An open letter to my kids as they head back to school

We had a great summer, didn’t we? One for the ages, really.

Your beautiful, devout mother and I saw so many baseball, softball and soccer games that we had our mail forwarded to the ballpark. We ate as much food cooked on rollers and reheated in concession stand microwaves as we did made lovingly in our own kitchen. It was tremendous.

And Florida? That was a trip we’ll remember the rest of our lives. Except Dominic. Sorry, buddy. We’ll show you the pictures when you get older. But trust me – you had a blast splashing around in the ocean and throwing things off our balcony.

That wasn’t even the best part about summer. No, the best part for you was not hearing the word “bedtime” for the better part of three months. It was late nights and late mornings. (I’m not sure 11 a.m. counts as mornings, but since it’s still in the a.m., you win on a technicality.) And I’ve got to hand it to all three of you; you took your Netflix watching to a new level this summer. Good thing we converted your playroom to a TV room, huh? Instead of listening to you fight over whose mind-numbing show you’d watch, we just doubled the amount of brain cells that could be killed in our house. Everybody wins.

Cling to those memories, kids, because those good times are officially over. The screaming 6 a.m. alarm on the first day of school was the death knell. We’ve laid out your best black uniforms. My condolences.

You are not alone, though. Your mother, too — and all teachers, I’m sure — mourns the passing of another summer. And I say this with full awareness that I might be smothered in my sleep by your loving mom, but here goes: thank goodness.

Three months of chaos is long enough.

I’m no drill sergeant, but we need a little structure and discipline up in here, and the only thing that will force us to take those measures is the fear of your teachers getting a glimpse of our lives in the devil-may-care months of summer. While we’ve been a little lax on these rules since Memorial Day, we are going to tighten up the ship, which means you will be required to bathe regularly again (“regularly” doesn’t mean only before Mass, and the hose, pool and/or sprinkler no longer count — sorry); TV and tablet time will be cut down from all the hours to one, sad, singular hour; there will be days that you go to bed before the sun does — deal with it.

Certainly, your mother and I did not finish last year on a strong note. Those reading logs that we were supposed to sign for you every night (and you kept getting in trouble for)? Sorry about those. Your lunch order forms and field trip permission slips that were perpetually late? You could have had nuclear launch codes in your backpack and we never would have seen them, because we stopped checking your backpack after spring break.

But the great thing about back-to-school time is that we all have a chance at a fresh start. If you pretend to care about your handwriting and spelling, we’ll pretend to be excited about having to search Pinterest for show-stopping cupcakes at 9:00 the night before your birthday. We’re ready. For the volleyball practices and the school board meetings and the unexpected sick days, for the hours of homework and the hundreds of lunches that will be packed to your individual likes and dislikes.

But you have to do your part, too, which is why I’m writing you this letter. When you walk through those school doors in the morning, there are only two simple rules I need you to follow: Try your hardest at all times, and be kind to everyone. That’s it.

If you try your hardest — at math, at reading, at music and art and gym — not only will your grades reflect your effort, but you will earn the respect of your teachers and learn the skills that will carry you far. If you are kind to everyone — to the kid who sits by himself at lunch and the bully who maybe just needs a friend — you will be the face of Christ to those around you. So no teasing. Don’t get swept up in being cool.

Work hard. Be kind. And summer will be here before you know it.

Scott Warden is associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. To read his blog, Confessions of a Catholic Dad, got to