Back-to-School Reflections

by Abby on September 6, 2017

I am not the mom who cried at preschool graduation, or on the first day of kindergarten. Most years I greet the start of the school year with relief and celebration. (Whew! The summer ran me ragged. Let the teachers take over!) This year was different.

This morning I dropped off a third-grader and a middle-schooler. A MIDDLE-SCHOOLER. Let’s pause to let the magnitude of that sink in. My roly-poly toddler has morphed into a full-blown young man who cares about his hair and has feet bigger than mine.

My older son 6 years ago on the first day of kindergarten

It’s not that I miss that chubby toddler, though. I can still see traces of him in the long-lashed, dimpled, more angular face that peers out from beneath the brim of his ever-present Pokemon hat. If anything, my 11yo is way better company than most adults I know. He’s got a sharp sense of humor, he’s a great traveler, and he’s kind to small children, the elderly, and animals. (Though not usually his little brother.)

Me and my 11-year-old son

It’s not even that I’m nervous on behalf of my kids. I was an anxious child who worried myself sick before every birthday party or first day of school. So it was impossible to look at my normally animated 8yo’s silent, solemn face in his new classroom this morning and not feel my chest tighten.

And I do fret about whether they’ll make friends or have someone to sit with at lunch. I pray they avoid bullies, mean teachers, and unflattering school photos. But my kids are more confident than I ever was. They made new friends at every camp they went to this summer, and they went to SIX. (We’re all about variety.)

No, the emotions I choked down this morning were more about me. More about recognizing the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The message filtered in through my bedroom window this morning, through the orange glow of the already-turning leaves: everything changes. The seasons, their teachers, my middle-schooler’s voice – and it seems to be speeding up.

Have you seen those ads on TV, I think for a travel agency? The tagline is something like, “You only have 18 summers with your kids. Make them count.” Well, damn. Way to inspire panic in parents of growing kids, advertisers! Maybe when they were 2, I was counting down the days – YEARS — till kindergarten, feeling like it was forever in the future. But not now, when I can count my older son’s summers at home on 7 fingers.

I will pause again here to say that in fact, I actually spent a good percentage of my summers in college at home with my parents, and we still vacation with them to this day. So there, you ruthless advertisers set on instilling a false sense of urgency! Don’t tell ME my days with my kids are numbered.

It’s not exactly a feeling of time running out that’s getting to me, though that’s certainly part of it. In your 40’s, you tend to get smacked in the face with your own mortality.

A couple of weeks ago, we lost our beloved pooch, Gracie. This dog was the scruffiest of mutts, the gentlest of souls, the sweetest of pets. My 11yo met her on his first day home from the hospital, and she’s been a fixture in our family ever since. Gracie lived a good, long 13 years or so (we estimate — she’s a rescue), but we all had a tough time accepting her death.

2 boys and our dog in the backseat at school pickup

Coming home from school drop-off today to an empty house hit me hard. Since I work from home, I spent the most time of any of us with her. Sometimes taking her for a walk was the only time I left the house all day while the boys were in school.

So it’s change and loss and time that’s getting to me, yes. But it’s something else, too. It’s the perceived importance of every moment and every decision that’s keeping me up at night. The stakes seem so much higher now. The future is so much closer.

Change is hard for me, but so is stagnation. Over time I’ve shifted from an either/or mindset to accepting that 2 things can be true at the same time. I can be sad to say goodbye to summer and also happy to get back in a routine. I can feel anxious for my kids and proud of their independence at the same time. I can miss my dog while feeling glad she didn’t suffer for long. I can feel grateful for what I have while also yearning for something more.

I don’t know what this school year will bring for our family. But I am hopeful, and I am giving myself time to adjust. How are you feeling about the back-to-school transition?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou Mello September 7, 2017 at 9:29 am

This sure hit home for me in a number of ways. Although my daughter is long out of school and the mother of a four year old, I can remember the anxiety of each school year. More importantly, the sense of time slipping by and growing shorter is a very real feeling, not only in your 40’s, but, in each passing decade. Time really does go faster as we get older because we have lived a larger percentage of our life. When you’re 10, a year is an eternity because it’s 10% of your life. When you’re seventy, a year is only 1.4% of your life so it really does fly by. Treasure the moments and keep on keepng on.

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Abby September 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

That makes a lot of sense, Lou. I never thought of it in those terms. Thanks for your thoughts. Keep on keeping on! 🙂

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