I didn’t cry

Summer is effectively over.  Oh yes…I know — we technically have until September 21st or so and we do still have one trip left to take, but school started today, so summer is over.  I’ve never been happy when the first day of school rolls around.  Yes, I love summer and hate to say goodbye to it…especially since I did not make it to the beach once this summer. But it’s not really about that because my favorite season is really when summer begins to give way to fall and the days are still rather long with cool mornings and evenings and daytime highs that still reach the 80’s.  The humidity starts to lesson and the position on the sun in the sky gives off a more golden hue.  I love it — it doesn’t last long though and maybe that’s why I cherish it so much.

Sort of like childhood.

Jake’s a September baby which makes for an interesting debate as Kindergarten approaches.  In Washington state, the cut-off for Kindergarten is August 31st.  But, if you are a September baby, you can test in.  Jake’s always been smart — and yes, we talked about having him tested because we were certain that he would pass and be able to go to kindergarten.  There was a big part of me, I admit — it was the prideful part, that wanted to do that.  But, there was another part of me that didn’t want to let him go.  As soon as anyone gave me a rational reason not to send him to school, I clung to it.  It turns out that those rational reasons were the best advice I’d ever been given.  The school principal told us that we needed to think way beyond kindergarten….and past elementary school.  Where did I want him to be in middle school and high school?  We already knew he was small for his age.  We knew he wasn’t as socially advanced as many kids his age, no matter how many languages he could count to 20 in (yes, that is self deprecation you are reading there).  That was terrific advice.  Every year, I find myself thanking God that Jake isn’t going into ____ grade this year.  He’s exactly where he should be.  And, then my wonderful friend Shana said this:  “Would you rather give him an extra year of childhood or an extra year of adulthood?”.  That sealed the deal.  It was the single best piece of advice I think I’ve ever been given.  I’m not sure I’ve ever told her that….or thanked her.  Hopefully, she reads this, but I will make a mental note to let her know personally.

I took the year off work and Jake took the year off of preschool and we just had fun.  People asked me at that time if I was home-schooling.  I suppose in a way, I was….but it was just our life.  It wasn’t easy.  Anyone who has a precocious child knows that it can be exhausting.  And, when you have an only child, you are their playmate.  I wasn’t a great one, to be sure.  And, some days, I was exasperated.  I remember having to call my husband to come rescue me from Target because Jake was having the mother of all meltdowns and I just couldn’t deal with it one second longer. But, I wouldn’t change that year for anything.  Looking back, it was that extra year of childhood that Shana had talked about.  I had envisioned it being his senior year of high school….but I don’t think so (although I will be incredibly grateful not to be sending a 17 year old off to college).  That year was a gift.

I looked back at what I wrote on that first day of Kindergarten.  He was full of nervous excitement.  He was nearly 6 and SO ready to go to school.  I held it together until I left him in his classroom and then cried all the way home.  I noted that surely this would get easier. But it didn’t.  Each year, it’s been just has heart-wrenching. Not sad — but definitely melancholy.  I think there are a number of reasons why.

For one, with the rough start that we had, it’s amazing that my baby even lived long enough to go to school.  That sounds overly dramatic to say, but it is the truth.  So each milestone leaves me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.  But secondly, and perhaps more significantly, is the fact that he’s an only child.  I have commiserated with other moms of only children and we all feel it — we only have this one shot.  Each milestone is the only milestone.  A friend of mine said this week that she’s in year 7 of the 10 year carpool for elementary school.  By the time she’s put 3 kids through elementary school, she’s D-O-N-E.  Not that each child’s experience wasn’t special and significant, but it’s  understandable that you get to a point when it is just time to move on.  We rarely hit that fatigue point.

We also don’t have much room to make mistakes.  We make them….there is no question about it.  But, what I mean is that we never have the opportunity to do things different next time.  We also don’t get the luxury of past experience and to know when things just aren’t a big deal.

This weekend we saw “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”.  If you haven’t seen it, I will do my best not to spoil anything.  It is a delightful movie about a boy who is not afraid to be himself and parents who want the best for him, but end up smothering him because they have no idea what they are doing.  Of course there is more to the story, but the point is this:  The discomfort I felt in watching the parents make terrible decisions while earnestly doing their best to make great decisions was painful.  I related SO much to them.  I related to their entire story on a lot of different levels, actually.  In the end, it was all of their mis-steps that made them grow in ways they had no idea they needed to.  I often think that, as parents, we end up learning more life skills than we actually teach our kids.

Jake started 7th grade today.  I think I’ve been more anxious about it than any other year — probably because I am projecting my own experiences on to him.  My life was in major upheaval in 7th grade and I went through a lot.  Seeing that movie yesterday made me remember that he has his own story.  My anxieties are not his anxieties.  I need to just let him be who he is and not spend so much time worrying about if I am doing all the right things.

And, as he walked down the street to the bus stop, I watched him with a sense of pride that wasn’t selfish (is that possible)?  Rather, I’m just proud of who he is and how he carries himself and how he has such a big heart.  I don’t take any credit for it.  I just feel incredibly blessed that I get to be a part of it.

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook on Friday:

First day of school is Monday…Dear God, please keep and protect those kids with the courage to be themselves. Amen.

A more heartfelt prayer could not have been expressed.  I would humbly add that He keep and protect the parents of those kids as well.


