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

Sep 4 2012

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?