You can quit feeling guilty about how happy you felt when the kids went back to school: the “Baby Got Class” YouTube video has 4.3 million views. So 4.3 million of you feel the same way.
When you’re a parent of older teens, though, that new backpack is full of mixed feelings.
School is the best friend of working parents, and of semi-competent parents like me. I’ve relied on schools for 16 years to help raise my daughter. Along with aftercare, church, ballet and piano lessons and camps, my child benefited from trained and experienced caregivers, bless ‘em.
They were so much better at it than me, and had such good parenting pro tips. I was sometimes clueless without their help. When Miss Baby used her first naughty “potty word,” and I was stumped for appropriate reaction, I defaulted to what would her caregiver do?
“That’s not a very nice word,” I said sternly to the pottymouth toddler. “Um, what would Miss Amanda say?”
“She would say, ‘potty words belong in the potty’.”
“And Miss Amanda IS EXACTLY RIGHT—we only use potty words in the potty.”
Then came the first preschool fall break, around age 3, when I had no back-up care options. We had just moved to England, without a car, friends or family. The weather forecast signaled rain all week. I had no idea what to do with a toddler for a week. Reader, I cried, right in front of my toddler.
So our summers were structured, and the arrival of the school year merely shifted us from camp to school. No problem. We are old hands at this. We are in the competent care of people who are terrific at raising kids.
But this summer, our 16th, was so hard to bid farewell.
My teen has “done been raised,” and is good company, a cheerful hiking buddy, clever Scrabble player and crossword ninja. We share playlists, sunscreen and our own language based on lolcat.
We consciously crafted an epic summer of bike rides, rivers, lakes and pools, late nights, sleeping in, screen porches, card games, outdoor movies, concerts, camping, mountains.
The start of school means my fun friend is gone all day, beginning with the inhumane 6:45 bus pickup. No more river floats, daytime movies, or late night paletas.
The “carefree” part of summer is gone too. In its place is pressure to excel toward a future we can’t see, but is surely filled with even more education and punishing schedules. As a “good” parent, it’s my job to apply this pressure. It’s the opposite of summer fun. It’s the shark swimming somewhere just out of sight, filling the water with anxiety and uncertainty.
When children are little, we say things like, “Will there ever be a day that I can use the bathroom without people talking to me through the door?”
And then suddenly those toddlers are rising juniors, decent humans, and fun to be with. And on their way out of our lives.
In their own heads, our teens are already gone. They’re on their feet, out the door, running into the arms of their futures. Their hearts are on that bus, disappearing over the hill.
But we’re still there, on the porch, at the mailbox, watching the bus, thinking there’s a little chill in the air, that we may need a light sweater, and wondering what the hell just happened.