Here in California, September mornings can be lovely, golden-sunny and crisp. The light slants across the streets, illuminating red leaves that have begun dotting the trees. The air smells tangy, like dirt and garlic.
And today seems even more sparkling — because it’s my kids’ first day of school, praise God.
Believe me, the boys are not noticing all this beautiful summer-fading-to-fall sensory stimulus. Dejectedly they eat their breakfast. They drag upstairs to get dressed. On the way out, they pose morosely for the yearly picture in front of the hydrangea bush before piling, with their enormous backpacks, into the car.
Meanwhile, I am doing my best to suppress my excitement and put on an appropriately sympathetic expression. Sure, it’s Tuesday and I’m working, I’ve been working all summer, so it’s not that back-to-school means a whole bunch of free time. But the return of the school schedule does restore six relatively uninterrupted hours to my day. The dogs and I walk more often. Occasionally I see friends for coffee. Sometimes I sit outside on the porch and eat my lunch.
And I get a break from the constant self-evaluation of my parenting when I release my kids into the capable hands of their teachers. The litany of examination fades, at least a little (Am I letting them watch too much TV, play too much video? Are they getting enough exercise? Am I paying enough attention, while also trying to produce two articles and write up seven news briefs? How many days in a row, exactly, is it okay for them to have Top Ramen?).
When they were really little and their naps overlapped by about 15 minutes, I thought I would explode with both love and frustration. Back then, when I got a break from their care I’d usually sit in some café in a stupor, spending the precious time trying to decide how to use it. I had so many personal needs I was paralyzed. Even though it’s not really like that, anymore – the family rhythm has opened up as they’ve grown older, and I don’t feel as crazed, overall, I’m still excited when school starts.
Maybe I’m not supposed to admit how happy I am about outsourced education. How I enjoy that time during the school day, because not only can I focus my attention more easily, I also know my boys are safe and surrounded by competent adults. (I realize how hard you work, Teacher Superheroes – and believe me, I am grateful.)
And okay, to be honest, back-to-school is bittersweet. Because even though I love this time of year, it’s also true that usually by about 10 am on the first day I miss the boys. I miss their farting noises, the constant stream of Green Day tunes, the repeated requests for food or video time, their snort-laughs and their hard hugs and their clear eyes. I sit outside on the porch with my lunch and savor the silence, yes — but there’s also that tinge of sadness that another summer is over.