Reflections on Back-to-School from a Both/And Mom

It’s back-to-school Tuesday, and I’m just not sure. I’m a little lost. A touch uncertain. I’m not so much confused as I am, well, complicated. So I wonder…

Is today an OK day to be a Both/And mom?

Is it?

Because, you know, I read articles and blogs and Facebook posts and they’re kind of Either/Or about this whole back-to-school thing, and I admit, I’m a wallflower at the party, trying to stand quietly in the corner and not say too much, ’cause I’m not sure exactly where I fit, and I don’t know how to pick a side.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! some folks say. Kids are headed back to school. WOOHOO!

And I agree. Oh, I agree. I SO agree. I’ve said it myself.

The kids are headed back to school today, and I might get to go to the bathroom all by myself. I’m already gearing up, in fact, by doing no potty-planning at all. With kids in school, I won’t have to throw off-brand Lucky Charms at their feet or sit them in front of Dinosaur Train or bribe them with a pinata full of sugar to get three minutes alone, which means I can just get up spontaneously whenever nature calls and go. Back-to-school days are the miracle of time wrapped in a bathroom, and I am glad for them.

But I’m not glad without guilt. Or eager without embarrassment. Because just when I reach my back-to-school mama high (certain that this is the September I’ll finally get Caught Up), I read beautiful, aching messages from mamas who, with sorrow and angst, are sending their littles to their very first days of school in their carefully selected Very First Days of School outfits — or, with brave smiles and nervous tummies, they’re sending their bigs away again to face that scary schoolyard uncertainty.

As for me, my kiddos are off to school in their scuffed tennis shoes and same old clothes. We’re pinching pennies right now since I left my job to write, and we’re making financial trade-offs, hoping to travel this fall. New duds didn’t make the budget cuts, and the kids didn’t care. But I wonder, will they care today when they see their spiffy friends? Did I make a terrible, confidence-destroying mistake?

My baby boys start kindergarten this week — their first year of all-day school — and I’m a little bit lonely for them already. A little bit sad. A little bit torn that they’re leaving. They’re my tinies, after all, and they’ll be teenagers tomorrow, which I know is true because my teenager was in kindergarten just yesterday.

We sent our biggest boy off to middle school for the first time this morning.

Middle school. Middle school. Which we confidently told him he will boss, baby. But, well, you know, it’s middle school, so my breathing is a shade shallow and my smile is a touch forced and I’m waiting eagerly for 2:20pm so I can pick him up from school and hold him a little while he holds his mama and tells me it’s going to be OK.

But here’s the rub — the complication — the complexity: I’m mostly excited for my tinies and my bigs. Mostly eager to watch them learn and discover and become. Mostly ecstatic to have the bathroom and the kitchen and my room all to myself. Mostly thrilled that we’ve come so far and raised five kids so big. 

So here I sit at my computer this new, first day of school with my Both/And feelings — gah! — and I’m filled to overflowing with my longing for them, and the loss of them, and the lifting of them, and the letting them go. I’m both proud and pathetic. Confident and concerned. Mama and mess.

It’s back-to-school Tuesday, and I’m not quite sure. I’m a little lost. A touch uncertain.

Is today an OK day to be a Both/And mom?

……….

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
20 comments
  1. I love your post. Thank you very much for sharing this post.

  2. […] week, I’ve been thinking about what my friend and super blogger Beth Woolsey calls the Both/And of parenting, the idea that two competing impulses can be held within the same […]

  3. […] son—is over. At putdowntheurinalcake.com, blogger and mother of five Beth talks about being a “Both/and” Mom—both glad and sorry that school has […]

  4. I’m a both/and on the homeschooling side 🙂 I love homeschooling my kids, but I always worry and wonder what it’s like on the other side. Am I sheltering my kids too much? Do they need the social interaction of being at school? And oh how wonderful it would be to go to the bathroom in peace! So, yes, welcome to the club of being both/and mamas. Glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

  5. […] son—is over. At putdowntheurinalcake.com, blogger and mother of five Beth talks about being a “Both/and” Mom—both glad and sorry that school has […]

  6. Thank you for sharing this! So, I totally want to puke. I am sending my oldest to preschool this year and yep, puke. Butterflies in my tummy and aches and pains all over. The what if’s and the wondering, it’s getting the better of me. She has no idea because I paste on my excited face but oye…OYE. Confident? Pretty much, I think. Concerned? YES. I’ll be okay, I’m sure;-)

  7. This is THE WEEK to be a both/and mama, Beth. And your family is all the better because you are.

  8. I feel ya mama!! I have two entering preschool this year and I’m so excited to only have one at home (for a few months until baby 4 joins us) but feel so guilty that I want to pawn off my children to be able to have a few moments of partial quiet! Right there with you!