And just for a fun comparison — here is last year’s First Day of 6th Grade picture.  🙂

Please pass the Mother-of-the-Year Award

Anyone who’s a mother knows that when we publicly proclaim that we have earned the “mother-of-the-year” award, it’s likely that we have experienced an epic parenting fail.  And, let’s face it, we’re looking for some commiseration. (Wow.  Commiseration really is a word…I wasn’t sure.  Either that or the auto-correct gods are mocking me for trying to use big words.)  Anyway…it makes us feel better when others tell us how they’ve done something similar…or worse.  The truth is that most of the time, it’s usually nothing that is going to land our kids in therapy.  Most of us don’t post those things on Facebook.

At the end of the school year, my 12 year old had a culminating project in his Reading class.  It was one of those projects that just seemed doomed from the start.  He was in the middle of rehearsals for two different plays and worked really hard to get a head start on it.  I was proud of him for having the foresight to get ahead of it.  Then, he lost the folder that contained all of his research and drafts.  Incidentally, this portion of the project carried the most weight in his final grade.  I encouraged him to talk to his teacher and see what could be done.  This particular teacher is not especially gracious and they had a rocky start to the year.  He’d eventually won her over though and I know that she was aware that he was doing to the required work.  She agreed to let him stay after school to recreate the folder, which he did for several days.  He learned an important lesson around it all though — and that is that relationships are important.  Sometimes they are the most important when it comes to things like this.  I had tried to impress that upon him when he was having trouble getting along with this teacher.  It ended up being a blessing that this had happened because he was able to see it all play out. Well, then came the day to turn everything in.  It was a Friday.  He was finished with it and was so happy to finally be getting this thing out of his head.  He’d been wearing the jump-drive around his neck for days so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I dropped him off at school and headed to work.  I was the second one there and I remarked to my co-worker that I always have such high hopes for Fridays, but they rarely end up going the way I expect them to because inevitably something random comes up that I have to deal with.  Just then, the phone rang.  It was Jake.  He was in tears because he’d left his jump drive at home.  I wrote a quick email to my boss, telling him what happened and that I’d be back in an hour.  I quipped that they could leave the Mother of the Year award on my desk.  And when I got back, there actually was one on my desk.

Some people said that they wouldn’t have done it and that this was an important lesson for him to learn.  Lucky for him, those people aren’t his mother.  I knew how hard he’d worked.  I knew how devastated he was.  I knew that he was sorry.  Now was not the time to rub it in.  His grade depended on it and sometimes I think we just need to extend a little grace.  Although I did put a note in the envelope that read “Not Happy”, which kind of negates the grace thing, but I felt like he needed to know that this was a huge inconvenience to me.  I never once have held it over his head, but I do remind him regularly how important it is for him to be responsible, especially now that he’s almost…ahem….a teenager.  Mom isn’t always going to be there to bail him out.

These past two weeks, he’s taken part in a Counselor in Training program at the YMCA.  He’s been working with kindergartners.  He has always loved little kids and they love him too.  He’s just got a way with them.  One of the things that is nice about the program is that he earns Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, which are required for graduation in Maryland.  He has to have 75 to graduate and students can start earning them in 6th grade.  There is a special award for kids who have earned all of them while still in middle school and that’s a goal of his.  The hours he put in the last two weeks were going to get him really close to that goal.

As I was driving him to camp, I asked him if they were going to get the SSL forms today.  The blood drained out of his face as he remembered that he was supposed to print it out and fill it out to turn in today.  He begged me to go home and get it.  He could fill it out on the way back.

As hard as it was for me to do, I said no.  I reminded him that he came home from camp yesterday and basically did nothing but work on his fantasy football team and watch baseball all evening– which is fine.  It’s summer.  But, he knew that he had a responsibility.  And, I know that he genuinely forgot (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but this was an instance where I wasn’t going to bail him out.  I told him he had to figure it out.  He needed to talk to his counselor and figure out what his options are.  He may miss out on those SSL hours.  It’s not the end of the world if he does.  There will be other opportunities to earn them.  I told him that I did my part — I signed him up for the camp, I paid for it and I got him there on time every day.  That was the extent of my responsibility.  He was mad.  He wouldn’t look at me when he got out of the car.  He didn’t tell me that he loved me back and slammed the door without saying goodbye.  It’s okay.  He can be mad.  I know he’s more mad at himself.

I wanted to rescue him.  My instinct was to rescue him.  But, that doesn’t teach him anything.  Sometimes, my job is to rescue him but at the end of the day, parenting is really about giving our kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.  Days like today are when the rubber meets the road.  And, I look forward to finding out how he went about dealing with it when I pick him up today.

On a somewhat related note, right before this happened, Jake was telling me about how he was being peer pressured to chew gum. He has braces now and knows that gum is off limits.  One of the things about having a kid with a black and white personality is that they usually will follow the rules, if someone else lays them out.  He told me that he knew I was serious by the “evil eye” I gave him when I told him that if he breaks anything because he’s eaten something he wasn’t supposed to, he will pay for the repair.  And, since he has no money, he’ll have to do it by doing the grossest chores I can come up with.  Then, he went on to say, “Don’t tell Dad, but I’m more afraid of you than him”.  He said it is because of the “look”.  I said, “surely your Dad has an evil eye, too”.  He replied, “Well, if he does have an evil eye, I’ve never seen it”.  I realized that when we got on the discussion of the SSL form, I was giving him that “look”, which he describes as wide eyed, eyebrows raised and serious.  I think it would scare me too.

So I think sometimes, we really do earn “Mother of the Year” (or at least, Mother of the Day) and my sense is that it isn’t always pleasant for anyone involved.