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Challenge: It's Back to School: Share Your Advice

School buses and helium balloons

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We sent our children to school again. For some of us, it was the first time; for others with seniors in high school, it was the last time.

There it was. Another school year beginning and I had just one question: Would I make it through the day without crying?

To moms everywhere, this is for you. Whether you work a job outside of the home or have chosen to stay home and work, this is for the moments when you sit at your desk or keyboard or kitchen table and wonder if you’ve made the right choices.

We sent our children to school again. For some of us, it is the first time; for others with seniors in high school, it is the last time. For many more, we are somewhere in the middle, and the August sight of freshly washed school buses represents another year gone by that we cannot recapture.

Before my kids started kindergarten, the only clear marker of passing time was the change of seasons. Occasionally I would notice a school bus. Otherwise, our schedule consisted of bedtime, morning rituals, bath and naps. The cycle may have seemed hectic to a young mother of three, but there was a comfort in knowing that all of my chicks were home safe in the nest.

But now, as August rolls around and the brightly-painted yellow buses start their perpetual routes, awareness that I am another year closer to my kids growing up and leaving home creeps over me like a dark cloud shadowing a sunny playground. Instead of Sesame Street and carrot sticks, I think of college, marriage and kids of their own.

I have P.E.N.S.: Pre-Empty-Nest-Syndrome

I’ve tried to slow the pace of these last several years. I deliberately enjoy every Barbie mess, each costly video game, and all the cookie crumbs left on the kitchen counter because I am privy to a secret that moms with grown children were kind enough to share—that these messes, bumps and bruises, loud music, and sticky fingerprints will be over before I know it.

“It goes fast,” the veteran moms told me. “Enjoy it while you can. It seems like just yesterday when…”

Is there any parent who hasn’t heard that? Next time someone offers those sage words, take heed. Then look into the face of the woman speaking. Chances are that you will see a wistful look in eyes that seem wise and a bit wrinkled from years of worry. She may have a slight downward slant to her mouth as she looks at you.

It isn’t that she is envious of you or that she would take your place. She’s thankful for each beautiful phase in her child’s life, but, there is a sadness, too, as she recalls the new backpacks, lunch boxes, muddy shoes, and French-braided hair of her past.

She’s remembering the smell of crayons and all of the tiny finger-paint masterpieces stored lovingly on the top shelf of her pantry.

I’m sure that there are a few dads going through the same pangs of regret, but this article isn’t for you.

This is for the moms who awaken in the middle of the night and sneak down the hall, checking to make sure all the children are safe in their beds.

Jarret starting school, circa 1996. Today he is 29.

Mom, this is for the way you touch a face or caress a knee as you drive your student to school, asking yourself where the time went.

This is for all the little prayers you raised on their behalf.

You are making a difference in your child’s life.

This is for the moms who lay awake at night making mental lists of everything they think they should have remembered during the day and feeling guilty for anything they forgot.

Moms seem to be in a perpetual guilt trap. Did I ask everyone about their day? Did I make everyone feel important? Did I give each child enough of my time and attention? Did I lose my temper? Should I have talked less… and listened more?

Did I take that phone call when my son was in the middle of telling me what happened at recess? Was I preoccupied when my daughter asked me to tie her shoes?

This is for the moms who won’t put their children on a bus or drop them off at school before getting one last kiss, because, well, you never know what the day will bring.

This is for the moms who worry what the day will bring.

Motherhood is a bonding experience incomparable to that of any other human relationship. Not only do mothers bond with our children, but we have a common bond with other moms, too.

When I opened my local newspaper to find a picture of a mother kissing her daughter on the first day of school, I cried. In that moment, I was in the photo kissing my own daughter, and I could feel the years of raising her slip by faster than a helium balloon snapping loose from the grasp of toddler’s fist.

Childhood does that. It slips through our fingers and flies into our memories. Then, like the toddler with the wayward balloon, we mothers stare at the sky and wonder where our children will go in life.

As parents, we hope that we’ve prepared them to thrive in any environment. But as mothers, we sometimes wish desperately that we could run after that balloon, chase it down, and hold it tighter for just a little while longer.

And no, I didn’t make it through the first day of school without crying. I didn’t even make it through this post.

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