A Mom’s Last Day of School Blues
This month I made my last school lunch, chaperoned my last school trip and opened the last report card. My youngest, Laura, graduated high school last night, and my oldest, Danielle, graduated college in May. I’m not quite sure where the time went. I feel as though I just wrote about sending them off on the school bus for the first time, while I wore sunglasses on cloudy days to hide my tears. I no longer feel the need to conceal the tears; my girls just smile affectionately at me. They know how emotional I get about these transitions. But who can blame me? My life is about to change profoundly once again.
When Laura headed off to kindergarten in an article titled “Mom’s First Day of School Blues,” I wrote: I realized that what was hardest for me with her departure was that her school days marked the end of an era for me. For nine years I had had a child at home to care for, to juggle my work schedule around. And I had relished most everything about it.
Of course, I wish I could tell my younger self that the school days are shorter than you think, and there are very many vacations and half days to contend with, so there would still be plenty of juggling. Still, there’s a lot that applies for me today, particularly that this month is an end of an era. Suddenly the 22 years of maintaining a home-based publishing and writing career I love while making sure I’m simultaneously there for my daughters’ daily needs is just simply over. In September, I won’t have to feel guilty about phone calls that come from clients just as Laura walks in the door from school for our daily kitchen table chats over snack. There are no more PTA events, class trips and meet-the-teacher nights that always, always coincide with work deadlines. No more half days to finagle around a business meeting or class projects that require numerous trips to the arts and crafts store when I don’t even have time for one trip. I’ve never worked harder than in trying to establish this careful balance as a mother who also has outside work.
Years ago, when I was dealing with the stress of this delicate balance, worried that I wasn’t meeting the girls’ needs, but also that I wasn’t perhaps working up to my potential in my career of choice, I was given a great gift by author Judith Viorst. During an interview she told me that while those years of struggling to simultaneously be all to your children and your career seem like such a long time when you’re dealing with the resulting emotional and physical stress, it all passes quickly. Suddenly you have 30-plus years to concentrate on your career while your kids go off to live their lives. How right she was. Though I do have some regrets about my work-family life balance over the past 22 years, both of my daughters are pursuing career paths they’re hoping will enable them to also fit in a family, so my example couldn’t have been too awful.
In 2001 I wrote to my readers: And so, it was once again the passing of time that was impacting me, as well as facing the unknown. Sometimes you just have to grieve before you can embrace change. That’s what I did that summer.
That’s what I’m doing this summer as well as I prepare to send Laura off to college. But the difference is that I know now that each new stage brings with it great joy. I’ve never been a parent who looked back on a time in my girls’ lives and wished its return because I’ve been so immersed in whatever stage they’re in at the moment. At summer’s end, though our day-to-day schedules won’t involve afterschool snacks—and I no longer even have to know what the homework assignments are—my girls and I will still have a strong bond. Danielle and I were in touch nearly every day while she was in college, whether through a simple “I love you” text or long teary conversations about boyfriend issues. The difference is that our relationship has shifted to one of adults. She’s the driver of her own life; I’m merely the passenger who occasionally hands out welcome—and unwelcome—directions. The same is now true for Laura. It’s that letting go, whether it’s to send them onto the school bus or to leave them behind in their dorm room that’s the painful part.
When Danielle came home from her first day of kindergarten she announced: “I have so much to tell I don’t know where to start.” Laura said: “I had such a good time I never want to come home again.” There were never any adjustment issues for them, thankfully. My great joy today is that they still come home with stories that may be vastly different than those six-year-old comments were, but they’re all the more poignant because now they’re from poised and confident young women.
Maybe I should take a moment between my tears to congratulate myself on a job well done. After all, isn’t this launch into the real world what we spend 18 years preparing our children for? Now please pass the tissues.