The contents of my Facebook news feed over the past couple of days have consisted mainly of children heading for higher learning. Some of the pictures are a bit much – heavily posed, complete with props (sigh). Most of them, though, are simple: a grinning kid (or two or three) looking first-day-of-school cool, with shiny new gear strapped on his or her back. Fuzzy new haircuts, missing teeth, eyes bright with anticipation.
Accompanying many of these pictures is a line or two about how much the kid’s parents love back-to-school. There are pics of parents cheersing with champagne flutes as the bus drives out of sight, parents dancing through the halls of their home, parents sprawled on couches with a beer and a remote – and I get it. Back-to-school is, for many, a return to regularly scheduled programming. September means that you finally have a solid reason for telling them to take a bath, go to bed, wear clothes that match, brush their hair. I’ve written before about how good back-to-school is for our kids. And, if you are a stay-at-home parent, when the kids go to school, you get a break – one you’ve earned after a summer of being with your little monsters all day every day. I have Fridays off. In the summer, I spend that day with Fiona and Bridget, and it’s lovely. Lovely as it is, though, I also appreciate the Fridays when I am at home and they are not. I can do any shopping that needs doing (and, with four people who hold fast to the high-maintenance habits of eating, practising good hygiene and wearing clean clothes while living in a clean house – not to mention two people who keep growing – there’s plenty of shopping to do). I can whip the house into line before the weekend, which means I don’t have to waste the weekend doing stupid things like weeding, scrubbing and vacuuming. And I can eat lunch all by myself. This benefits nobody but me, of course, but it’s a nice novelty.
For the most part, though, I can’t join the yearly fall conga-line with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” soaring in the background. (That was fun, though, eh? Great song ….) For one thing, I’m not a stay-at-homer. So, for me, school doesn’t mean much of a break from my kids, and it adds fuss. The need for agenda perusal, early bedtimes, clean clothes, neat hair, nutritious snacks and meals to promote learning …. Daycare don’t care, school does. Alot. School supplies, indoor shoes with non-marking soles, a bajillion little snack-sized plastic containers (with rogue lids). Hauling your kids out of bed before dawn and barking at everyone while doing things at silent black-and-white movie speed – only to be late again. Homework. Sweet cousin-of-Jedidiah, what is it about homework that so often leaves the kids and me teetering on the brink of hysteria at the end of what’s already been a long day?
More than the fuss, though, back-to-school means change. On Fiona’s first day of school, when I saw her itty-bitty four-year-old face pressed against the bus window as it rumbled away, I cried because I would miss her. Her backpack was almost as big as she was:
My days would be so different without her – but I still had two-year-old Bridget to deal with, and I grew to cherish my Mommy-and-Bridget time in the afternoons while big sister was at school. By the time Bridget’s first day of school rolled around, I was back in the office. Her daycare provider, one of the sweetest women I’ve ever had the privilege to know, sent me a picture of her all ready to go:
And I cried again. Not because I would miss her. She and I were already apart that day, and many days. This time, I cried because I knew what I was losing – my baby. I knew that, although the child who stepped off the bus that afternoon would look the same, she would be different on the inside. New surroundings, new friends, a new role model. And I knew that she would keep changing. She would lose her babyish pronunciations. Manners and the influence of other children would turn her from a human tornado to a little lady. Her end-of-day stories would be filled with people I might never meet. For the first time in her life, I would have no control over a significant part of her world: the classroom. When I dropped her off at daycare that morning, I knew I’d be picking a different kid up at the end of the day. Still mine, but different.
You’d think I’d get used to it. Yet, every year on the first day of school, I get a little watery thinking about my girls. I know as I’m taking the requisite back-to-school picture that I will never see these kids again – they’re passing through this phase at the speed of light, and the coming year will change them utterly and irrevocably, starting with who’s at the front of the room and who’s sitting next to them. This is as it should be, and I’m cheering them on every step of the way. I can’t wait to see who they’re going to become. But I’m not ready to knock mimosas with other mothers about it …. I miss them already.