3 Words to Keep You Sane During Back-to-School Month (Or Any Month)

The school year is a sleeping giant and it’s about to awaken from its slumber. Three words are going to keep me sane in the midst of the onslaught of activities. Maybe they’ll keep you sane, too…

back to school

Photo Credit: donnierayjones via Compfight cc

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

It was the first annual community picnic for my wife’s upstart pediatric development center. Employees and families were invited, and six families who had already been served by the project were planning to attend. There was a hayride scheduled. And a cookout. And volleyball. And an array of other outdoor events. But right when it was scheduled to begin, the skies opened and flooded the land.

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Then, ninety-minutes later, as the rain continued to fall, we got a text saying the people had gathered anyway. Surprised, we piled into the car and, as we fishtailed down a muddy hill into the campground, we saw a small band of employees and families gathered beneath a pavilion. I did’t see a hayride, the volleyball court was a mud pit, and it looked like the festivities had failed.

I met the director of the center and told her I was sorry her first picnic got cancelled. She looked at me and smiled pleasantly and said, “Oh, it wasn’t really cancelled. Four families showed up and during a break in the rain, we went for a walk in the woods, down to the river.”

I just assumed the picnic was cancelled.

Because I’ve been seduced by programming.


Our televisions are getting thinner, while our television programming is getting more bloated—a basic cable package now offers 140 channels, and premium packages easily double that. But our televisions are just the beginning.

Our days are getting bloated by programming, too.

The school year is about to begin, and every parent knows what that means: weeknights packed with lots (and lots) of programs: back-to-school socials and curriculum nights and parent-teacher conferences, and parent-coach conferences, and parent-parent conferences in which couples attempt to organize all the homework and classroom celebrations and field trips and athletic practices and music lessons and playdates and, oh yeah, meals.

Our whole lives are being bloated by programming.

Soccer games here and there and everywhere (all at the same time), birthday parties and recitals and pageants, and weekend festivals galore. When a boring moment interrupts our busy schedule, we quickly dismiss it by reaching into our pockets, grabbing our phones, and going app surfing.

With so much programming, it’s easy to buy into the idea that life is programming. So, when you get to a company picnic where all the programming has been rained out, you assume the picnic is cancelled.

But you assume wrong.

Because life isn’t about programming; life is about people.


I’ve got a blog to maintain, a book manuscript to finish by November, and a therapy practice launching next week.

That’s my programming.

And to be honest, I can sometimes (okay, often) assume my programming is my life. So, when my wife needs me to be an actual husband, it’s easy to see her as an obstacle to my programming. Or when my kids are all on the verge of beginning a new school year in a new town and they need me to pay close attention because they are secretly terrified of this next adventure, it’s easy to see them as interruptions to my programming, like the President breaking into your favorite sitcom to talk about budget numbers.

Like rain on a summer picnic.

After all, my programming is important. Maybe even more important than…my people?

Sometimes, when my kids start to fight about who is winning a game they’re playing, I step in and remind them, “Hey, kids, people before points.” So, I guess when my ego is telling me all the stuff on my plate is more important than all the people at my table, I need to let myself be reminded by the still-quiet voice inside:

Hey, Kelly, people before programming.


People. Before. Programming.

Those are three words that will keep me sane when there’s a typo in the blog post I didn’t have time to proofread because I was helping a kid hang bedroom posters and when the work on my manuscript gets interrupted by another kid who wants to go over his locker combination one more time.

Those are three words that might keep all of us sane as the school year awakens from its slumber, because they can remind us: in a way, life really is a picnic—it’s not about the programming that’s blowing up; it’s about the people who are showing up. Sometimes, the floods come and our plans get ruined, but life isn’t about what we were planning to do; life is about the people who are choosing to stand in the rain with us.

And we can always go for a walk with them.

In the woods.

Down to the river.

Question: Who are your people? Who keeps showing up, even when the rain is ruining everything else? How might you take a walk with them today? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Next Post: What Is the Difference Between the Good Life and the Redemptive Life?

