Two years ago, my oldest started kindergarten. This year, my youngest starts. In any given year, school comes with so many new experiences from getting on a school bus to getting off with unknown classmates, teachers, lunch lines, and hallways. My youngest will begin this journey of countless uncharted experiences during a pandemic. No matter what, I would have had mixed emotions about her starting kindergarten, but this year is particularly challenging.

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It feels like the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. I always envisioned my husband and me doing a happy dance when this window of time that included sleepless nights, toddler years with temper tantrums, and years and years of diapers was over. But, the reality is that the hard moments from this stage of parenting are kind of a blur and what is tangible to me are the adorable moments of childhood. I instead focus on the morning snuggles, the silly play, the chubby cheeks when they smile, and the feeling of how much life changed for the better when we became a family of three, then four.

Two years ago when my oldest started elementary school, which was a whole new unknown for all of us, we made and wore what we called “together bracelets.”

To make these, we each chose a color of embroidery thread to represent us. At school or at work, when any of us felt nervous or missed each other, we would see the colors of the bracelet to help us feel connected. Last year, my daughter had fun knotting and designing her own embroidery thread bracelet with the colors we chose: red, yellow, blue, and black.

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It worked. It was a little something we’ve worn the past two Septembers (and beyond) that served as a tangible connection to each other. This year, the bracelet will have a whole new meaning. Our family has been together every day for five months. We’ve been a bubble of love, stress, exhaustion, and hope. And now, for the first time, our bubble will be stretched in four different directions. The bracelet is a way of thinking of each other during the moments that are hard. Because, for all of us, there will be those moments.

But the bracelet is also a way to feel the strength that comes from family and serves as an inspiration to help us find our own strength within.

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This year, my children chose to make the bracelets a little bit differently by having a different color bead represent each of us instead of a color of thread. The sentiment and support are the same, but it feels right to have a unique bracelet this year because 2020 is so different from the previous years. The project was easy to do with any beads that are big enough to fit over embroidery thread. My oldest had the idea to do multiple embroidery threads knotted together around the beads so we would stay together as beads, and it would be extra strong.

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When I look at my bracelet, I hope it does keep us together and is extra strong this year. Having both my kids head off to school for the first time has so many emotions, then when you add in a pandemic, well to put it simply, we’ll take any help we can get. And for our family, this little bracelet helps.

Katie Coppens

I’m a mom, a middle school teacher, and a children’s book author. My children’s books include The Acadia Files chapter book series (Tilbury House), and I’ve had two personal essays published in anthologies; one for expecting moms and one as part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. For more information on my publications please go to www.katiecoppens.com or follow me on Twitter @Katie_Coppens.