And we’re back.

We being parents of school-age children who were somewhat distracted by summer — those of us who work at home, those who have flexible schedules, those who are all in at home with our children but overwhelmed by their summer constancy, and those who have to juggle a wild assortment of child care to be at work daily. School has started for most of our families (with the preschoolers still hanging around waiting for their “first day”), and it’s time to take a breath and launch ourselves into a new season of routine — and of activities, homework, school lunches and sick days.

I’m starting with a host of good intentions. For our family, school began last Wednesday, and I’ve been on top of things.

Meals have been planned and breakfasts preloaded to address the need for an earlier wake-up time this year (I am not a morning person).

Plenty of time has been allowed for transitions — so much so that, even when someone broke a lightbulb in the kitchen this morning, the children were not late for school.

Lunches have been packed the night before, and homework completed early enough in the afternoon that math isn’t being practiced in those dicey minutes before bedtime when none of us are at our best.

Reading logs have been filled out, homework sheets signed. We — and I say “we” advisedly; none of this is a solo effort, and everyone from the youngest up is, with some nagging, doing his or her part — are a well-oiled machine.

History suggests that this honeymoon won’t last.

Which has me thinking: Where have we gone wrong in the past? What leads to night after night of post-bedtime homework, desperate mornings clawing together breakfasts and lunches, dinners at 8 because nothing was ready when we walked into the house at 6:45 and preparation was interrupted by the 20 minutes it took to convince one child that no matter how hard she cried, I was not going to tell her what 400 minus 1 is?

In one sense, it’s poor planning coupled with procrastination: Dinner being my territory, if I don’t take the time the night before to plan, when I know we’re getting home at 6:45, there’s not going to be any dinner until late unless the elves stop by.

But there’s more to it than that. If we’re coming in at 6:45 one night, I’m likely to be on it. Three or four nights a week, and things are going to get ugly. The real problem isn’t lack of preparation — it’s the schedule that requires us to have everything precision-organized in the first place.

There are, I know, families who thrive on a fast pace. There are families with two working parents and without our flexible schedules for whom arriving home at dinnertime is standard. But that isn’t my family. When it comes to getting things done after school, we need a lot of time to twiddle our pencils.

The afternoons we spend in the car, flying from soccer to piano lessons, are only partly responsible. The other culprit is me. I’m a sucker when a child asks to add an activity, which leads to late enrollment in art classes and sudden decisions to play tennis all fall. I’m also inclined to say yes to anything that sounds like fun, particularly on the afternoons when I’m not working. Pizza after practice? A bike ride around the green? Farmer’s market? Bonfire? Why not?

Because we need down time, that’s why not. Because some of us have homework, and some of us have trouble getting up in the morning. Because things that ought to be occasional treats are becoming a lifestyle. Because having time for another chapter of “Swallowdale” or a game of Set is fun, too.

I’m not opposed to activities and sports. Though there are conflicting schools of thought on this one, I believe that many of the best lessons for school-age kids take place outside the classroom. Two of my children will do Lego League at school this fall, while I coach (I’m still working out where their siblings will be). Another is playing soccer with the local recreation department (driving courtesy of a friend’s au pair). The fourth is still deciding whether to join her brother at soccer and/or return to piano lessons (driver to be determined).*

For now, that’s all, and that’s plenty (and it doesn’t even take into account house and barn chores, of which there are many). No tennis-because-a-friend-is-doing-it-and-we-can-carpool. No hauling all of the children out to dinner because it seems easier after Lego League (there is still homework, there is still bedtime, and the ease of dining out is an illusion once you factor in travel time). No bunching in another activity just because it sounds fun and “you’re not doing anything on Tuesday afternoons.”

So here is my back-to-school resolution: I will consider a free afternoon a booked afternoon. I will try to arrange other rides for the older children (who are 9 and 12), so that the younger children (7 and almost 8) don’t have to spend an afternoon in the car. I will treasure and protect even the widest swath of empty space and let them fill it with their own bike rides and friends and impromptu badminton games.

And that’s how I’m hoping to make this school year a better one. What’s your resolution this fall?

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

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* Does this have you a little confused about when I’m working, who’s driving my children to these things and how I plan to juggle it all? Me, too. The short answer is that I’m still working out the details. Normally, I work until 5:30 two days a week and take three afternoons after school off. Right now, I don’t have any after-school help, which means mooching and trading and carpooling and a lot of late nights. My husband works in town, where many activities are; he usually does the drives home after another parent takes the children in, and that still works. Starting later this fall, I will have every parent’s dream: daily after-school help with a car. But I’ll still protect my children’s at-home time. I just expect to be able to spend more of it at home with them.