Published in The Ferndale Record, September 8, 2010
[Note: Due to a teacher’s strike, school began September 14, 2010]
It’s the first day of school for Ferndale students, and I welcome it for the same reasons others do.
Back to days with more structure, brisk weather, tart apple crisps and spice cakes, new adventures and people to meet, followed closely by fat pumpkins and the staggering colors of autumn. For many of us, the start of the school year is more of a clean beginning than January 1st.
For me, this particular September comes with a higher than usual dose of nostalgia. I send the final child off for his last, first day of school. This morning will be much like last year’s beginning—the boy out the door on his own, ready to tackle his senior year and everything that means. This is a good thing.
When you’re in the middle years of sending children to school every fall, you sort of think you always will be. It becomes part of who you are. You brush your teeth, you go to work, you pay the bills, and you make sure kids get registered, oriented, loaded down with supplies, and off to school.
Then things gradually change—especially with boys. No new backpack or shiny, yellow number two pencils. No scheduled clothes shopping spree, no carefully chosen superhero lunchboxes packed with nutritious food they might eat but will probably trade or toss. All that’s needed or wanted are last year’s notebooks, folders, and pens scrounged from a drawer, a current ASB card, and depending on the child, maybe a new pair of shoes.
While it’s weird to be at this stage in my life, after thirty-four years of raising children, it’s not so bad. The end is in sight, and the white sands and blue Mediterranean of a Greek island are hovering closer to the surface of my imagination. Sometimes I feel giddy sweetness. Possibility teems.
Besides, the boy is ready, too. Funny how it happens that way, don’t you think? We’re both facing new lives at the same time.
I followed his school bus to Kindergarten that first day, just to make sure he actually made it into his classroom. He was a runner, a pistol, and I needed to know he was safe. It’s taken years to back off, and I’m not quite through yet. But it’s getting easier—for both of us.
He is, of course, talking about his future plans and the beauty part is that for the first time ever, I’m not threatened by this. I don’t feel panic rising in my throat at the last child leaving the nest I’ve so carefully feathered all these years. It’s more than OK. It’s time.
This future life, while hopeful, is deceptively attractive at the moment. More difficult goodbyes are coming up, hard lessons, and as the months add up, I expect a wistful heaviness to settle on my soul. However, I’m also counting on some delight and joy mixed in there somewhere.
Sure, there’s the first day of college, but that’s different. He’ll be on his own, at least more than he is now. His siblings have done it and he will too. And while I cherish those years of my own June Cleaver-ish, fussing conscientiousness—he’ll be ready for the shift.
And for the first time, so will I.