I have been dreading the new school year for a while now. This is nuts, because I love the new school year–new books, new supplies (office supplies are my guilty pleasure!), new clothes and shoes, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I also highly respect and value public education and the influence the teachers, administrators, and staff have in the lives of my children. We truly believe non-parent adults are one of the greatest assets to raising our children to be empathetic and caring citizens in our world. So why do I have such trepidation about this year?
My oldest is beginning high school, my second is entering 6th grade, my third will be in 4th grade, and my youngest is starting kindergarten. These are big milestones for each of them. And I am in denial. Because it is TOO new. Do you ever feel that way?
Change is really challenging for me, and I think my anxiety gets worse as I get older. For one, I am much more aware of it. For another, even though I am aware and even though I continue to improve in self-care, I still fall short. So instead of allowing myself to recognize the feelings I have, I shove them off to the side until one afternoon I am cleaning the living room and the tears just begin to fall. Then I feel ridiculous and silly, because I could be in there playing with my children, enjoying our freedom-filled days of summer, but nope. Here I am, crying and processing my sadness that they are growing up, and my adventure with my own babies in the baby/toddler/preschool stages is over.
Instead of imagining all of the wonderful and exciting new experiences my daughter will have at her brand new high school, I am filled with worry and fear at how she only has four more years left at home.
How will we ever save enough money for college? She will soon be driving completely on her own; will she be safe out there? Have I really been there for her? Will she still come to me when she has challenges with friends/girls/boys/teachers/fill-in-the-blank?
Instead of anticipating the excitement of him being in the oldest class at the school, I am filled with dread that my son will still be treated like a child. Or, will he be treated like a child but expected to behave as an adult? Will his friends still be there or will they have all moved away?
Instead of thrilling at the great things they will do this year, I am worried that my daughter’s friends will also have all moved away. Will she be bored in class or over-challenged by the coursework? Will my new work schedule be as flexible, or will I miss the class play and the awards and assemblies?
Instead of delighting in my son’s excitement for his soon-to-be school entrance, I am extremely critical of the way the school system is so hyper-focused on standardized tests, and how they don’t even really play anymore.
How will he get through only 20 minutes for lunch all on his own? Because even though he feels so big, he is really still so small. What if his big personality gets pushed down or stomped out because he needs to stay in line and be quiet? Will I still be able to be kind and gentle when he comes home and flips out over which pajamas to wear to bed because he is so exhausted and misses me, too?
Deep down, I know they are going to be fine. I know I have done every single thing I could possibly do that I knew to do at the time. I know that I am continually learning and growing right along with them. I know the teachers at the school care. I know. Just because I know these things does not make this feeling go away.
What I also know is that feelings are okay. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to feel frustrated with the system. It is okay to feel passionate for the education of our future. These feelings can motivate me to continue to work toward changes to improve this for all children, including my own. It is okay to take the time to process through the grief for the ending of this stage in my motherhood journey.
It was truly an amazing adventure, and I know that the grief at the end would not exist without the joy of the journey.