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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16 thoughts on “3 Words to Keep You Sane During Back-to-School Month (Or Any Month)

  1. I decided to see cousins that I had not seen in over 20 years. Keep in mind I am 46 years old. I had bemoaned the fact that they hated me and that I hated them right back. I then realized they are my people Seeing them was amazing. They are great people and I have missed so much. I am their people and I will keep showing up. People before programming my friend. Let’s put them all where they need to be.

    • GREAT story, Allison. I’d love to live in a world where everyone listened to that nudge their feeling toward reconciliation and connection. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a wonderful reminder in starting the school year off with what is important! Thanks for centering us today!

    • You’re welcome, Kathy. I hope I can see you on Friday but certainly understand if you’re not around the office!

  3. Right on. (Although out here in the desert SW, we are bizarrely convinced that kids will melt like sugar cubes if we let them out in the rain…)
    My people have an astounding way of showing up, even when things are hectic, hard, and harrowing. With examples like this right there in my life, it is easier to put my next step on the right path toward keeping people the priority. I’m starting my day with my heart crowded with those I’m so happy to count as my people.
    I love the ways you make the best of rainy days.

    • Have you seen “Inside Out,” Shel? Have I asked you that before? : ) It’s a beautiful story about how our most difficult emotions drive us into the arms of our people. Blessings to you and your crowded heart!

      • My kiddo saw this one on a daddy-date and they both gave it rave reviews. I’m told it’ll be one we see again and again after it releases on video. 😄

  4. So good! This morning after reading your post one of our three Littles ran upstairs in a full blown tantrum. He was actually obeying, but his attitude would not submit even though his actions did. He cried and cried. I waited, thinking about the rain on the picnic…in reverse. I realized I needed to stay put though the ‘programming’ was off. The storm passed and he came down dressed, happy and restored. He rejoined the gathering where coloring and making up goofy songs was the activity of the moment. Prioritizing our people doesn’t always mean we know what they need, but giving them grace, usually results in the best of gatherings. Thank you Kelly!

    • Beautifully done and said, Grace. What a blessing to abide with your son through is emotions. It may be one of the hardest parts of parenting, but they take it in and it makes a difference. Enjoy the goofy songs!

  5. Thanks for another great read Kelly, you are so full of wisdon ;)…
    It was the day of my 4yr old’s birthday party. The previous week we had to move into the tiniest little cube of a home. – http://www.inpursuitoflovelyness.com/lovelyhomes/2015/8/3/compact-living The party was planned for a casual afternoon at the park where the kids could run around and the fairy princess cake I’d spent the last two days making wouldn’t melt under one of the pavillions. But it was raining!! I spent the whole morning watching the skies, stressing about the weather and contemplating the ramifications for little Lucy of a cancelled birthday party… I rang the other mums – all dear friends – and tried to cancel, but they insisted that everyone would fit in our shoebox of a house that nobody had seen yet, that I had nothing to be embarassed about and it would be fine! So I gave up the planning and gave into the people… Everybody showed up, we had 8 adults and 9 kids who all found a place to sit, the rain stopped long enough for the kids to eat on a blanket outside and then they all made a pirate ship out of the bunkbed and spread out on the floor colouring. I nearly cried at the joy of our people, who showed up for me, showed up for Lucy, and ate the princess cake.

  6. The picnic story is great, and our family would take a walk in the rain if we had something planned. I also have a friend I ride my bike home part way until we reach the bridge he has to cross and I don’t. We ride regardless of the weather, and it is so nice to have someone to ride with.

  7. What beautifull synchronicity that you should post this today, when we are in the middle of a Venus retrograde whose themes are teaching us about reexamining our values, what matters most to us in the course of our life path. I was just discussing tonight before work with my 2 besties how we used to take time as our little group and talk about what we were working on, where we were at, etc and we haven’t done that in maybe a year. Sad part is that the 3 of us live together.. but we don’t always have the deep, meaningful conversations because we’re busily working on the next project or just watching tv mindlessly and not really talking to each other about anything real.

    Thank you for tossing another log on my emotional fire to keep these new intentions burning.

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