they will be replaced and “if backpacks blow out, you’ll get a new one,” she’s told the kids. “It was so much easier when there was only three of them.”

But exceptions have to be made. For little girls, she said, backpacks aren’t so much about durability and space, but design. “They love to show off their new, back-to-school backpacks, and that means they have to be pretty, with emojis and mermaids.”

So the two little girls got new backpacks.

A season of change
Switching a child’s sleeping and waking schedules is another challenge that takes time to work out. Getting the clan to school on time when the year starts begins with a rule: “Everyone in the van at 7:50,” she said, and the kids who aren’t in the van by 7:50 will hear it from the others.

There was a plan to get the kids into bed at a certain time a week before school opens so they’ll get used to early-to-bed and early-to-rise. But the best-laid plans went seriously astray. “There we are, it’s a summer night and we’re having fun and it’s 10 o’clock before you know it.”

The result will be “the night before school they’ll be in bed early, awake, eyes wide open.”

How will her schedule change?

“Spring cleaning happens in our house in the fall,” Ms. Cronin said. “I’m already planning whose closets I’m going to tear apart and which toy bins will be purged. And Tom and I can enjoy our lunch dates alone again.”