Today, the kids went back to school.
The First Day of School has always been bittersweet for me, as I’m sure it is for you. This day marks the end of summer and with it, the end of just a little more childhood innocence. This day means replacing slow, sunny mornings with rushed, chilly ones. And, of course, this day means my children are one year closer to growing up and leaving me all alone in the world, facing nothing but my inevitable decay and demise. (Sometimes my thoughts get a little dark on the first day of school.)
This morning, however, I must admit that I felt little of the annual emotional sway that the First Day of School usually brings. This morning I didn’t feel tender and nostalgic; I felt grumpy and tired. We had a lovely dinner and home evening last night before tucking our excited kids into bed, and I really thought we were all ready for the Big Day of school come morning. Boy, was I was wrong.
Like any brilliant mother, I chose this morning to try my very first power weights class at the gym near our house. The class began at 5:15. I made it there on time and enjoyed the class, but by the time I got home at 6:30, I already needed a nap. I was tired. And grumpy. I walked in the front door only to be assaulted by the disaster of a house that had been put to bed neat-as-a pin the night before. I swear the place was clean twelve hours ago. How can my home look like so Huxtable at 9 pm and so Swamp People at 7 am? What is happening while we sleep? Standing in the foyer, I saw how my first childless day in three months would roll out: dishes and laundry. This did little to improve my mood.
Dropping my keys on the counter, I heard two showers running and knew immediately that the girls were behind schedule. I stopped in front of each girls’ bathroom door to give them a gentle reminder.
“Hurry up! Remember, breakfast and scriptures at seven!” No response.
“Come on, girls, remember? We’re re-starting family scriptures today!” Our family has mastered the Family Scripture Re-Start. Reading scriptures together every morning invites a warm and calming spirit into our home. I wanted to make sure we started our new school year with that spirit, so I screamed through the door:
“DID YOU HEAR ME? BREAKFAST AND SCRIPTURES AT SEVEN!!”
“Okay, Mom! Geez!”
I lumbered up the stairs and got myself into a quick shower. I caught my reflection in the mirror and noted bitterly that I didn’t look a bit skinnier than I had before my weights class this morning. After my shower I threw on some fatpants and realized I had failed to lay out Ethan’s First Day of School outfit. Let me rephrase: All of the back-to-school clothes I’d bought him last week were still rumpled and stuffed in the Target bags that littered my closet floor. I grabbed the bags and dumped everything across my already messy bed. I decided I’d make up for my carelessness by letting him choose his own clothes for the day. Armed with such power, he promptly passed over the classy polo shirts and pin-striped shorts I loved for the five-dollar graphic tee and green Circo jobbies I’d purchased as backup. I handed him the clothes and silently talked myself out of ironing the wrinkled shirt. (To do this, I used my standard excuse for all things negligent regarding Ethan: “He’s a boy, for Pete’s sake–let him be a boy!” That line gets me out of a lot of work.) Pulling the t-shirt over his head, I heard him mumble through the nearly translucent cotton:
“Mom? I don’t want to summer to be over.” I couldn’t think of any viable response to this, so I said, “I know, bud. Me neither.” (Way to talk him off the ledge, Mom.)
We headed downstairs for breakfast and scriptures. It was now 7:20. I yelled at the girls to “GET DOWN HERE!” and asked Derrick to read aloud from his phone since I’d lost my scriptures two days ago. (What kind of an adult loses their scriptures? And have you seen them anywhere?) The kids finally gathered round, except for Rachael, who was going on Hour Two in her bathroom. She eventually made it to the table and, before sitting down, asked if she could be excused to finish getting ready. “No!” I said. “Sit down and listen.” She sighed and obeyed, and I felt a twinge of guilt, remembering how important primping time was at age 13, especially on The First Day of School. But I was resolved to be grumpy and didn’t give in. Derrick took out his phone as the kids poured themselves milk and heaped their plates with eggs, talking excitedly over their father as he began to read something-or-other of a spiritual nature. He paused for a moment while the kids chatted on.
“Is anyone even listening to me?” he asked quietly, looking around the table. The kids ignored him and kept talking away.
“No.” I answered over the din. “No one is listening to you.”
“Then I’m not going to bother reading,” he said, putting his phone down. I respected his position, but, um…did he think that was some sort of a threat to the kids?
“Okay.” I said, almost cheerfully. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. I am usually a Nazi about breakfast and scriptures. But I still had to make the kids’ lunches–something we’d decided would become one of their morning jobs this school year, along with making their beds and being at the table by 7. As of The First Day of School, we were 0 for 3.
I started pulling out chips and peanut butter when Rachael announced that she needed to be to school extra early today to secure a long locker from one of the teachers. I kindly responded by telling her “No way–you should have told us this last night.” Her good father stepped in and said he could drop her off if she’d hurry and get ready. Magically, she and her sister pulled themselves together in five short minutes and ran out to the car, giddy with excitement.
The door closed behind them and it was just me and E. Standing in my hurricane of a kitchen, I thought of all the blogs I’ve read recently about beautiful back-to-school breakfasts, homemade cards for the kids, and laminated charts mapping out the Family Mission Statement for the next nine months. I thought about how my dismal mood may very well have ruined this special morning for my children. I thought about how my children–my precious, darling children–deserved better. And then suddenly, with an insensitivity that only comes with age, I found myself thinking, “Who cares?”
No, really–who cares? The kids are thrilled to be back in school (even Ethan, despite his complaints.) It’s the grandest adventure of their lives right now, and their dreams and desires are pinned on all that’s happening in that Great Big World beyond our front window. They don’t care about a tidy house or even a cheery mom. Do you remember your own mother’s mood on your first day of 2nd, or 6th, or even 8th grade? I don’t. Kids are so into themselves–in a good and right way–that we moms can mess up big-time and, short of honking the horn to blow them a kiss when we drop them at the curb, they’ll barely even notice. And for all my angst over motherhood and childhood and self-esteem and chore charts and losing my temper and everything else I’m doing wrong or at least not doing as well as you are, the big thing I need to remember is that my kids don’t care. They want to feel safe, they want to feel a little independent, and they need to feel a lot loved. And I think even the most flippant children understand that their tired, grumpy, yelling mother really does love them. She’s just having a bad day, and she’ll show her love better tomorrow. And I will.
To prove me right, they all left for school with big grins on their faces. And it turned out to be a great day for all of us. My kids are pretty cool people. Not afraid to say it.
Oh yeah, and we couldn’t find Ethan’s shoes this morning. Not kidding.