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

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.


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26 responses to “I’m Ecstatic School’s Starting! (Except When I’m Not.)”

  1. Oh how I love him and his “Bring it.” attitude. You must be so proud to be raising a son who is not afraid to be himself!

  2. My husband’s a teacher, and I feel the same way just about him! Our kids aren’t old enough for school, but I imagine it’s similar. No more having him all day to myself, no more staying up late, no more projects will be accomplished, no more company on errands, no more beach trips, no more acting like kids playing all day…

    yet I’m kind of a little bit glad he’s out of the house for awhile. At least, I’m glad enough to not be SO sad summer’s over. I thrive on routine and order and having time to do the dishes on a regular basis… so it’s bittersweet!

  3. I’m a homeschooling mom, so .. I don’t have quite the same emotions.
    I sent my firstborn off to Korea last week.

    my heart hasn’t recovered yet.

    I’m not sure it ever will, honestly

    but he’s off on the adventure of a life time, with a job I would have loved at his age,
    and he’s sending his mama lots of pictures ..

    I’m definitely a BOTH mama in this situation!!!

  4. I am also both/and to apparently more of an extreme. BOTH mine are doing college. I guess maybe it is because I have been a single mom since they were 7 and 5 respectively. I have had to work. Lots of hours. But we still have our home. They are both going to well respected highly credited colleges. I was lucky to have my parents to help out. They are now both beaming from heaven at how well the kids are doing.

    I always find myself lamenting the things I should have done. The trips I should have made happen. I never took them to Disneyworld. I still could but at almost 23 and almost 21 I don’t think the magic would be quite the same.

    Still, I did/do what I can, we enjoy each other’s company when time permits, and I couldn’t be prouder of my (I guess now adult) children. I just can’t believe it happened so fast.

    I think you are doing just fine. My house will be in order too… never.

  5. I, too, am a BOTH/ANDER! I completely identify with your post! But the part that made me cry was the story about your son. What a great kid! I want to bottle all that up and share it! What a great example of individuality! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Definitely both/and. My 11 year old still loves school, and I am happy to have the routine, but I hate the rush rush rush. And I’m a preschool director, so I have a whole school full of newly-minted students and newly-minted parents figuring all out. I just came home and collapsed today! We all (family and school) had a great first day!

  7. First of all, that video is hilarious. And awesome.

    My fellow teacher friends and I call it “nesting”–that urge to get the house clean, the fridge stocked, and everything perfectly ready justincasetheworldfallsapartandIdon’thaveadinnerplan. It’s definitely part of the process, no matter how much cleaning/stocking/prepping actually gets done. =)

  8. And/Both – that’s me for sure! I am grateful for the coming quiet (especially since my baby finally goes to school this year like his older brothers!) but I’m so sad that the ease of summer is over. The ease and the noise 😉

  9. I’m neither/both/and: none of my three (ages 4 1/2, 3, and 1 1/2) are starting school this year, so I’m partly unconcerned about the whole issue, partly relieved I don’t have to worry about getting them ready (or deciding the homeschool vs. regular school question yet), and partly jealous of the moms who will be (at least theoretically) getting some free time while their kids are at school!

    I figure I’ll be a both/and when the time comes, though. My kids are going to spend a few days with my parents this week, and I’m mostly ecstatic and just a little sad.

    (Mostly ecstatic, though. Cause doing stuff without being interrupted twenty times? A.W.E.S.O.M.E.)

  10. It doesn’t change when they go off to college! I’m ecstatic for my new college freshman for her success and excitement, but so sad for my loss, the relationship change and not being sure of who I am without a kid under my roof! It’s both/and in my case as well!

  11. Both/And

    Since I am a 40 hour/wk out of the house worker + inside of the house worker for all the rest of the hours, I am more than a little anxious. Where I have been rushing out the door worried only about getting myself ready and on time, now I have to make a healthy lunch, get clothes washed and matched, papers signed, checks written and so on. I will forget things. I will be late. But my son will have more structure and less Minecraft, so that will be good.

  12. Former homeschooling mom here… I used to watch the kids going to school on their first day (I live right across the street from our local institution) and just… observe. Kids skipping and yelling, “Come on Mom!! Hurry!!” and kids dragging their feet and going as slowly as possible. You could tell by their faces that they were going to their doom. I remember being both types of child. 🙂

    One morning I heard crying. There was a mom standing under the tree in my front yard, watching the littles on the playground at first ever recess. I went out to see if I could help.

    Her baby was five, and she didn’t think he was ready to be in school socially or academically. No ability to focus yet. She had wanted to keep him home an extra year, but his father said NO NO NO…. and she gave in to keep peace in the family.

    We talked a little, and I said that it’s entirely possible to keep evaluating the situation on a constant basis, and that a person who was as tuned in to her child as she was would know what was going on.

    I never saw her again.
    But I always hoped the little guy and mom were doing fine.

    I agree with Katherine up there… even as a homeschooling mom I have felt many of those same emotions. Sending them to school isn’t the only way of saying goodbye to a bit of them, after all.

    Funny thing? I am now the provider of a before/after school enrichment program IN a school. Love what I do, love being able to be there for the kids, and wouldn’t be anywhere else.

