When it comes to first days of school, I’ve experienced 57 of them over the combined years of raising three kids: two years of pre-school, K-12, and 12 years of college to date. Our youngest is starting her senior year of undergrad which means the 58th and final “first day of school” moment for me as a mom. Thatsalotta first days. I must be old. Geesh.

While not much effort goes into ushering my daughter into her final year of college, I remember well the rush of busyness and emotional wonkiness I experienced as a young mom surging forward into a new school year. It’s difficult to slow down and prepare our heart space or our kids for the abrupt gear shift.

But as I reflect on what was and compare to what is now, I have a new perspective. Time tends to burn off the haze that settles around us in the chaos of motherhood. If do-overs were possible, here’s the advice I’d share with my former self who once flailed around like a stressed orangutan before during, and after the first day of school (because oh how I loved filling out all that redundant paperwork each year—which only turns into redundant filings on-line during the college years):

1. Be purposeful with how you spend the summer so there’s no misdirected regret spilling out when it ends. It’s everything leading up to the first day back that really matters. When life blinks and your kids leave the nest, the last thing you want to do is lug around the weight of coulda, shoulda, wouldas.

2. Put a kibosh on the visions of school supplies dancing like bozos in your head. Get double, or even triple the stuff one year during the flash sale, and then take the next two years off. Chances are most items on the list will be the same. Now you have some extra time for something (less maddening) fun.

3. Make time to talk with your kids about their hopes, dreams, fears for the upcoming year. Kids at every age have gobs of loose thoughts swirling upstairs and need help sorting their emotions out. You learn this when they are young adults and start sharing more about their childhood.

4. Take a night to discuss what exciting events, activities, experiences are on the new year horizon. This gives both you and the kiddos a few things to look forward to which can settle the nerves.

5. Although the creativity and enthusiasm to pack easy and healthy lunches is sky high the first month or so, the passion fades along with the patience. If only the enjoyable part—love notes—were edible. But here’s the thing, your kids can pack their own lunches sooner than you think. Search for nifty ideas on Pinterest together and give them the job early on to build confidence and self-esteem. Or, just hire the neighborhood lunch packing lady. These people really exist. Who knew?

6. Celebrate. Both the end of a great summer and the beginning of a new year. Go big. Go loud. Go whimsy. Life is short, but joy extends.

Even though I only have one more shot at this first day of school gig, several of the items on this list still apply. Our kids are never too old for us to ask them about their hopes, dreams, and fears. We can always make time to discuss what new experiences are about to unfold. As for celebrating, we should be doing the party thing way more anyway. We have so much to be grateful for, even in the stress and strain of life. I say we go big, loud, and fun on the regular. Love is always a beautiful gift to commemorate.

Celebrate. Both the end of a great summer and the beginning of a new year. Go big. Go loud. Go whimsy. Life is short, but joy extends. #school #backtoschool #kids #motherhood

Shelby Spear

A self-described sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and love enthusiast, Shelby is a mom of 3 Millennials writing about motherhood and life from her empty nest. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.") , and you can find her stories in print at Guideposts, around the web at sites like Her View From Home, For Every Mom, Parenting Teens & Tweens and on her blog shelbyspear.com.