Over the past few weeks, kids across Australia have headed back to school Lazy summer days are over and the school bell beckons our attention. How did our holidays slip by so quickly? Where did the days, the plans, the sleepovers go? Alas, we are faced with lunchboxes, new diaries, schedules, school fairs, sports carnivals, meet the teacher nights and homework.
This year, I sent off my eldest, Sophia to complete her final three terms of Year 12. Our son, Gabriel, is in Year 9, and our sweet little Ella is in Year 5. How did we get here? Where did the years go?
Whilst scrolling through Facebook and looking at everyone’s back to school photos, I landed on a picture and post by my friend
Katie. Katie’s eldest is heading off to the big school, and by that I mean Kindergarten. Her photo said so much. I could see the sadness in her eyes and the excitement and anticipation in his. The eagerness to step into this new adventure was all about him and that familiar pang in the heart and guts could be seen in Katie. Her comment read: “The only photo I was allowed to get of this big boy starting school this morning. We’ve found ourselves here in the blink of an eye (my blink – not his). Every day has been a treasure and today especially … My big, brave boy walking off to class with his puppy (Teddy) under his arm.”
As I read her words, I found myself lost in a world of grief. I remember the first day of big school for all my children and today, especially Sophia. I commented on Katie’s post and confirmed the blink. We are warned of it when we have our children, but it never seemed real – until now! Whether for Katie, who is embarking on the school years, or myself who is nearing the end of a chapter for one child, I desperately don’t want the story to end, yet I am excited and feel that I am being prepared for Part 2, or the “to be continued”.
As I drove my children to school (yes, I made my 17-year-old let me drive her to school for her final first day of secondary education), I looked over at her sitting so confidently and beautifully beside me. In a blink, my mind raced back to the day when I was driving her to prep, perched in her car seat, lunchbox grasped in her hand, feet dangling and listening to the Wiggles. Today, I looked at this woman who is prepared to face the world, to go out and explore and to live a life she loves. There were no Wiggles in the background; rather it was something she had chosen from her playlist, a new band she had discovered that speaks her language. I felt a tear in my heart.
I thought about the years of school and all the moments that could be found in the BLINK. The hormonal days I’ve had driving them to school, yelling like a lunatic, knowing that my hormones were causing me to be a complete nutter. The days that her hormones were all over the place causing her to freak out over the length of her skirt, shoelaces or the shade of her foundation. Mums of teenage girls, you know what I’m talking about. The times when I forgot it was costume day or, the many mornings I dug through the contents of my car trying my best to create news stories out of discarded straws, matchbox cars or business cards simply because news day crept up each week far too quickly. What about the birthday cupcakes that I didn’t bake and the ones the other mums did, the decorated ones that deserved a spread in bloody Martha Stewart Living? What about the assemblies where awards were given out for picking up the most garbage on the school yard or acing the spelling bee? I made it to some, but others I missed because I simply hadn’t put them in my calendar. It’s in these moments that I scream at social media because undoubtedly another doting mother has posted or texted me a picture of my children because I wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the photo that was sent, it’s just the personal guilt I struggle with.
Then there’s the parental academic and sports jousting. Thankfully, I did my best to avoid this trap, and I would advise my younger friends to do the same. Trust me, it kills friendships and damages your kids. In saying that, as a mother who works out of the home, I have been guilty of secretly despising the mums who don’t miss a beat. Those who bake, complete every inch of homework on time, never forget a library book, attend every excursion, incursion, book parade and fair. There have been times when this has bugged me, downright annoyed me and left me feeling “less than”.
But today, as I look at my daughter, I’m so glad I learned to be grateful for the picture-taking, baking mums who have filled the gaps when I have fallen short. The ones who have cheered my children on from the sidelines when I didn’t make it or I was away working. I am forever grateful, and I too have held their children when they’ve been hurt or have forgotten a book. I have been there and although I highlight the times I missed a beat I know that I was there more than not. In fact, my husband and I have made every effort to attend as much as possible for our kids. But, the cookie doesn’t always crumble the way we would like it to.
What I do know is that as we have matured as mothers and fathers and are now looking at the women and men we have raised, we realise that we have grown with them. We have become better. We celebrate each other knowing that our children will make mistakes. They may not always get straight A’s or become the school captain or valedictorian. They might get suspended, talk back to a teacher or upset another student and that’s okay because it is all part of their journey.
To my eldest, Sophia, I want to thank you. Thank you for being amazing. Thank you for always being so teachable and allowing us to shape you, because as we’ve shaped you, you’ve changed us. Thank you for letting me re-live my school years through the many projects we did together – I apologise for taking the reins during these times and becoming a crazed mother. You know I LOVE the project work!!! Thank you for the moments that you have created, the ones that have had us doubled over in laughter and the ones that have seen us go through a tissue box. Thank you for working hard and getting good grades because that has seriously made our job much easier. Thank you for becoming my morning DJ on the days where only JB, Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers or, more recently, Lana Del Rey and the infamous Kanye West would take us to where we needed to be. Thank you for those times we sang Adele’s HELLO and Bonnie Tyler’s TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART at the top of our lungs. Thank you for getting your driver’s licence and giving us the opportunity to spend 120 hours in the car with you. Hours I will never regret. Slow trips to Canberra, hair-raising lane changes and a few near misses. I’m sorry for those “grandma” moments when I hit the invisible brakes and grabbed for the door handle.
As for your school lunches …. well, I tried my best, shunning processed food in favour of healthier options, but it’s fair to say that dinner is more my priority. Dinner is when we get to gather at the end of the day, linger around the table and share stories of the day’s adventures. Oh, the joy.
To the parents out there who are still tearing up either because, as my friend Katie, your little one has just started, or because, like me, you hope the days linger and slow down, just relax and savour the moments. Take it all in because if you blink, you might miss it. As parents, be intentional about cheering each other on, it will only help our school communities and the relationships we find ourselves in. Life is way too short to concern ourselves with what we perceive other people’s problems to be. As the good book says: “Whoever is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” And in one of my favourite quotes, J.M. Barry encourages us: “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Wise words, indeed.