Today the kids go back to school. I can never remember whether I am supposed to be happy or sad about this. I think after nearly 20 years as a mom, most emotions I have about the comings and goings of childhood are worn smooth by the sands of time. Which is not to say I don’t care, it just takes a lot to get me riled up about too much.
I definitely have the sense of this: when school is in, and there have been nine long months of backpack packing, homework, lunch making, field trip forms and signing planners, I welcome the days of summer. The kids don’t have to set an alarm, they don’t have to pack things, they can wear flip-flops instead of struggling to find matching socks. And then, when summer and its endless application of sunscreen, the asking what we’re going to do today, the rainy day bickering, the constant snacking, perpetual wet pool towels on the ground and the unending cluttering of the house is over, I welcome the first day of school.
It’s a trade-off. Now, the alarm is set every day and the kids have to get up, like it or not. I find myself wishing I could give the non-morning kid a cup of coffee. The daily rush hour of forgotten musical instruments, locating lunch boxes, dashing out to the bus has arrived, but a six-hour blessed silence ensues; I have the house to myself again. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be cleaner or more organized; I’ve always been a terrible housekeeper. I’m more likely to hop in the car and bolt down to the writing cottage for a blissful six hours of uninterrupted silence than I am to catch up on laundry, scrub kitchen floors or pack away the kids’ summer shorts and replace them with fall jeans.
There are no huge milestones this year; I have kids entering 10th, fifth and second grades. At the end of the year, I will have to endure the “5th grade advancement ceremony,” which is an overly long, boring event at which we will hear how many kids didn’t miss a day during the year, were never absent since first grade, got straight A’s since they were born, etc. They’ll be off to middle school the following year, which certainly doesn’t seem like as big a deal as they make it. Having had two girls through middle school so far, I’d say it’s something to be dreaded, not celebrated, but we don’t talk about that at the ceremony. No mom talks out loud about how she dreads her sixth grader entering the building reeking of hormonal hell and the cheap bath store-spray stench of the eighth grade girls who look too old for their age in that outfit with that makeup.
Today I’ll watch the back-to-school pictures scroll by on the other mothers’ Facebook pages and think how none of my three girls has ever had a hair ribbon that matched her dress, about how their sons don’t have hair that stick up no matter what I do, about how regardless of what the kids are wearing, they’ll still probably worry about fitting in with their new classroom full of kids. Will they like the teacher? Is there a mean kid on the bus? Is their locker really far from their first period class? All the universal back-to-school conversations will happen at the end of all of our days today.
The ritual of back to school is symbiotic with the rhythms of motherhood. The years come, the years go. One grade becomes the next. The bus pulls up to pick them up, the bus pulls up to bring them home. Laundry in, laundry out. And before long, the new backpacks always get dirty.