For the first time in approximately 3700 years, I realized last fall that I did not have to care about when school started. Or ended. Or did basically anything at any time, except as it pertained to driving through school zones. I was done. Three kids more-or-less-successfully shepherded through school with a complicated combo of public, home, and private schooling. But we did it.
Those years were crazy, partly because I made them so with all the expectations I put on myself to be Awesome Mom. I do not wear that title well. The tiara slips. But I wanted to.
I did the Pinterest lunch ideas before Pinterest existed. Ask my kids about the eggs. They still remember those eggs. I’m not positive they always ate them, but they remember them.
I created elaborate birthday parties at home. I chaperoned field trips, at least until I lost a couple kids at the Field Museum. It was totally not my fault they were not as fascinated by the minerals display as the rest of us. I even chaperoned a high school trip to Orlando, and that is hardcore, people.
And now it’s done. And I’m writing a post on five back-to-school tips when no child in my home is going back to school.
But I’m not here at the take-out end of sending kids back to school to give you great tips for kale salads that look like ostriches playing kickball. I’m not going to tell you how to color-code your school supplies with brads and die cuts and washi tape. This is not something I am an expert in. I am an expert in knowing all those school supplies will be lost/torn/traded/eaten (it happens) within the first two weeks of school. And you do not want to be responsible for any kids eating brads and hot glue.
I’m here with five tips for life in all its beautiful feelings when you say goodbye to those kids, whether it be to kindergarten or, like me now, the third year of college. A larger perspective spreads out before you at the end. Whether those kids are going on a bus, driving themselves to high school, or headed right back into your living room to go to school—remember these things.
- Feel however you feel. Elated? Terrified? Sorrowful? Like turning cartwheels and drinking wine right there in the middle of the morning? Whatever, guys. All of those feelings might be cycled through in one hour. It’s OK. Feel them. Don’t feel like you’re “supposed” to feel. We all react differently, and it is no measure of our love for our offspring. No comparisons, no condemnation.
- Treasure the firsts and lasts. Don’t wait until senior year of high school to realize you will never have another first day of school, another last packed lunch (hallelujah!), or another Christmas concert. Treasure them all as they happen. I know—at times you will want to eat your own toenails more than you will want to attend another two-hour concert sitting on bleachers. But trust me, treasure it. It will be over. Enjoy the firsts and lasts, big and small, as they happen. Just don’t believe you have to create a Pinterest/Facebook moment out of all of them.
- Be your child’s best advocate but not her biggest excuse. She will need you to be in her corner. Especially if she has special needs that teachers, parents, and others do not understand and don’t care to. Stand firmly in that corner and don’t back down. But—don’t become his fall back for not making the effort to stand on his own. You won’t always be there. Walk the tightrope of defending when needed and letting him take his consequences when needed. It’s an art, not a perfect science. You will make mistakes here. When you do, reference tip #4.
- Nothing is a permanent mistake. Remember all those warnings that whatever horrible deeds you did in school would end up in your permanent record? Yeah, exactly true, except not. No misplaced homework paper, no unfinished art project, not even that one time your kid repeated the word your husband said when he missed the final minutes of the Superbowl are going to matter At All when your kid tries to get a job on Wall Street.Yes, we care about teaching our kids to be responsible. We care about helping them to use the minds God gave them to their fullest capacity. We care about making sure they do not live in our basements forever but do get into college and get jobs. But we also care about giving grace. Offering second chances. Not acting like the end of the world hovers over our heads if they color the grass purple and the sun blue. Kids make mistakes. They are not forever. Dispense grace. Liberally.
Nothing is a permanent mistake for you, either. Not the time you forgot to pack the birthday cupcake. Not the time you sent him to school with a 102 fever because you were sure he was faking it. Not even the time you missed the first-grade Mother’s Day program because you couldn’t get out of Home Depot on time. (I have no personal experience in that last one. None. Except that I still have guilt for it. And the kid is twenty-five and married.) You, mom or dad, will make mistakes. Reference #3. Dispense grace to yourself. It is not forever. It will not be on your permanent record unless you put it there. Don’t.
- Remember the big picture. Life is not about perfect papers or team sports or science fair projects that get your kid in the newspaper. It’s about doing what God has for you to do and being what God has for you to be. For both you and your child. Step back. Breathe. Drop activities that make you crazy. Your kid isn’t going to the big leagues or the Olympics. Take the time to enjoy one another now and grow in God. Don’t sacrifice those things for the things that will not matter in the end. Make the time to put them first.
We took our kids on a mission trip during school. The world did not end, and they did not fail first/fifth/sixth grade. I took my daughter out of school for a zoo trip on her birthday. No one turned us in to DFS. (Sh did, however, get food poisoning from the zoo cafeteria.) Sometimes, the big picture memories are far more important than the daily urgent. Remember the big picture. Step back. Breathe. Trust me on this one. Earth will remain in orbit.
So there you are. Your five back-to-school tips from one who is finished going back to school.