Lately I’ve seen a lot of photos on the Internet of parents cheering and jumping for joy as their kids were packed off to start a new school year. Mom is giddy and the kids sour-faced as summer comes to an abrupt, but long-expected, halt. Sure, they’re staged but the message comes through.
I used to hear parents say the same. ‘Man, I can’t wait for school to start! I have to get these kids out of the house and get things back to normal!’ I found it interesting. I mean, I get it. Kids, all kids, are loud and messy; grumpy and dirty, sometimes sick, always eating or sleeping. But then again, they’re kids. They can be equally funny, happy, joyous, entertaining, sweet, kind and helpful. On the balance the good far outweighs the bad.
The way I see it, we signed on for it. OK, maybe it was a romantic date and a glass of wine, but one way or the other, we brought them into this world and they are delights. Not only so, they are the future. The future of our families, our very DNA. And they are certainly the future of our nation, our civilization, our various faiths or ideologies.
Perhaps I’m coming from a different perspective. By way of full disclosure, we spent a lot of years home-schooling. Some years, school was all year long, even if in lower doses. (Latin or geography in the pool, etc.) But one reason we did it was that we knew our time with the children was ultimately short, and we wanted to make the most of all of it. And we did, whether having class at home or visiting National Parks, every bit was a delight.
Fast forward. One went to college, then another. And our youngest two are in public high school, a sophomore and a senior. Mornings are no longer times of lavish breakfasts and learning/laughter around the table. The clock is ticking, the bells waiting to ring. The school year is not open for our exploration and delight; it is determined by the state and woe-betide anyone who runs afoul of the sanctum sanctorum of the 180 days of learning! (Even if the last twenty or so are often spent doing remarkably little.) Our lives belong to the state, in a sense. Our trips can only happen when others take trips because everyone is on break together; on the approved break.
Our dining room, formerly known as class-room, is lined and packed with books and notebooks. With old science kits and well-worn texts, as well as novels highlighted and annotated. There are files with test papers kept for records or nostalgia. The desktop computer once shared by four kids is sleeping; as it has for probably a full year or more. The kids have moved on to their personal lap-tops. Perhaps the desktop dreams of those days gone by.
There are living remnants. Our youngest still do homework under the bright lights of the dining room. They still work on that expansive table which once housed our own kids and visiting co-op homeschool students, who were taught Latin by my well-organized and gentle bride. (The same worn table where many holiday meals have been shared.)
Backpacks still lie about, and the two who remain at home still laugh when they aren’t stressed over AP exams or some other crisis. We still go through food; and the older two visit and leave their mess, their empty soda cans, their laundry.
It’s still sweet. But it changes every year. As it should, I suppose. But having watched the transitions, having seen our school house population shift and dwindle, I can tell you that every year when the kids go to school I am anything but joyous. I am broken and sad. My playmates leave; as if I were the pre-school sibling, wishing I could go along, nose pressed to the window, counting the hours until their return.
I walk around the yard, looking for them; for echoes, foot-prints, fleeting memories of summer delights. In the house I sometimes walk past empty rooms; but seldom look inside at first. It makes me miss them more.
Every year I reflect; did I do it right? Have we prepared them? Did we miss something? How could I have used the time better?
Yes, I know. It’s probably pathological. But my point is merely that when the kids leave, Jan and I don’t celebrate. Oh, we celebrate their growth and learning. But we mourn just a bit every time.
Sure, most of the photos and videos are just jokes. Everybody, I think, misses their kids at least a little when school starts back. But I wonder if any parent, jumping for joy as the bus pulls away, considers the chiral image of the scenario. Will there be a day when you visit the adult kids, and as you leave they cheer? They post photos: ‘mom and dad finally left! We’re all so happy to get things back to normal!’ Maybe. Kids remember. And they know when they’re wanted, and when they aren’t.
Enjoy every minute. Celebrate the good times, the successes and joys. Remember the hard ones. But maybe, just maybe, it’s best not to cheer when the kids go away. Because they’ll really go away, and go their separate ways, before you can play ‘Celebrate’ and dance your heart out.
And I suspect that if they feel welcome, it’s more likely they’ll come back to visit in years to come.