This may be the very first year of “back-to-school” in which I am not dancing the bus stop jig (see “The Jig Is Up, “circa 2010.)
This is partially because, after 12 straight years of having elementary school aged children who took the school bus to school, I now have only middle and high schoolers. My two middle schoolers walk to school; the high school senior is now so cool he’s getting a ride with a friend with a car.
But it’s more than just not having a reason to toddle down the hill to the bus stop each morning. My lack of desire to kick my heels up because my kids are (finally) back in school comes from the experience of having older kids at home this summer, kids who really made themselves scarce (and the youngest one was completely gone – at camp – for a month.)
The day camp my kids attended (and worked at) earlier in the summer was walking distance from our house. So they didn’t need me to drive. They got themselves up, got themselves to camp, and got themselves home. They made their own lunches, ate breakfast on their own, and were basically self-sufficient.
And when my youngest took off for a full month at sleep away camp, the quiet time really began.
It started to get really weird when my husband and I bought new patio furniture (to replace the decades-old white PVC plastic stuff we had never gotten around to replacing.) We spent a long time deciding what sized table to get – we’re a family of five, but we like to have friends over. We thought the big question was: when is it irrelevant that you have patio furniture because you never want to go outside and face the mosquitoes?
Silly us. The real question was table size. We decided to buy the smaller table, and I am glad we did. Because for most of the month that my youngest son was away, my husband and I were out on our beautiful new flagstone patio – alone. It was as if we had pushed a fast forward button, moved ahead seven years and were suddenly, and rudely, empty nesters.
But we weren’t. It was simply a case of having older children who didn’t need us quite so much when school was out and the lure of the summer lull was too hard to ignore. Our kids were usually off with friends, hanging out on the block, or in the park, and we didn’t feel compelled to call them in for dinner.
Up until recently I was always the first parent to find an excuse to leave my kids in the dust for an evening. Girls night out? I’m there. Work event? Gotta go. I liked having reasons to occasionally get away from the nightly drudgery of dinner prep, homework, sports and bedtime.
But this year, I have been counting the minutes until all of that starts up again. I have been longing to be needed, to have a child who needs a ride, help with a math problem, a new pair of cleats. I have been chomping at the bit to regain my role as the central person in their lives who, even if I stand on the sidelines while they roll out their independent selves bit by bit, is cheering them on.
This week, as school started and lunches needed to be packed and forms needed to be signed and supplies needed to be obtained and carpools needed to be formed, I actually sighed a sigh of relief.
Yes, it’s going to be a crazy busy fall. Yes, we literally have no free weekend, save one, before winter break. Yes, I will need to once again center in on my finely-honed skill of learning how to be in two places at the same time. And yes, it’s all a bit breathtaking and overwhelming.
But as the countdown to my high school senior’s tenure at home begins, and my middle child tackles her last year of middle school, and my youngest starts his upper school journey, I am keenly aware of the ephemerality of it all.
Soon enough, we will be launching child #1, and then child #2, and ultimately, child #3. We are already on the downslide of the child rearing arc, and we will be empty nesters, sooner rather than later.
So this year, instead of the bus stop jig, I am doing a slow waltz, dancing around the corners of my house, happy to be needed for a little while longer, basking in the glow of the computer screens with homework on them, and grateful for the opportunity to be torn in too many directions at once.
Photo by sidereal via Flickr