  13. I love having summer coming, and I am just as happy to see it going. I love the routine the school year brings, and this year I swear I am going to be better organized! Homework done on time and the kids will be bathed and clean and up on time every morning….well at least I promise to the the homework part….

    I too have loved playing, but I am ready for more predictable times!

  14. First, that voice that says “get your crap in order Beth” might be mine but I would never say it without also saying, I’m coming over to help and all you need to do is buy beer.

    Second, all of the colors for all of the people – how many ways can I LOVE that! Let’s all just be different and unique and fabulous and together. What a precious way for him to start school!

  15. I love your kid.

    My 4-year-old son LOVES pink and purple. Sometimes. It changes week to week. We’ve never told him those are girl colors; I’d rather let him make up his own mind. Why restrict a painter from using the whole rainbow?

    We pulled our eldest out of school at the end of his 10th grade year, and this is the first September he won’t be going. Except he will kinda. He’s got one class a week in Portland. It’ll take some adjusting. The second child is headed back to boarding school (we’re on our way there now), the third is in preschool, after which we’ll probably homeschool, and thankfully the youngest is still too young for us to have to make that deciesion!

  16. Loved this blog! We start pre-k tomorrow and I have been putting way too much pressure on myself to get my house in order. It’s not going to happen. Kudos to you for letting your son get those shoes. I admire you for that!

  17. You nailed it again. I love reading your blog because you speak the truth that so many try to hide. I feel the same way about my house (2015 might be optimistic…), the school shoes and the kids heading back. This year is a good balance for us because 2 have started school and 2 are still home with me, but I’m having the same emotions you describe – joy that we have a bit of a routine and that the big 2 can go do their thing and give us a bit of quiet and quality time with the littles, but sadness that we can’t all be together and on our own schedule every day. Thanks for keeping it real 🙂

  18. I am so guilty of saving the new shoes for school.

    I love summer, but on the other hand, I love the routine of the school year. I am excited to see what third grade and kindergarten bring for my boys. I will miss them, but I have projects I want to do that might actually get done since they’ll be at school (Miss Two-Year-Old may put a wrinkle in my lofty plans).

  19. First, soooooo glad you have seen the James Harbeck video!! Second, thank you for being a both/and mom. Because I am such a both/and mom in all parts of my life and it is nice not to be always be surrounded by extremes.

  20. It was nice to actually talk to you tonight. And aside from passing you randomly in traffic, while reading this post I remembered seeing you from a long ways away flying kites with your kids at the trail. It made me smile.

    This is my first school year start without kids. I am a deer in headlights thinking “What is this?”

    Your stories are Wonderful. thank you.

  21. I am a double Both/And.

    As a mom, I love the TIME of summer: time to relax, time to dream, time to play, time with family, time without have-tos. But, I also enjoy the school year, the structure, the routine, the band concerts & music programs, the moments of watching my kids develop skills and confidence that will serve them throughout life.

    As a teacher, I love the excitement of a new school year: kids are excited, dreams are big, and anticipation fills the room. But, by June, after months of guiding 30+ 9-11 year olds to think harder than they want to and to push farther than they think they can, I am tired and the rejuvenation summer provides is welcome.

    Like you Beth, I’m glad school is starting except when I’m not. Perhaps the lesson is to focus on cherishing the good of the moment we are in, realizing that we can find good in most situations if we try.

  22. I am also a both/and. I’m super excited school begins for my oldest this year- 1st grade! But I remember how small he used to be and how much he’s grown. He’s matured so much this summer- all the camps and all the adventures and even learning to ride his bike unassisted in pretty much one night….. So I’ll miss him buckets. I’m proud of the boy he’s becoming. Sometimes, absence makes our bond stronger 🙂 The baby begins in my preschool this year- in our 2’s class. I can’t believe how fast time flies with this one- more so than the first! I will get to see him once a week, learning from one of my fabulous teachers and cry/laugh at their performances 🙂 I’m very much a both/and… And that’s ok 🙂

  23. First, I am a both/ander for sure. Especially since I am not used to it yet. My oldest is just in kindergarten (second year of school though because he did pre-k), my youngest will start next year. However, I was a stay at home mom most their lives up until now, so its all new, and busy, wonderful, and messy, stressful and interesting, etc all at the same time. Oh, tiresome, I forgot to mention tiresome. (I can never sleep when I need to and always tired when I need to have the energy)

    I digress (I ramble in my tired moments so as mentioned above, nearly all the time) In regards to your son’s choice of color for his shoes. 1 I love and admire that you let him pick what he wanted, and yet with motherly love and concern pointed out the potention hazards of his choice while not imposing an opinion to change his mind. 2 You are CLEARLY doing a magnificent job raising your children (bathed nightly or not) when your 6 year old responds the way yours did :)!!!

    My son is 5 and my daughter will be 4 soon. Prior to day care and school they weren’t around other kids really. So my son, being around only myself and my daughter, wants very much to wear princess dresses, high heels, nail polish, make up, pink etc. I worry all the time not because I give a hoot, but because I know the world out there is cruel and scary. Seeing this though reinforced my feelings that they should be who they want to be if they are happy, and like your son said, let the world bring it. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. You inspire me 🙂

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