I’m up at 6 a.m., writing this in the living room while I ride herd on a 7-year-old who still has 13 chapters to complete of E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan, her third and final summer reading assignment.

Six a.m. because we’re in the last stretch of the long holiday, trying desperately to recalibrate to the early-to-bed, early-to-rise demands of the school year. Thirteen chapters because my Sadie turns out to possess an Olympic-caliber talent for procrastination. Tomorrow night is Meet the Teacher night and, if things stay on their current course, she’ll be finishing her last journal entry for the book in the car on the way to the school.

I’m more than a little ashamed to report that the words “back to school” strike fear in the hearts around my household. I’m sure many of you spring out of bed, grab the new backpacks stacked by the door and bound for the car, ready for a year of academia, fun and friendship. Chez Townsel? We find ourselves at the bottom of a seemingly insurmountable mountain of homework, 8:30 p.m. bedtimes, early-morning alarms.

These are the times that try this mom’s soul –
and, thus, the times that I turn to my Oak Cliff village of vendors for the extracurricular support Sadie and I need to make it through. I won’t even try to sugar-coat my coping strategy: On the bad days, I bribe us both into getting through the day and work at hand.

There. I’ve said it. Let’s start with the mornings. For me, it’s all about the caffeine. For her, it’s all about the sugar. For both of us, that means heeding the siren call of Oak Cliff Doughnuts, 2402 South Hampton Road.

 We don’t indulge more than one morning a week, but on the days when I have a hard time drawing a pulse from the cutest little sandbagger in town, all I have to do is say, “If you get up now, we’ll have time to stop by the doughnut shop,” and she’s up like a rocket. She actually got dressed and ready in seven minutes one bright, shining morning last year.

We head south down Hampton Road on the way to her school, and a dozen donut holes and a bottle of milk (her) and a large, stiff black coffee with a Diet Coke® chaser (me) later, we’ve got the fuel we both need to get to school on time. If I’m really working it, I make the doughnuts contingent upon not just getting up and dressed quickly, but on the promise to review the week’s spelling words or multiplication tables in the car.

That’s the mornings. The afternoons pack an even more soul-sapping wallop of homework and hunger.  By the time I pick up my little muggle at 3:15, the lunch she ate at 11 a.m. is on its last legs — so she’s hungry, and she has an hour of homework ahead.  I used to take a banana or half a sandwich in my car so she could snack on the way home and, in theory, be ready to hit the books again as we walked in the door. Then, I learned that “walking in the door” is the kiss of death for completing homework, what with dog, TV, computer and bicycle competing for her attention.

I figured out early on that, from a productivity standpoint, we’re better off staying on neutral territory in that first hour after school. Now, I keep school supplies in my bag and we head straight for an Oak Cliff eatery and knock out both the homework and a snack in one fell swoop.

Norma’s is quiet mid-afternoons, so we can grab a bowl of fruit or a slice of apple pie with some milk, spread out the books and complete the day’s assignments with relatively few distractions. The Nodding Dog is usually filled with people quietly working on laptops, and the team there is always happy to whip up half a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich and a glass of milk to feed her tummy while we work on feeding her brain. And Papa Danny’s now opens all afternoon, so we can grab a quiet spot and bash out a page of math problems over a cup of ice cream and another Diet Coke.

By taking advantage of my village, we hit the door at around 4:30 with hunger pangs sated, homework done and plenty of time to play.

Of course, we still face the fight over coming in to eat dinner. The battle of wills over bathtime. The Herculean struggle over timely toothbrushing. The “just one more show” wrestling match at bedtime. Those I have to face on my own.

It’s 6 a.m. — and, suddenly, I’m exhausted. Oak Cliff Doughnuts, here we come.