August 31st, 2011

And Back Again

You would think this would get old, but it doesn’t. Because it keeps changing.

At the start of each new school year, I worry, in varying degrees, about curricula, schedules, chores, time management, reading skills, math facts, socialization, sports, faith formation, state requirements, and educational philosophies.

But my biggest challenge this year is none of those.

Today, I dropped off my oldest daughter at the local public high school. Where she will be taking American Literature this semester. A first for us.

“Are you sure you know the way to the classroom?” I asked one last anxious time as we pulled up to the school.

“Up the stairs and to the right,” she rolled her eyes. But it was a gentle eye rolling. One that seemed to recognize an air of tender feelings and mercifully danced around them.

“So … you can call me if you need anything …” I stopped myself.

She was standing beside the car now, looking back at me with one eyebrow raised in amusement.

She wouldn’t be needing anything.

I watched her walk away — backpack slung over her shoulder and hair blowing in the wind — and she entered the school without turning back.

Of course she didn’t turn back.

I blinked back tears as I drove away. Stupid kindergarten tears. The ones most moms get out of the way the first time they wave goodbye to a 5-year-old at a bus stop in September.

But some of us save up those tears instead. We hold onto them for years and then spill them when our kids are 16. We cry then, not so much because of the letting go — though of course because of the letting go — but because we are hopeful for our kids’ futures and proud of what we’ve learned so far together. Only a little bit of it from books.

From the first moments of parenthood, we hold on. Our eyes meet and we lock on. Instinctively. It’s a painful struggle to establish a firm grip on ourselves, our children, and our family lives. Once we think we have it, we hold on with all our might.

Almost as immediately, though, life pulls back on our white-knuckled fingers. One small bit at a time, it loosens our hold on what we think is control. What we don’t pause often enough to appreciate, however, is that it’s an illusion we hold on to. So tightly sometimes it hurts.

The tears are stupid. But I will spill them anyway.

When I pulled into the driveway at home, my seven other children greeted me at the door with an assortment of wants and needs ranging from transportation to youth group to computer privileges to missing laundry items to scheduling parent meetings for the golf team.

I was all done crying now. And back again.

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