We’re in a new rhythm around here, one which begins with a 5:50am alarm (maybe also 5:55am and 6:00am ones as well — since snoozing and I are old friends). It’s probably better to say we haven’t quite yet found our new rhythm, but we hear the beat and know we need to fall in line quickly.
It’s hard to figure this out, though, when our bathing suits and ears still have sand in them. We’ve had a summer of travel and swimming and friends and family. My priorities for the last 10 weeks included making sure the children were loosely supervised, fed, and coated in a layer of sunscreen. My work was flexibly completed during hours of my choice.
This new school thing feels both constraining and liberating. On one hand, I’m bound: home at certain hours to get kids there and receive them again.
I’m also free. To (carefully and protectively) place choices onto a plate filled with more time to myself than I’ve had in over a decade.
Preschool hasn’t started yet, but the big kids’ first day was last week. We now have a middle schooler and a kindergartener.
All of it still feels fresh.
On that first day, I am drinking coffee before six, packing lunches, and watching the clock. It will be her first time taking the bus to school, I don’t want her to be late. (Also: Where will she sit? Will she know anyone? What if all the kids are on their phones and she’s the only one without one?) Nadia eats a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch cereal and doesn’t seem all that bothered.
Ready early — because we’re always on-time on the first day (it’s that third and fourth day that really get us) — we sit together at the table, me asking questions about her schedule and Do you have your clarinet? her saying Yeeeeeessss and waiting for the best time to leave the house — not too early, but not too late. She likes to be on time. (This pleases her father immensely.)
She doesn’t want me to go with her or stand there and I’m okay with this. The bus will stop 50 feet away from our house. I can sit at our kitchen table and still see her. On the first day though, I sit on the front porch in navy pajamas, coffee mug on the table, waiting. I take a few pictures.
She walks away. Excited and nervous. Then starts to chat with two older neighbor girls. This feels good to me.
The bus roars up the street, the one I’ve shaken my head at in disbelief for the last seven years — Why does it need to be so loud? How can middle school kids be expected to wake up and be ready for life this early? It stops, opens its doors. A mouth? Arms?
Will middle school eat her or welcome her?
Without so much as a glance in our direction, she steps up and in. Out of sight. The doors/mouth/arms close.
Then, before the bus even turns the corner, I feel it. A pang. A lightning across my chest and neck. It’s a shock, but familiar. When the bus is out of my line of sight, behind the neighbor’s house, the tears, ones I didn’t know were rushing to the edge, waiting to see what was going on, fall all at once — as if they’d linked arms and counted to three before jumping.
Chris and our son Phin also stand on the porch. As the bus rolls away, Chris asks Phin a question and, assuming I am a mother without deep wells of emotion, doesn’t even look my way. Until, that is, I’m not answering a question he asks me. Only then does he see me crying.
“I need a moment,” I whisper, as we walk into the house. I go to our bedroom and fall onto our bed.
Ten minutes later, I’m sitting in our peacock blue chairs by the back window with a book in my lap. Chris comes over to give me a kiss before leaving for work. “Hope you have a good day. Let me know if it gets too rough.” I don’t know why he says that. It’s not like he’ll come home early to comfort me. Maybe he just wants to know, or in case I won’t be making dinner tonight.
I smile up at him. Does he think this tenderness is endearing or to-be-tolerated?
“It’s just sad,” I say, tearing up again before the last word gets out. I didn’t expect to feel this way today, at least not about this child. I thought I’d cry over the little one. Maybe that’s part of this too.
As moms, we are so excited for our kids to step into their new chapters. But there are moments, stages, ages, which feel so comfortable and sweet. And new chapters also bring with it the inevitable fact: time is passing. There is something about my first child going to middle school that got me.
Chris walks a few feet towards the door, his mind already at work, before turning back around. “Is sad the right word?” he asks.
“Yes.” One hundred percent.
He and I have a conversation via facial expressions and subtle head tilts:
Him: Really, Sonya?
Me: Well… maybe sad isn’t all of it.
Him: This is good! Exciting, even! Middle school!
Me: I know, but still …
Outloud, I say, “It is sad.” And then, as if this is a new observation for either of us, “She’s growing up.” The tears cut me off on the last word and “up” comes out in a squeak. I’m crying again.
In what feels like grace, he smiles at me.
“Maybe it’s not sad,” I say. “But I am sad.” And that is the best version of the truth.
Children grow up. We know this. We want them to be independent. From us. From anyone. We have a long game perspective.
But my heart, just like any other muscle in my body, responds after a change in routine. It strains with something new and different. The little tears, the ones creating distance between her and I (even though I know this is good and I’ll get used to it) hurts. I’m sore before the first day is even over.
This is the part of motherhood that continually guts me. When I think I’m prepared, ready, excited for even, there’s a fresh ache.
I’ll get used to it. But right now doesn’t change.
Today I am sad.