By Karen Grossman, author of the blog Mom in the Muddle
It’s August. My heart sinks when I see store shelves crammed with notebooks, pencils, lunchboxes, and various other school supplies that give my credit card a workout. My kids get lost in the excitement of picking out crisp new folders that they’ll immediately rip and graffiti with their penciled drawings of rainbows and space creatures. Then they realize their days of pajamas till noon are numbered.
While some parents heave a sigh of relief to see school buses again, I must take deep breaths. I’m never really ready for school to start. Just one more week with the kids, or two. We didn’t have enough days to just be.
Summers are my time with the kids. After a school year of bustling back and forth between school, soccer, and Scouts, agonizing over homework, and drying eyes from friends’ stinging words, we don’t have a lot of time left for us.
Every first day of school I tear up, even now, with a fourth grader and second grader. It’s gotten easier since the day I left my son in kindergarten and came home and collapsed in a fit of gasping sobs, my three-year-old consoling me. For two weeks my body felt heavy and sad. I ached for my little boy who for the first time in his life had something I wasn’t a part of. It was the first time I had to let go and it hurt incredibly.
I survived that first year and even my daughter’s kindergarten send-off. I certainly knew what to expect. But every year when the kids go back to school and the house gets quiet again, I miss them. A lot.During summer, they’re like puppy dogs always at my side, wanting me to tickle their toes with the broom or blow their faces with my hair dryer. I grab something from the pantry only to turn and step on someone’s toes. When they go back to school, it’s silent. It’s lonely. There’s no clattering as a million Lego pieces crash to the floor. The house doesn’t shake as two kids storm overhead in a game of chase. Giggles and pretend play don’t narrate my entire day.
I won’t lie. I spend my summer days refereeing fights, tossing out ideas to get bored kids’ juices flowing, biting my tongue in frustration, and barking orders to clean rooms because I haven’t seen floors in two weeks. Grocery shopping with two kids gets me tightly wound. I refuse to lose my cool in public when I must repeatedly tell my kids to stop skipping over the beige floor tiles because they might run into someone. I can’t navigate the cart because they stand in front of it and box me in, and I can’t handle the barrage of requests for chocolate-covered blueberries that they’ll take one bite of and spit all over the place.
But for every setback, we have golden moments: an afternoon spent at a diner counter for ice cream and onion rings, a day with friends, weaving bracelets, cooking, reading to one another, making collages and origami, watching movies, and cuddling on a rainy afternoon. My kids still fit perfectly under the crook of my arm, heads just below my chin. Side by side.
My son starts middle school in two years. Then the heavy eye rolling begins. He’ll be embarrassed to be seen with us. Summers won’t be filled with crafting and play dates and cooking camps with Mom. I feel like we’ve been building up to this great time that is so short-lived.
So every August when a new school year rolls around, I’m reminded of what we’ve had and I’m a little weary of what’s to come. While I may look like someone who’s new to the first day of school, I’ve done this before. I’ll be all right.