“Let’s go find a friend on the playground!” I said a little too brightly.
My freshly-minted kindergartener kept wiping tears from her eyes with her sweatshirt sleeve as we crossed the parking lot.
“Good morning!” the playground monitor greeted us, also a little too brightly. “Let’s go play; see ya later, Mom!”
I peeled my daughter’s small hand from my own and placed it in the teacher’s hand, smiling and waving as I turned away, walked back to the car, and heaved a heavy sigh.
There are plenty of great things about school: Learning to read and write. Social interaction. Gaining independence. Youth sports teams. Life-changing teachers. Chicken patty on a bun and that strangely delicious rectangle pizza.
But there’s something inherently hard for a mother about sending her kids back to school again. And I’m that mom who utterly despises it.
We relish the carefree summers in this house—more relaxed days, warmer weather, and a chance to take a collective breath as a family that’s usually so often on-the-go.
Going back to school brings an abrupt end to all of that, and I live in denial of it as long as humanly possible.
School means we’re thrust right back into racking up the miles on the family car hustling from one school activity to the next. It means sifting through papers and trying not to forget to send the form back for school pictures or when basketball sign-up is happening. It means the return of all those germs we mostly kept at bay with sunshine over the summer.
I’ll concede that once we’re back in the swing of everything, we do take some comfort in its consistency—but easing back into the old routine takes something out of me every time.
And beyond the surface-level struggles the school year brings about, there’s something deeper that unsettles me about a new year rolling around.
As grateful as I am to watch my kids grow and thrive, I feel a tiny bit less needed in their lives—and selfishly, that stings.
The rational side of me understands we, as mothers (and fathers), are not meant to be the center of our kids’ universe, just as they’re not meant to be the center of ours. These children we call ours are on loan from God, placed in our care to nurture, to love, to hold with an open hand.
But the part of me that turned to mush the moment my first child was placed in my arms struggles to let them go at basically every turn, even when it’s good.
I look at the child lazily chewing a mouthful of granola at the breakfast table, and I still see the baby who gummed Cheerios there just yesterday.
I glance at the preteen adeptly fixing her own hair into a top knot and still feel the downy locks I used to smooth into wispy pigtails between my fingers.
I see the little girl shouldering a backpack fully half her size, and I remember the way her toddler version used to cover exactly half of me as we snuggled together on sleepy mornings.
I see the way each one rises to the challenge of change—easier for some than for others, but accomplished just the same—and it fills me with that bittersweet concoction of joy and pain that is motherhood.
It forces me to rise to the challenge myself, like it or not.
And it leaves me temporarily and completely exhausted, in every sense of the word.
So if you see me (and believe me, you see me in every single school in every last town this time of the year), I hope you’ll understand why my smile doesn’t quite brighten my whole face until sometime in mid-September, when I’ve had a minute to adjust.
For now, I’m reprising my annual role as the mother relearning her place in this part of life that refuses to slow down . . . and I’m doing the best I can.