Back to the Grind

LGBTQ parents share tips for getting school year-ready. 

Philip Angel couldn’t wait for his first day of kindergarten.

The 5-year-old son of Betts Powell-Angel and Jeremy Angel started school on Aug. 1, but had been looking forward to it for months.

“They did a lot of fun things for the kids beforehand over the summer, like a day camp to kind of break the ice for the kids and then on the first day he just walked right in,” Powell-Angel said.

This month was the first time Powell-Angel and Angel were getting into the schoolyear grind, but it hasn’t been too much of a learning curve.

Nothing Short of Routine

“About a week prior to starting, we started making sure that they ate dinner early, 6 o’clock, and were bathed and in bed by 8 o’clock, so that they would be in that routine already,” Powell-Angel said. “We were letting ‘em stay up, watch movies, eat popsicles late at night. If we’re going to do this they’re going to need their sleep.”

For a morning routine, Powell-Angel said Philip and younger brother Christopher are up by 7 and the kitchen becomes the hub of all pre-school day activities.

“Definitely if you get the clothes out the night before, bring them downstairs. I think once they come from the bedroom area, once you have them in your kitchen, I think that’s where the heart of the house is. You can do it all in one fell swoop in the morning. And we have a spray water bottle and a brush in the kitchen always ready so they can have their hair brushed,” he said.

Betts-Angel also advised having groceries ready to go at the beginning of the week, which makes at-home breakfasts and packed lunches easier to prepare for.

Stephen Flanagin and his husband Michael Dawson, who live in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, are proponents of morning routines as well. Their children attend Sarah Smith Elementary.

“It seems like summer is so short,” Flanagin said. “Our kids went to sleepaway camp for a month during the summer, and at sleepaway camp they have to get up at 6:50am.”

He said in the four weeks since his kids got back, they’ve been able to sleep in a few days, but for the most part kept that same early wake-up schedule.

“There really wasn’t a whole lot of ‘off the routine’ time for us,” Flanagin said. “Our daughter, Little Miss Type A, she gets up at 5am, she straightens her hair, she does her exercises, she makes a cup of coffee for us.”

He added Rowenna, who’s in fifth grade this year, likes to be the first person at school — and the person to surprise staff with baked goods and gifts.

Their son Vann usually wakes up on time, though not quite as early, but if there’s ever any difficulty, Flanagin said they have several virtual assistants placed strategically throughout the house that will play a wakeup song from camp.

Put it on the Calendar

When the kids were younger, Flanagin said he and his husband would sign them up for
activities that were most convenient for them as parents. But now they’re interested in different activities, so scheduling requires more of a focus.

“There were a couple weeks where my son went to soccer camp and my daughter was at a theater camp, and they had different drop-off times and different pick-up times and I felt like I was in the car the whole day,” he said.

Flanagin and his husband are looking for after-school help, primarily to assist with transportation. As a real estate agent, he has a more flexible schedule, but husband Michael Dawson is an OB-GYN with more rigid commitments. Flanagin said if he knows the kids have an activity, and Dawson is oncall or at work, he can add the activity to his calendar as an appointment so he won’t double-book himself.

Betts-Angel is a stay-at-home dad, which he said does make scheduling enrichment and after-school activities more seamless.

“One thing that is important to us is our faith and we’re members of the First United Methodist Church of Marietta, and one awesome thing is Philip is in the children’s choir. There’s actually a church bus on Wednesday afternoon … and again, because everything is centrally located, there is a bus that goes to West Side Elementary and a few other schools, picks up the children and brings them to the church for choir. So all I have to do is pick him up,” he said.

Scheduling is also important when it comes to avoiding guilt for missing an event, or feeling as though parents aren’t spending enough quality time with their kids.

“They have a selective memory. They don’t remember all the 75 things you went to, just the one you didn’t,” Flanagin said. “If I know they’ve been at [an activity] all day I don’t wanna, we wouldn’t do a date night when they’ve been gone. If they’ve been with a babysitter all day I don’t want to have a babysitter that night too.”

Quality time and quality environment are two reasons Angel looked specifically to live in the West Side school district.

“I was at Dobbins [Air Force Base] and if I deployed, I wanted Betts to have a community to take care of the children on the spot,” he told Georgia Voice. “I grew up in private school most of my life, and Betts as well, but I think this community — especially the public school — seems to be more representative of the cross-section of American culture. It’s not just being sons of gay dads, just sons of dads. That’s what we wanted.”

He’s excited Philip loves school so much, but he and Betts-Angel advise parents to make every moment count before kindergarten.

“On Facebook, you get your three-year memories and you’ll say, ‘What I wouldn’t give for him to be crawling around one more time,’” Angel said. “Now when he goes off to school, they don’t look back and say goodbye. They just go. I was reading in ‘The New Yorker’ one day that that’s a pretty good sign of well-balanced kids — they keep going.”