I have always loved the first day back at school. Since I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood, going back to school for me was a chance to get back together with people my own age after what seemed a long time of only animals and grown ups.
When my son Jon went off to school, I just went with him! I volunteered in the media center at his elementary school and since he was an only child, it was a chance for us both to be around lots of kids. Of course, he had a neighborhood full of kids to play with all summer, but I like to think that my excitement about going “back to school” each year rubbed off on him at least a little bit.
The first day always meant a new crisp white shirt and a new notebook. It meant a more structured and more “normal” way of life. For all of my quirkiness, I longed for a little normality as a youngster.
Even when I went back to school as an adult, I loved that first day each term. A chance to plan your semester, to see who was in your classes, a chance to start fresh with a new white shirt and a new notebook.
When I took my son to college for the first time, I was so excited for him and all of the possibilities that awaited him. That first weekend after the big move I remember our minister (who had also taken one of his children to college for the first time) asking me if I was sad about taking Jon to the University. I was puzzled and said “No! I was so excited for him, how could I be sad?”
Each school year brings a new challenge, a new adventure and new possibilities. The sports teams are all undefeated at this point, the kids all have a clean slate and we are ready to tackle anything on that first day. It is like new years all over again as we make our resolutions to study more, try harder, and make more friends.
Once the new has worn off, we realize we are still just us, doing our best, whatever that might be. The notebook gets filled with notes, but also doodles when our mind wanders. Our white shirts lose some of their crispness as we sweat our way through tests, get wrapped up in social dramas, and try to figure out what we are supposed to be doing not only in class, but just life in general.
A couple of weeks after we had taken Jon to college, I went back to attend a football game with him and realized he was not happy. That was when I became sad. If your kid isn’t happy, you aren’t happy.
All of his friends had gone to another school and he was having second thoughts about being where he was. He felt lonely and my heart ached for him. It was another one of those growing experiences that kids and their parents have to go through- one that requires that the parent step back and the kid step up. (For those of you who don’t know, there are a lot of those moments ahead and the more you can step back and let those young people grow, the better.)
It always seems exciting to me to grow a little more, to start fresh with new ideas and new plans, and to imagine what the new year can bring. The longer I can hold on to that feeling of new beginnings, the better I feel.
Life goes on and you get into a routine and before you know it, the new has worn off and you are back in the drudgery of school, work, life. Summer quickly seems like a long time ago. The “jumping out of bed with excitement” I see from all the back to school pictures and posts on social media today quickly become “do I have to get up?” tomorrow.
When Jon went to kindergarten the first day, he came home full of stories and excitement. As he walked back to his room I said that I was so glad he loved it and that tomorrow would be just as fun. He stopped in his tracks, turned around slowly and said, “WHAT?!? I have to go back?”
I have lots of friends who are or were teachers. One in particular gets so excited each year about the possibilities, by mid year has had it with all of their students, especially the seniors and by the end of the year waxes nostalgic about how this was the best class ever.
When an acquaintance who is about to send her only child to college asked me how I handled that, I told them that life is full of phases and this is just one more. If you have done all you can to prepare your child (and yourself) then you have to trust them and yourself to move into that new chapter. It doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, it doesn’t mean you won’t shed a tear, it doesn’t mean there is a right or wrong way to go about the transition, it just means it is going to happen.
Time marches on. You can’t stop time. But, as with most things, you can look for the positive, you can see the change as a new beginning for you, too! And if your child is like most kids these days, they will be back. It will never be the same, nor should it be, but they will probably be back. Just as you get used to having extra room, extra time and extra peace and quiet, they will come back.
So enjoy your time while your child is at kindergarten or in college, be there for them when they get lonely or come home upset. Help them to make decisions and then get out of their way so they can grow into the person they are meant to be.
When my child was born and the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” I heard a powerful, unseen voice tell me in that very moment that it was my job to teach this boy-child to leave. It puzzled me and I brushed it off as much as I could, but it kept coming back to me.
It was my job to make him strong enough to stand on his own two feet, to make decisions on his own, to make mistakes and know how to learn from them, to be strong for others when needed and weak enough to ask for help when needed. It was my job to get him ready to “leave” and make it on his own.
I didn’t do it all right by any means. I was lost and messed up more than I care to admit. It was trial and error most of the time and there were bunches of times I felt like a total failure.
Somehow in the process he survived and has made the decision to hang around us- as an independent, successful adult he still goes to church with us, still goes on the occasional trip with us and still asks us for advice when he feels he needs it. Having an open hand in raising him has let him fly away, but with a love of home.
So let the new school year be a time of excitement and possibilities, there are only a limited number of these first days of school ahead of you before there will be other phases to live through. Let your kids fly, knowing that home will be where their heart is. Rejoice in all of the different phases of their life and yours, so that you can move gracefully through the years and survive it all.