  9. I have none of the yippee at ALL. Maybe if I got to “enjoy” his summer with him, I’d feel a little guilty relief, but now it’s back to bedtimes and homework and lunches and haircuts and missed-important-school-messages/meetings (“Mom, I wish you didn’t have to work, so you could come to school for________”) that make me feel like a big fat loser. Nope, I wish I could just keep him home. Selfish, I am. All about me.

    1. Good grief – I just made MYSELF cry! Oh, and so far (this being year 5) we have avoided the “new school clothes” thing. We use this time to freshen up his shoe situation, since his sneakers barely last the school year and he spends the summer in crocs but otherwise, he already has clothes and he hasn’t really noticed that other kids are all spiffed up. If it ain’t broke…….(don’t buy a new one!)

  10. You put this so well, Beth. And, of course, it’s okay to be a both/and mom! How else could we mommies survive if we didn’t admit our ambivalence from time to time? My eldest will be starting kindergarten this week, and I admit that I have mixed feelings. I never thought that I would, always believed that I’d be pragmatic about my kids growing up and beginning new phases. After all, it’s unavoidable and healthy, right? I mean, you wouldn’t want them to stay in diapers all their lives! But now I find myself torn. Mostly happy, but a bit melancholy too.
    Here’s to the mommy ambivalence that keeps things real!
    Sharon

  11. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    My big started the second grade about 3 weeks ago. I had some tugs watching him go, but now that we are back in the swing, things are great. Tomorrow, however, my quads start preschool. I am really struggllng here. I know that they are going to love school! It seems the struggle is only on my side. It’s not that I’m dreading it entirely. I will actually go 4 hrs 3 days each week without wiping anyone else’s cheeks (of any variety…) My house will stay clean all morning. I can actually ‘just run in’ to a store. Let’s face it, there are lots of perks!
    On the other hand, I can’t help but worry. I will not be there. For FOUR hours! What if someone is mean to one of my kids? What if one gets nervous or scared? Okay, I just have to stop thinking about that.
    I know that my anxiety is only worsened by the fact that these are my last. In my mind, I am certain that my family is complete (after all, a wise woman once said, “Five Kids is a Lot of Kids.”), but my heart still kind of aches for a little baby. This is just one more step away from being my babies.
    Well, I need to pack lunches and focus on the positive. I’m getting all choked up…

  12. Most definitely Beth. I’m a both-er myself. A senior someone special once told me, “My favorite time of the day was dropping them off at the bus stop and picking them back up again.” I love feeling both ways and then using my selective memory to chose the one that serves me best… happy to see them go when they go and so happy to have them back when they’re back.

  13. I feel what you are saying exactly. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s not going to change anytime soon. This year I have a sophomore in high school and a college freshman. The younger had a miserable freshman year and we are in the process of getting him diagnosed with ADHD. The older one has spent the last 6 months trying to prove that he is now an adult and doesn’t need us. I feel like each them is perched on a cliff with a paragliding sail strapped to their back, and I’m afraid to see if they’re going to soar or plummet…

  14. Darn it! I hate it when you make me cry. Especially when I wasn’t expecting it!

  15. Yes it certainly is because I’m in that camp myself.

  16. How can you NOT be both/and? Everything about you and your family is both/and! What a great picture of Ian today. We BOTH have been AND are praying for him and Aden on their first day today. I’ll add you into the prayers, too. May this be the start of a great year for all 7 of you. And that bathroom bit? Same goes for retiring from teaching–yay!! freedom to take that break whenever you want!

  17. You got it! My feelings exactly although I am now feeling much more in the “Yippee” camp than the “Oh I miss my babies” camp. We have been in school now for over 3 weeks so maybe things will even out for you too!
    I have felt guilty about being excited they were ALL going to be in school this year …. but I’m over it. The bathroom time, and just being able to do something for more than 5 minutes time make my guilt just melt away!
    And I don’t think that my kids would want me to feel guilty. They WANT me to have a life, even if it is so I won’t be so much into theirs (especially the 15 year old)! It makes me a better Mom to have a life. At least that’s what I am telling myself!

  18. This is my first year (after 18) of NOT sending my kids off to public school. And yes, those 18 years flew by. I have mixed feelings too — but mostly I’m happy that they not only survived, but thrived, and are now spreading their wings in new places.

    We’re not without angst, though. Believe me. This mama-gig is for a long time, and it ain’t done till it’s done. But hey. There’s something truly wonderful about saying “so far, so good.”

    Thinking of all my “younger” mama friends today, watching that kindergarten bus drive on down the road…
    Paula

  19. Beautiful!

    Back when the kids went to school, I was one of those both/and moms, too. Now that I homeschool, things are rather different (after all, we started school July 30th, then took off last week for a fun hurrah at the beach, and are back at it again today), but I still feel the passage of the moment as we go from summer to school.

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