I’m Ecstatic School’s Starting! (Except When I’m Not.)

Sep 2 2013

My house looks like a tornado hit it from the inside and there’s no way – no way – we can get it put back together before school starts tomorrow. Or before the year 2015, really. Although why I feel the pressure to have it clean by tomorrow is a mystery since it hasn’t truly been organized for 11 years. There’s just something about the start of school, though, that screams DUCKS IN A ROW, BETH; get your crap in order and get it in order STATLike the neat pencil boxes and pristine crayons and unopened glue sticks are getting their superior Judgy McJudgerpants on, saying, “We’re neither sticky nor broken, Beth; now what’s up with your floor?”

Our 13-year-old has been arguing with us since… well, since 2008… but most recently since Friday because oh my GOSH, MOM and GEEZ! and Breathy Voice, Long Low Back Unrounded Vowel With Advanced Tongue Root, but also because school’s starting Tuesday and that always freaks him out — CHANGE IS COMING! EVERYONE PANIC! He makes me want to shake him and tell him to knock it off and also hug him and tell him it’s going to be OK, baby, I promise promise promise; now, BREATHE.

The 6-year-olds, on the other hand, are bouncing off the walls and each other because SCHOOL IS SO AWESOME, and WE CAN’T WAIT, and WHY CAN’T IT START RIGHT NOW? And they’re begging to wear their new school shoes to unreasonable and exotic locations like our backyard sandbox while I say, “NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT. Save them for school” for reasons even I don’t understand, because what? Having immaculate shoes for a whole extra week is going to make all the difference to their education? I mean, really; wreck ’em now or wreck ’em later, as long as school starts soon, why do I care?

It’s clear, I’ll bet, that I’m done with summer. Done done. Done ditty done done done.

Don’t get me wrong; I loved every single minute of summer with my kids except for all the minutes I was at the end of my rope and exhausted and wrung out and worn thin. But in general I loved every single minute of it, and, as we’ve learned before, in general is what counts in the end.

I loved riding bikes and rafting rivers and playing in the sand and sleeping under the stars. I loved hugging the cousins and hanging with the grandparents and eating ice cream and not bathing my kids. I loved that my uncle Mike pours way too much liquor in my margaritas, and I loved wasting batteries to read trashy vampire novels by headlamp in the tent by the cliff on Marrowstone Island. I loved singing opera to irritate my kids, and I loved getting too much sun. I loved summer. Loved it to pieces. Loved it to death. And now I’m done, glad for the end of the Go Go Go and grateful for the start of a more reliable routine. Grateful for teachers. Grateful for schools. Where my kids will go. AWAY.


It’s just…

The problem is…

I’m sad summer’s over.

And, GAH! I know. Now we’re all confused. ‘Cause which kind of mother am I, anyway?

See, I’ve seen the posts from mamas who are ECSTATIC that school is starting again, and I’ve seen the posts from mamas lamenting the loss of their kids to school. I’ve read both kinds and thought, Oh, yes! THIS. Exactly.

I’ve seen the posts from mamas who are angry at one type or the other, too; the ones who are angry at the excited mamas for thinking so little of their kids that they celebrate their absence, and the ones who are angry at the sad mamas for clinging so tightly and being so enmeshed that they lose part of themselves when their kids are away.

It’s just… these different types of mamas? They’re me. Me, too. I’m both. I’m some of each. I’m option C: all of the above.

I’ve examined my heart on this one, trying to pick a side. Trying on one mantle. Trying on the other. And I’ve found I’m ECSTATIC school is starting again… relieved… overjoyed… and I’m grieving the start of another year. Another milestone. Another symbol that my kids are growing up and won’t always sit on my lap, or beg for another book, or run to me with abandon, or slam their heads into my gut, or beat my butt like bongos, or need me when they’re sick, or sneak treats they’re not supposed to have, or wipe their noses on my shirt, or destroy my house, or hug me too tight, or say, “Mom? I love you” for no reason at all.

I’m done with summer. I am. I’m positive.

And I’m ecstatic school’s starting again. Truly.

Except when I’m not.

Except when I’m sad.

Because that’s who I am. A Both/And mom.

So I’m sending this today to those of you who might also be Both/And-ers. Those of you who’ve tried on the mantles. Those of you who haven’t found a fit.

And I’m also sending this to those of you who know exactly where you land. The Either/Or’s. The HOORAY’s and the DON’T GO’s!

Because I want you to know you’re OK.

You’re OK. And you’re not alone.


And just in case you don’t know how you’ll do it — how you’ll let them go this year or how you’ll survive another summer — I wanted to share this little story with you, one I shared on Facebook this weekend. It goes like this:

“Pick any shoes you like,” I said.

He picked pink and purple.

I said, “Absolutely,” and then I wondered if I was doing him a disservice, so I sighed and gently told my 1st grader, “Some kids may tease you, though.”

He pulled my face down to his level with his hands on my cheeks, looked me seriously in the eye, and said, “BRING IT.” And then he said, “All of the colors are for all of the people, Mom.” And that is as true a truth as I know.


It’s Back-to-School time again. Everywhere across the country, kids are taking deep breaths and parents are taking deep breaths and we are all being very, very brave. So here’s to all the kids and all of the bravery and all of the colors and all of the people. In the words of one wise 6-year-old, BRING IT.


And you? How do you feel about the start of school? How are you doing? Either/Or’s and Both/And’s welcome. Always. Always always.