This summer was an epic one. We had gorgeous New England weather, with many brilliant beach days and endless time together outside. We closed it out with a week of fun adventures as a family at our cabin in Maine hiking and swimming. As the summer wound down, we recently reflected on funny stories from the kids baby and toddler years. We found ourselves talking about Market Basket, which has been a hot news topic all summer long. I have shopped there since moving to the North Shore almost twelve years ago. I recounted a story where I once left approximately $150 worth of groceries in my cart because my oldest child had come apart at the seams, screaming and thrashing so loudly that there was no chance I would be able to successfully complete my shopping. She was probably two, at a time when negotiating with her was totally out of the question. The story stands out vividly in my mind like it happened yesterday, among a long string of other fiascos that I endured in the early years.
That once-toddler went off to 6th grade on Wednesday, sporting a cute pink sundress with matching earrings. I think I even saw evidence of some lip gloss. My husband and I walked home from the bus stop after she and her now 4th and 2nd grade siblings had hopped on the bus. He promptly drove off to work. I walked into a home filled with breakfast dishes still not totally put away, two loads of laundry awaiting my attention, and a deafening silence.
Sending my kids back to school has always felt like they are being ripped away from me. I don’t easily readjust to the routine that comes with schoolwork, curfews, and sports practices. I’m very happy in my summer cocoon, removed from the scene about town, so as soon as I felt the silence of Wednesday I felt the ache.
By noon on Wednesday I was picking my 4th grade son up at school with a fever and what seemed like the flu, While I felt terrible he was down for the count, I secretly embraced the fact that I would have some more precious time with him. I’ve spent the last two days holding him, making him smoothies, and just hanging out together while he heals. By Monday, we’ll be back on track into our normal school routine.
Nobody talks much about the silence and the loneliness that fills many of us as our children transition to full-time school. Instead they talk about the abundance of free time, as if suddenly your calendar is cleared of all obligations. You start running into people who are aware of your supposed new-found freedom and they inquisitively ask, “So, what are you going to do with yourself now?”, sometimes in tone that insinuates the stay at home gig is up, and perhaps you should really make something of your time.
It’s a big transition, and while we want our children to excel and grow, what remains behind are feelings of loss and longing for times that once seemed like they would never end yet now have slipped away for good. When your kids leave for full-time school, it’s no different from being part of a company restructuring process. In this case, Mom & Co, is establishing new hours and scaled back responsibilities during the day, but often an increase in hands-on work after school. What some outsiders quickly forget is that there is still a tremendous amount of “behind the scenes” work that goes into keeping a household afloat. After eleven years at my gig, I can proudly and confidently say that I work a more-than-full-time job, even as my daytime hours are opening up.
My best advice is that you take the time to celebrate reaching this milestone while also regrouping emotionally. Once a few weeks go by, you may find yourself enjoying that extra free time. Don’t feel guilty for one second! Think back on the early days when you couldn’t shower, or you changed 3 blow-out diapers in 3 hours, or you spent the afternoon in the ER getting your preschooler stitched up. You’ve done the time, so if you can, enjoy coasting on cruise control for a bit as you consider what is next.
Make no mistake: The nature of your role will change, but they will always need you. You’ll find your way, and whether you transition back to full-time, part-time work or decide to stay at home, one thing will remain true: even though you’re the one feeling left behind, no matter how many years go by, a piece of you will always be with them.
This was confirmed by the cashier at CVS the other day who told me her kids are now 31 and 29. “Ooh,” I said, in a sympathetic voice, certain she must be sad that they have grown up and flown the nest, She shook her head, as if to stop me, and said, “No, it just gets better. Being a mother changes over the years, but it’s awesome forever!”