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Back to School: Blues or Bliss?

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I’m watching all these commercials now about putting your kid on the bus, that apprehension as they walk in, and the joy in discovering that special friend who has the same pencil topper that you have. I remember that – mostly the apprehension, but also that excitement about new school supplies. I loved school supplies (and that has carried over into adult life, only it’s office supplies now).

There is so much promise in a clean empty notebook. And the new textbooks – just looking over the table of contents was enough to stoke the imagination. Somehow, the classes rarely seemed to live up to that early promise, but the forever optimist in me still had that flash of hope each September. And in college, you got it twice a year, at least.

But always that apprehension. The whole “who am I going to sit with at lunch” thing – the early days on the playground – would you get to play with the cool kids? I always wanted assigned seats because that took away at least one anxious moment. I guess that’s the old fear-of-rejection thing. My anxieties rarely ever panned out.

So parents, remember – starting school can be a big bad bogeyman. But I remember being just as excited as a little kid when my kids were starting school. It was more fun because at least I wasn’t anxious. I was exuberant when my oldest son started junior high. I recall being so excited at the possibility of all those classes – and the extracurricular activities. But I’d forgotten how hard junior high was. He was a little anxious, but he had at least one good friend to hang on to, so they braved it together.

I was always excited when they announced the open house, all the way through my kids’ school years. I could see the possibilities, the whole year laid out with new curiosities. After I got to know some parents, it was almost like old-home day for me too – there was seeing people again after a long absence, there was chatting and talking about our kids. We spent as much time sympathizing with each other about their antics as they did about ours. Probably more, actually.

And it was always a little nice to have the house to yourself after the kids started school. I’m sure there’s a legion of moms out there who either work at home or stay at home, and are looking forward to that nice calm cup of coffee the first – or second – day of school. But then the onslaught of paperwork begins. Ha! The permission slips, newsletters, sports contracts, handbooks, after-school activities, field trips, volunteer requests – it goes on and on. I am still going through the “school” basket. I know. I’ve been very slow. I set it aside for a year. Now I’m looking at grade school artwork. I’ll keep some of it, especially everything that ever had a handprint.

So last year my youngest went off to college. I held on as long as I could, trying to get the full exposure and experience out of his Welcome Week activities at his new school. I wanted to go to every crappy free lunch and outdoor ice cream social, even though the food was awful and the seating was nonexistent.

And then I came home. The house yawned silently. I had no one to do for, no one to talk to in the afternoon. I was never a stay-at-home mom, but I was home because of a layoff, and for the first time since my layoff, I was wishing I had work to go to. I needed work to go to. But there was none. And September went by in a haze of sudden tears and actual depression. I was mad at myself, too. Wasn’t I the one who always had a hobby, who wanted to have peace and quiet so I could write, who had kids young so was always looking forward to that empty nest? Well, be careful what you wish for.

And I know I’m not alone. There are 88 results on Amazon when I search for books with the words “Empty nester.” Everything from humor to date nights to really looking at what you want to do with the rest of your life.

This year will be different. We are taking a little trip after the drop-off, so I won’t be coming right home. I won’t be crying silent tears in the car (tears my husband seems to have forgotten about). I will have something to look forward to.

But I still miss the idea of going to that open house. I am seeing the announcements all over town now, and I remember that clean, cool smell of a school building in the summertime. But it’s time to move on. Some day, I’ll offer to take a grandkid to an open house, but by then, oh, I’m sure it will be very different.

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