On the Brink of the School-aged Years

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Two things happened yesterday that helped clarify an uneasiness I’ve felt all summer.

• I took the kids to the zoo with only a small backpack filled with three water bottles and a few essentials. We’ve been handling zoo trips this way for quite some time. But this visit, zipping around strollers filled with children and bags, I marveled at the simplicity of our trip, and how long ago life with strollers seemed.

• I have passed on a deep sense of sentimentality to my children, Sophie, especially. And last night the weight of growing up broke her, for a bit. Holding her we let her sit with her feelings, acknowledging them. And then we talked about the joy of growing older—and all the wonder and magic that comes with it.

Mid-August all three will be in school all day. James and Owen will be in first grade, Sophie in third. Kindergarten, last year, was half day. Between drop-offs and pick-ups I only had a few precious hours alone. This year, for the first time in eight years, I will have seven hours alone, each day.

This summer has been both lovely and hard. We were fortunate enough to spend a few days at the beach, to visit my sister and her family in North Carolina, to visit Andy’s parents in Baltimore. We roasted marshmallows and played with sparklers and ran through the sprinkler and made trips to my parents’ house and the boys played baseball and Sophie did crafts in her room with neighbor friends while listening to Taylor Swift.

We also yelled, more than we should have. It’s hard living in a small house, sharing, compromising and sharing at 6, 6 and 8. I tried to maintain my freelance workload with only the occasional sitter here and there, which resulted in some days of more electronic time than I would have liked. Guilt can cast shadows, even on the good days.

I’ve realized, too, that I was good with babies and toddlers (my sunglasses are rose colored, a fact that’s not lost on me). These ages of 6, 6 and 8, when I know they know kindness and respectfulness, can be mentally exhausting. When my newborns cried I held them, not faulting them. When my 6 year olds throw a fit, as we call them, I inwardly scream, “You should know better!”. And I grow weary, thinking, believing, I, we, should be past all of this by now.

And yet, we no longer take strollers to the zoo. Sophie makes her own eggs in the morning (three scrambled, with lots of black pepper). All three ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk without my supervision. We have inside jokes, that only the five of us get. All three make up elaborate games, on their own, wrecking the house but digging deep into their imaginations. They read my old Calvin & Hobbes books, on their stomachs, legs swinging in the air. Everyone can buckle and unbuckle, on their own. At parties, they roam free, with only an occasional check-in. When Andy isn’t able to read Harry Potter to them before bed, I let them each pick out a picture book. They choose to read to me, instead, which both delights and saddens me.

After eight years of often intense parenting, I’m ready for them to be in school all day. I have plans. So many plans. I plan to drop them off at school and run, every morning. I plan to keep up on laundry and organize the attic and clean out the basement and commit to yoga and blog again and go through every single piece of paper in this house. And what I’m most excited about is my work. I plan to do my writing and editing while my children are at school, freeing up my evenings and weekends for the first time in eight years. The mere thought of the balance that this will bring to my life brings me unimaginable joy.

So, yes, I’ll be teary-eyed when I drop them all off at school, even though part of me has also been dreaming about this day for six years. And already something inside of me hurts when I think about Owen and James walking to their separate classrooms, apart for the first time in six years. But I also know we’re on the brink of something, something new, something bigger, something at times easier and at times, much, much harder. So many parents have told me that once school starts, time flies. Like Sophie, the weight of growing up, of watching my children grow up, breaks me at times, too, even when I know—having been there and gone through it—the wonder and magic that’s still to come.

So perhaps this is all why this summer has felt a bit off for me. As a family I feel like we’re straddling two phases. At times, they all seem so tall, so kid-like, the toddler years a lifetime away. And yet, this morning Andy and I woke up only to find ourselves tangled up in Owen and James, once again. While walking into Target Sophie grabbed my hand, and held it to her cheek. James cried out when he thought we were leaving him. Owen called me mama.

This, from August, six years ago:

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“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.” —Louisa May Alcott