The beginning of their school year fell smack in the middle of their last summer vacation week with their Dad.
To his credit, to both of our credit really, PrinceCharming agreed to bring the little ones to my house so we could BOTH be there to see them BOTH onto the school bus for their first day. (Cinderella's highschool bus pickup was at her Dad's earlier that morning. I missed seeing her, but made the point of calling her that night so I could hear all about it!)
Hansel and Gretel both looked so big and yet still so little as they anxiously waited in my driveway, ping-ponging back and forth from their Dad (who stood at the curb) to me, and back again. I hope they were too excited to notice his continued awkwardness whenever he is around me. The tension emanating from him is always so palpable that it used to render me a tangled mess of anxiety-laden-emotional-breakdowns whenever I had to be near him for exchanges. But over the past several months, as I move into my new space as a single-independent-woman, I am less and less affected by his difficulty with being in the same room (or driveway) as me. I've come to realize, and accept, that his challenges are his problem to face and overcome. Not mine. Not anymore.
We stood in my driveway with the kids for more than a half hour. I realized this was the first time we had BOTH been there to see any of our kids off to school together. For most years, it was me waiting with them at the bus. Last year, Gretel was taken to her first day of preschool by PrinceCharming.
But this year, all three of our kids have been given the gift of having their Dad with them on their first day. I am grateful for that and I hope they were as well.
I was also grateful that the bus was late that morning, for that meant I was able to pretend for a little bit longer that Gretel was still my baby...
And then I receive emails like this, from one of MY old elementary school classmates and remember how time marches on and repeats itself all at the same time:
First day of school: Mike Levine
Quick, before they leave this morning. Take a good look. Touch their faces, run your hands through their hair.
We got antsy with them last month, but now we want time to stand still. Like falling leaves and chilly mornings, some great force signals us today. We are aware of life passing.
See the kindergartner with a brave, bewildered smile watching her mother cry as the school bus pulls away. The high-school freshman with a lump in his throat hears his father whisper everything will be OK. Brothers and sisters who fought all summer now hold hands.
Today is proud, today is helpless, today is tomorrow. From Monticello to Monroe. From Marlborough to Matamoras, this is a special morning, wrenching and sacred.
As a young reporter, I'd wonder why. What's the big deal about the first day of school? I would write down quotes in my notebook and comprehend nothing.
Then I became a parent. I found out. We mark time by today.
On this morning, we remember our own parents and our own childhood. We are filled with the smell of old raincoats, the sticky bond of classroom glue, the childhood knot of worried excitement. We were so small and lost. (Secret: A part of us is still lost. We tell no one.)
Now we have children of our own. On this morning, we remember the holy moment of their birth.
We see this is all just a matter of time. Once, we thought our children were ours alone. Each September, on this day, we learn better. Nothing is ours to keep.
Time passes through our eyes this morning. We see our children as newborns, we picture them as grown-ups. We see them walking their own children to school.
Time passes in the beat of a heart. I have seen my first kindergarten boy walk into his dorm on his first day of college. A few days ago, my younger son left for college. I stood there, at once empty and full, as frightened and proud as the morning his first school bus pulled away.
Come on, it's getting late. The bus is coming up the road. I'll keep this short.
Make sure they have everything they need. Double check. Write their name on the book bag. Sweetheart, did you remember your lunch money? Dad, don't call me mushy stuff in front of the other kids.
They are right. Like the summer birds leaving us, our children know what to do. Like September leaves waving on the trees, we, too, give way to the winds of change.