Reminiscent of the bell that rang to announce the end of the school year back in June, children raced out-of-doors, springing forward to meet summer with the anticipated glee of sun, fun, and freedom.
Teachers, too, sighed sighs of relief, collecting homemade cards, small gifts to commemorate their jobs well done, ready to finally leave the premises, the rule-bound ethics of professional behaviour, and the watchful eye of the principal in the hopes of escaping to somewhere hot, far, and potentially in the vicinity of blue water, tropical islands, and the hope of attaining an exponential amount of margaritas without judgement—or children—anywhere in sight.
Parents also had the opportunity to submit their vacation forms to their employer without the guilt usually associated with having to leave the office for more than one hour, free to let work pile up on their desks while the rest of staff resentfully type away at their computers, daydreaming of beaches and boat cruises, planning in their minds perhaps a camping trip or cottage stay reminiscent of the days when they themselves were kids—and perhaps the revenge they have no choice but, to take on the vacationing parents once they return to their empty cubicles.
Summer is all of that and more. Sunny and sentimental.
But, then July flies by and we fool ourselves into thinking we have so much more time. By the time August hits, our complaints of humidity and sunburn are drowned out by the foreboding panic that September is near.
And then it arrives.
Unannounced. At your front door. Asking you to change your seasonal wreath to something orange and brown with a hint of pine cone and cinnamon, boastful of impending fall weather, pumpkin-flavoured drinks, and an array of back-to-school clothing and supplies.
Parents begin to cram in a last excursion, perhaps even a desperate, last BBQ in the backyard, which includes the neighbours they don’t actually like.
Teachers prep their agendas and day plans, ready with their red pens and new, coffee tumblers in hand.
Children begrudgingly drag their feet to bed before nine, anxious about who their new teachers might be, who may or may not be in their class by sheer lottery and luck, and whether or not they will make any new friends.
Labour Day arrives—as does inevitability, which turns into procrastination, fervent preparation, and then panic, to the finality of restless sleep, and final submission to the excitement and nervousness that the first day of school usually brings.
My son, Michael, who takes after his father, woke up at 6:00 a.m. this morning. His clothes, his lunch, and his backpack were all prepared the night before, and his watch and alarm clock were perfectly timed to dictate the execution of his plans for the day.
While the goop was still in my eyes and my body was in slow transition between the wake of a fitful four hours of worry and unrest, to the hope of being able to pour milk into my cereal without spilling, and perhaps fitting in a morning coffee before leaving the house—I had to say goodbye to my 12-year-old boy who is now two inches taller than I am with a voice as hoarse as a 36-year-old man that is both gruff and unrecognizable, and officially a grade seven student who must not only attend Senior Public School and walk to school on his own with a friend (rather than me, his doting mother), but also venture forth into an unknown future…one where he is continually growing…and eventually will be grown.
A bit dramatic?
Better believe it:
Once upon a time, he was in my womb.
Turn the page and he’s in Kindergarten.
And the next chapter? Most likely (and most dreaded by me), a girlfriend cursed with the awkwardness of tickled shyness and swooning devotion.
But, for now, I will humbly recede into the corner to give him what he most requires on the first day of school and for most days to come (as they seem to keep coming faster and faster)—his fierce independence.
But, I can’t recede into the corner entirely since I have another bub who’s about to wake up to face her morning and her first day of school. While I’m misty-eyed at my son going out on his own to brave the art of becoming a pre-teen, my young daughter sleeps.
Mercedes, now seven-years-old, will need to assert herself into the world of Grade Two. She will need to put up her hand in class to allow her voice and her ideas to be heard. She will need to solve math problems, word problems, and stand up for herself in the schoolyard during recess. She will need to wade through the politics of the playground and the propriety of the classroom. She will need to assert herself—without me there to protect her, fight for her, or guide her on.
She will in essence, grow up even more than she already has.
And trust me when I say, it’s harder on the parents than it is on the kids.
Watching them today, the parents, we huddled around our children a little longer this morning, re-adjusting backpacks, handing over sweaters “just-in-case,” and giving the wisest, most encouraging pieces of advice we could think of before our children were quickly ushered inside the school to face a new academic year.
The children were fine. The teachers, ready with class lists and sturdy clipboards. But, the parents? Whoa—and woe, consecutively.
Parents huddled in, watchful, phone cameras ready, and aimed at each wave, smile, and frantic shout of “goodbye!” that bounced off the pavement. No wave would go unanswered. No high-fives missed as kids passed the throes of bus monitor directons. And no—absolutely no—tears would be shed in front of the children.
This unspoken rule was where each parent was solemnly bound to one another. We would by no means whatsoever, show emotional weakness in fear of perpetuating the same fears in our own children.
We would bear the burden of sentimentality, doused with few hours of sleep, coupled with nostalgia, and a deep homesickness for our children—to stay young within the bosoms of our secret, adult, and wistful, broken hearts.
And in doing so, we waved our goodbyes in solidarity, comforting ourselves with the mantra, “…they will be fine…they will be fine…the teacher seems nice…they will be fine…,” giving each other kind pats of consolation, reminding ourselves that yes, 3 p.m. is only a few hours away, and that we did our best to pack a healthy, nutritious lunch.
People without children can never understand the ritual drama every parent must endure at the beginning of each September.
It’s so much more than fall colours, and pumpkin spice lattes, or bus stop pick-ups and drop-offs. It’s so much more than new pencils and three-holed, lined paper at 25 cents a pack, or fresh socks, and cold cereal for breakfast—or that extra sweater packed in case of an unexpected squall.
For every parent, it’s a new beginning to yet another goodbye we must say to the child who we’ve raised since they were a wee-baby, completely and utterly dependent on our role as parents to carry them through the edict of life—and who continues to learn, grow, and go a little further—without us—towards their own future—a little more each time.
Like I said, it’s harder on the parents than it is on the kids.
The kids will brave the trenches of the schoolyard like champs. They will line up, listen, and even savour the moments they succeed at doing something new and completely on their own.
We, at least, can show our workmates the pictures we took while fishing the lake of Camp Middle-Aged Nostalgia, singing old songs by the campfire of Good-Summer-Intentions. Like I told you. Summer is all that and more. Sunny and sentimental.
Surely, our workmates won’t be vengeful at that.
What was your First Day of School like this morning?
What is your fondest memory of sending your child off to school for the first time?
What is the most difficult memory you have?