The first day of school.
We’ve had 15 years of first days. Dozens of teachers and backpacks and school photos. Hundreds of sack lunches, crayons, glue sticks and blunt-edged scissors. And, as of Monday, August 13th, 6 total introductions to kindergarten.
This is not our first rodeo.
We showed up to the school early, two parents with three littles. I’d shopped and packed and prepared ahead of time like a the list-loving mom I am. Clearly I’d done this school thing a time or two before.
But this time I did it differently. I bought generic supplies instead of “Crayola,” “Expo” and “Kleenex.” Whereas in years past I scrambled all over the greater Denver area to find just the right glue stick, I now operated by the motto, “Close enough.” The school supply list—large enough to stock a small country with crayons—became a general “guide” rather than a hard and fast “rule.”
And, whereas the multitudes of other moms appeared on the school’s manicured lawn with styled hair, pressed (clean!) clothes and layers of well-applied makeup, I hadn’t yet showered. I considered it a slight miracle I didn’t show up in my pajama pants, scrambled egg hanging off my lower lip.
Still, I did my duty. Backpacks were laden with school supplies and peanut butter sandwiches. Bodies were scrubbed to a shine and donned with dresses and khaki shorts. Hair was combed, slicked, braided and pulled back in colorful ties. Brand new tennis shoes were laced and double-knotted.
We walked into the classroom along with 26 students and every single mom and dad attached to these precious children. The sixth grade class had nary a single relative, but the kindy class bulged with people. The kids? Ecstatic. The parents? Frantic.
I can’t believe Johnny’s in school already. Where has the time gone? What will I do without little Sarah at home? Oh, I’m going to miss her. Are you sure she’s ready? Maybe we should hold her back another year …
I watched as moms and dads clung to their littles, as if they were the ones needing comfort. For 30 minutes, parents read books and colored pictures at little munchkin tables, their adult-sized derrieres overflowing dollhouse seats.
Then, when moms and dads and children least suspected it, the teacher stood and announced:
Alright parents. Thank you for helping us get settled into our class. But it’s now time to say goodbye so we can start our school day.
And with that, the dam broke.
Tears fell in a flood, threatening the stash of tissues just collected for the school year. Moms and dads wept over the impending seven hour separation and the certain long-term effects on their babes. Children, perplexed, looked at the tears with great confusion. A few, taking their cue from the grown-ups, started wailing to avoid being left out. It was quite a robust boo-hoo fest.
All except for the Cushatt parents. If it were possible to give high-fives with your eyes, Troy and I did exactly that.
There was a time—1997 to be exact—when I cried at a first day of Kindergarten. There was even a time—2010 to be exact—when I cried at a first high school graduation.
But I don’t usually cry anymore. Not that I don’t get melancholy from time to time. I do. Not that I don’t feel that sad tug at my heart strings when I realize this first-day-of-kindergarten will never come again for these littles. I do.
But then I remember my mostly grown-up boys. And I smile at all that’s still to come. The memories to be made, the other “firsts” to be experienced.
And I’m reminded again …
To love is to let go. To let the seasons of life take the people we love on a new adventure. To allow our children to experience their own life. To set them free to explore, to try, to fail, to succeed. To watch them embrace their world with wonder, a treasure to be opened, without always having to be the one to do it for them.
Loving is releasing.
And in setting them free, I’m freed as well.
Great and timely article, Michele! We just dropped our youngest daughter off at college. Our eldest went to college near our home town and though it was hard leaving her there that first night, knowing she wouldn’t just be down the hall anymore, this time around is a lot tougher. Our youngest is going to college 1200 miles from us, so there won’t be as many impromptu dates for lunch and runs home for laundry. It was hard driving away…but my wife and I both know this is where God wants her to be and that, though she is a bit unsure herself, she is ready for this next phase of her life.
And we are ready – ready for the nest to be empty. Ready to see the plans God has for the two of us for the rest of our married life together. It’s a bittersweet time – filled with a tinge of sadness at the changing of an era and filled with hope and excitement for all the adventure that lay ahead.
To love is to let go! Thanks for sharing!
John Tracy Wilson
You said it so well, John. It’s bittersweet, filled with both sadness over an era gone and hope for what is yet to come. We can’t enter the future until we’re willing to release the past.
Michele, you have such a beautiful way with words. I’ve witnessed this process and appreciate the mix of emotions on all sides. You captured the moment.
Thank you, Skip. Music to a writer’s ears. 🙂 Releasing our kids is a mix, a powerful mix of joy and grief. It’s a good thing no one told me all this beforehand!
Wonderful words. I teared up as well as laughed out loud! :0) Doing high fives with your eyes, well, I totally get that!!! :0) I also remember crying when Noah went to his first day of kindergarden. I love your voice, your outlook and the way you share my life experiences by sharing yours.
Just reminds me of my mom! I am so in love with your blog!
the high-five eye glance? i’ve so done that!
and this new round of mommyhood? you’re rocking it. again.
love you, friend.
What perfect timing! Our 26 year-old son is moving away to New York City from sleepy Central MA and leaves Sunday. I’ve been his cheerleader, pushing him to go because I know he wants it and needs it. We had our family portrait taken last night for our church directory, a lovely parting gift after a summer of exceptional family time (we have a 24 year old daughter who will fly the coup soon too). My son and I had a long talk after the portrait session, one in many, many that we’ve had because we’re very close and of the same mind. I was fine with him going until I woke up this morning. Thud!
Everything you said is absolutely true and necessary. I know it. And I know I can’t dwell on being melancholy but have to carry on, focusing on things outside myself.
Thank you for this!
It’s funny, I’m at work on a post for my blog about what “they” never told me about being an empty nester. Must be the time of year. 🙂