Tomorrow our youngest child starts school. Again. This time it’s the last first day of high school. The light at the end of the child-rearing tunnel is shining brighter and bittersweet. I’m not crying. I’m more tired but also sleepless. I’ve been on edge for the past two weeks, and it’s because tomorrow our youngest child goes to his last first day of high school.
I find myself staring at him. I can still see his baby face, but it means looking up and past the facial hair. His laugh makes my heart smile. He’s been busy enjoying the final days of summer freedom, before he and his friends head back to classes, daily reminders that college applications are due, essays need to be completed, important decisions need to be made. He planned a night of s’mores at our fire pit. He had a dozen boys over for a LAN party. He helped organize a night of playing “hostage” and I bribed them inside after curfew with pizza. “Can my friends come over and….” Yes. Yes, your friends can come over because this is the last first day.
In many ways he has always been in a hurry. Even his birth story is one of hurry. He barely waited for my doctor to show up. I didn’t have time to change into a hospital gown or sign all the papers and get admitted before he was born. There are photos of me, breathing through my contractions, braiding our oldest child’s hair with #2 at my side, and hours later I’m in the same shirt holding #3.
The build-up to the last first day snuck up on me. Getting ready for the first day of high school doesn’t involve the same rush as elementary school. In our community the kids can go to the high school to pick up their own schedules, and smart phones make sharing your schedule a matter of a few thumb movements.
There are no lists of school supplies. There are no discussions about why you don’t get a new box of crayons every year, no search for the specific brand of watercolors (Prang), no required supplies actually except for the expensive calculator to do things that don’t factor into most people’s daily lives. In our home we don’t buy new clothes for back-to-school until the old clothes don’t fit, and I still have a shelf of folders and notebooks that can be reused. July came and went and suddenly August was here. We are so ready for this day that it snuck up and surprised us.
When he started kindergarten I was the parent with a big smile ready to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because it had been a long summer with a job, three kids, a husband working long hours. I was ready for his first day of kindergarten with an inappropriate level of giddiness, but he had other plans.
My sweet boy wrapped himself around my legs like a koala bear. It would take a teacher and the principal to slowly unwrap his limbs from mine and take him inside. I knew what to do and I did it. I turned around and walked away with the biggest lump in my throat and tears hot in my eyes. The eyes of less experienced mothers glared with judgment and horror as I walked away without turning back and while those of my peers looked with understanding, urging me to take a deep breath.
The principal gave him a magic penny and told him when he touched the penny it would magically signal to me to think of him. He knows now that I can’t help but think of him. As I steel myself for tomorrow I’m thinking I need that magic penny that will signal him to think of me.