“I’m digging for gold, Mom,” my four-year-old son explained as he flashed a playful smile in the rearview.
I was impressed with his witty response to me telling him to stop picking his nose. As we waited in the drop-off line on the first day of school, I had to laugh and think, I hope his teachers appreciate his sense of humor.
I’ve been hoping a lot of things for my boys during this back to school season. For myself, too. This is the first year both my kids will be in full-day school, and no surprise, I have some big feelings about it.
On the one hand, I’ve been longing for this day to come for over a year now. Like many families across the globe impacted by the pandemic, my flexible work-from-home job came under assault by the cancellation of childcare options and the introduction of virtual school. I somehow adapted to constantly flipping between supporting my son as he navigated kindergarten, being present and responsive at work, and maintaining a baseline level of sanity. My mental stamina is simply shot, but today is the day I can finally return to quietly performing my day job and being a mom who’s not on the verge of coming unhinged.
It’s just… I’m struggling to fully enjoy the moment. I should have peeled out of that drop-off line, music blasting with a mimosa in my coffee cup. Instead, I smiled through tears on the drive home and spent the morning looking at my kids’ baby pictures.
Man, parenthood is such a trip. I’ll never get over the intensity of these competing emotions. Pride and pain. Anticipation and dread. Excitement and fear. Half the battle of motherhood is gently guiding your children on the journey to self-discovery while you simultaneously do the same. As a result, I’m feeling the back-to-school bliss and the blues all at once.
Back to school blues because…
Time is precious and fleeting. My husband recently worked out that we have 18 summers to spend with our kids, which means we’re already a third of the way through summers with my oldest son. Back-to-school marks the end of summer, as well as a milestone that brings us closer to having “big kids” forging their own paths, living their own lives… and needing us less. While I’m guilty of wishing away the hard parts, I’m acutely aware that we’re inching closer to a developmentally appropriate phase where we’re no longer the center of their worlds. And I don’t like it. Watching from the school gate as they walked up the big stone steps with their oversized backpacks had my heart soaring and breaking all at once.
It’s risky to send our kids back to school. With the vaccine still unavailable to children under the age of 12 and COVID cases surging, it feels like we have impossible choices to make for our boys. No one wants to gamble with their child’s health, emotional well-being, or education, but prioritizing one puts the others at risk. My desire for a smooth return to in-person learning assumed the pandemic would be behind us, not mutating into something even more transmissible and harmful to our kids. It’s a looming fear that layers on to the other school-related worries and makes it hard to feel light on this day.
Back-to-school bliss because…
Remote learning was hell. While it may have been a necessary evil (and still is for many), remote learning was the bane of my existence for 9 months and I am so grateful it’s over. I’ve asked a lot of my kids since the start of the pandemic, but I hope I never have to ask them to learn through a screen again. This summer they were able to be carefree kids again, restoring their faith in the adults of the world. As I sit in my empty house, I will savor the stillness and appreciate that no one is fighting, there’s no risk of a naked little boy busting in on a video call, and my house is relatively clean. It’s euphoric.
I’m so happy for them. Despite their first-day jitters, I know their big dreams, innocent curiosity, and open hearts will equip them with all they need to succeed. While they might not fully understand it, they get that the first day of school is the start of something really special. Perhaps they sense that their academic journeys have the potential to shape their passions, stretch the limits of their imagination, and teach them that the real magic of life lies outside their comfort zones… or maybe they just like their new backpacks.
I know I’m not the first mom to recount the mix of emotions back-to-school brings. We’re all riding the same emotional roller coaster that makes us count the hours until bedtime, only to miss them by morning. It’s our universal wish for our kids to become the best versions of themselves. But their independence, growth, and ability to thrive requires that we let go, stand back, and stand down. It’s no wonder this day brings both bliss and blues.
So be gentle.
Hug their teddy bears.
Cry into your coffee cups… or wine glasses.
Then be there waiting for their stories when they get home.
In loving memory of my sister, Lindsay: one of the most talented and dedicated teachers to ever walk the earth.