On any given August day, at any given shopping mall or Target, aisles are teeming with mothers and fathers hauling around packs of kids, school supply lists in-hand. Their deep tans are evidence of a long summer filled with all the best things: swimming pools, little league games, ice cream sandwiches, bike rides, beach vacations.
And while back-to-school shopping signals the eleventh hour of one of those fabled “18 summers” we get with our kids—it also signals the start of something we get even fewer of: school years.
Think about it: there are 13, maybe 14 school years we experience with our kids living under our roofs. It starts with those anxious preschool and kindergarten days, and marches right on to high school graduation, seemingly in the blink of an eye (even though we do our best not to close them).
But within those structured days, the busy schedules, countless extracurricular activities and sporting events, school years give us something just as precious as those oft-opined-about summers: an environment primed for our children to blossom and mature.
It’s a dozen or so years to watch the transformation of child to adult.
It’s the first days of preschool with an anxious 4-year-old clinging to your legs, eyeing stacks of blocks, rows of cubbies, and the warm smiles of teachers. It’s the first taste of letting go for both of you, equal parts exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.
It’s picking out the perfect backpack for kindergarten, the kind with his favorite cartoon character splashed across the front. It’s stuffing it with crayons, safety scissors, three boxes of tissues, and purple glue sticks, then watching it bounce between his shoulders as he walks nervously away from you toward his pint-sized blue chair. It’s wondering if he’s ready, and exhaling when he comes home with a smile on his face and stories of two new friends.
It’s the first-grader furrowing her brow over sight words at the kitchen table and practicing her penmanship with painstaking care.
It’s eyes that light up halfway through second grade when he finally masters those tricky 7s on the multiplication table.
It’s the special third grade teacher who goes out of her way to stoke a young girl’s budding artistic talent, helping her recognize her unique talents are a gateway to a lifelong passion.
It’s picking up an instrument for the first time in fourth grade, screeching out something approaching Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the strings, and beaming with pride at his newfound abilities.
It’s body changes and confusing feelings in fifth grade that signal the pending onset of a teenager simmering just below the surface.
It’s a new school in sixth grade, new friends, school dances, first crushes, and babysitting jobs.
It’s classic novels, book reports, and speeches to persuade in seventh grade, all while remembering a locker combination, juggling class schedules, and coexisting with anxiety and angst.
It’s playing junior varsity basketball as an eighth-grader, the jersey falling loosely over knobby knees and lanky arms that no longer reach for you because it’s just not cool, Mom.
It’s braces and upperclassmen in ninth grade opening up new questions about self-confidence and fitting in.
It’s the AP math class in tenth grade he frets over all year, knowing he needs to keep that GPA up if he’s going to get into the college he’s got his eye on.
It’s homecoming court, a steady boyfriend, a houseful of teenagers in eleventh grade, equal parts silly and suddenly, alarmingly, grown up.
It’s SAT scores, acceptance letters, and caps and gowns in twelfth grade, a realization that this isn’t so much an end as it is a beautiful beginning.
It’s a dozen or so years—and then they’re gone.
But in that time, our babies sprout wings, stretch them, test them—and learn to soar.
Yes, it’s true, those 18 summers we have with our children are a gift.
But the dozen or so school years we stand alongside our kids as their safe space, their supporters, their biggest fans?
It’s a coming of age story written by the sum of our love—and it’s every bit as precious.
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