Let’s take a moment to congratulate ourselves and recognize that we have survived the first week of school, one of the top two most stressful weeks of the year (the last week of school being a close second.) This week, our kids have run the gamut of the emotional spectrum: everything from anxious to thrilled to disappointed to nonchalant to exhausted to excited. There were some melancholy faces and queasy stomachs in the mornings, there were some tears and manic laughs in the evenings. There were also wide smiles and excited chatter, “nice” teachers and new friendships quickly made. We have tracked our kids’ highs and lows this week with gently phrased inquiries over the dinner table or whispered questions under the glow of the nightlight at bedtime.
Once our kids were in bed, many of us scrolled through Facebook and Instagram, looking at photos of our friends’ children who had begun similar journeys this week. We found ourselves smiling at how their kids had grown over the summer, wondering which “first day of school” outfits sparked arguments with parents and marveling that the little ones we remember being born are now embarking on kindergarten or even college. Literally, post after post of children appeared, smiling through braces and new haircuts, complying with one last request from their parents before setting off. I began to wonder, scrolling through these pictures, what would it look like if we turned the camera on the parents taking the photos? What would we see in the faces of the adults capturing these moments? As a parent, my kids’ first day of school offers up such a complicated mix of feelings. How would my own expressions seem if someone turned the camera on me as my kids headed off to the bus and the subway? A photo would certainly catch some wistfulness, loads of love, joy and pride. It would also reflect a ton of relief, some impatience and a tinge of anxiousness and fear. Every year, as my kids start a new school year, I try so hard to stay deeply aware of the passage of time. I’m always a little heartbroken that they are that much older, hoping that my too-long hug and extra kiss that morning will help me soak up the wonder of watching my children grow. I am also so proud that I helped to create such vibrant people and take such joy from their unique brands of humanness. But frankly, on some level, as my kids head off, I’m also happy to see the back of them, my impatience of the last few weeks finally lifted. I’m relieved that I don’t have to continue to keep my kids busy while trying to get my own work done. I’m unburdened from the guilt of allowing them extra screen time because I’ve run out of fun ideas and I need to finish a project.
All of those conflicting emotions, and more, would flit across my face if a camera caught me at just the right moment. And then there’s the worry, the worry for our kids that is the undercurrent of parenting from moment one. Our worry is different for kids of different ages, but it is also just the same. We fear for their physical safety and their emotional safety. We feel anxious about whether they will succeed academically, socially, athletically. We wonder if this is the year they will conquer that challenge that always seems to hold them back. We try hard not to (and occasionally succeed) project our own successes and failures, weaknesses and strengths, on our kids as they enter into another year of learning, yearning and developing.
So there is worry and there is joy. There is impatience and there is pride. There is relief and there is love. And all of those feelings, the good and the hard, are what make the journey of parenting so thrilling. The being behind the camera, the privilege of watching our families evolve and grow, sometimes despite us and sometimes because of us. As my mother always says, “parenting is like reading the best story ever written, always wondering how it will turn out.” As this week comes to a close and my children’s different sized backpacks and cleats line our hallway, I wonder what story each of my kids will write for themselves this year. I hope that those stories will be ones of happiness and success, tenacity and determination, growth and exploration. From my family to yours, Godspeed.