Dear Mamas, You’ve Got This
It’s that time of year again — the time when summer days begin to shorten, summer nights require a sweater, and back to school sales fill the stores.
But, this year, everything feels completely different.
This year, mothers everywhere are facing the beginning of the school year with a growing sense of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.
I know I am.
Each day I wake up still uncertain about the back to school plan. Each day finds me second guessing my family’s decision to allow our sons to return to school in a hybrid model versus a fully remote option. Each day finds the dread and sadness building in me. Each day finds the lightness of summer fading.
This is not how this was supposed to go.
Right now, my head is filled with a million racing thoughts:
- How can I help my children learn remotely this year?
- What is the best physical space for them?
- How are they going to stay engaged all day?
- How can I make sure they learn something?
- How are they going to feel emotionally with this new school plan?
- How can I balance their schooling and all of the other things I have to do?
- How can I possibly do everything that is required of me.
- What if I fail at this?
- What if I can’t do this?
- Are they going to be ok?
- Am I going to be ok?
What is being asked of us as mothers right now is almost impossible to understand and has created one of the most pressure-filled moments of motherhood I can remember.
I am overwhelmed and sad that this is our reality.
But, I am trying desperately to hold two key thoughts close to my heart. These thoughts have become mantras for me lately and are what I say to myself when the anxiety gets too loud:
This is not forever. This is not our new long-term normal. This will not define our children and it will not define us as mothers.
We are not in this alone. There are lots of other mothers out there facing similar struggles.
We need to lean on each other. We need to commit to calling, texting, and FaceTiming each other regularly to give each other space to vent, complain, and cry and to build each other up.
This will be hard. There is no doubt about it. There will be days when we cry, days when we scream into pillows, and days when we just can’t get motivated.
There will also be days where it feels not quite as impossible. There will be days where the smiles outnumber the frustrated sighs.
It will be ok.
We will get to the other side of this challenging time.
This time in our lives will serve to remind us that there are so many things outside of our control, that the uncomfortable and hard times are always temporary, and that we are not alone.
Right now, mamas, we need to breathe in and breathe out, taking this challenge before us one single day at a time while cutting ourselves an amazing sense of grace.
You’ve got this, Mama, and we’ve all got each other.
I’ve been here before.
This space between elementary school and middle school is familiar to me for I have walked this road before with my oldest son. This road is a place where childhood really starts to feel finite and the pull of adolescence finds its way into our lives. It’s a short road but one that feels endless at times and is often uncomfortable and scary.
Originally published on Her View From Home. Click HERE to view full article.
The elementary school drop off line is quite possibly Hell on Earth. It is here that we see the worst of our society. In this line, rules don’t matter. It is every mom or dad for themselves. Every morning in the drop off line is like a trip to a casino; except this casino doesn’t come with a fancy hotel room, free cocktails, or lavish shows. Nevertheless, just like at a casino, I get to try my luck at being a winner and I never know what I’m going to get. As I pull down the school street each morning, I brace myself for the unknown. What will the other parents do this morning?
Will I get lucky and sail to the front of the line where my well trained 10 year old can tuck and roll out of the car, shouting “I love you!” over his shoulder as he maneuvers himself masterfully out of my almost still moving car?
Will I get stuck backed up onto the main street where I silently (and sometimes not so silently) curse the parents in front of me who choose to blatantly ignore every rule that has ever existed in the drop off line?
Will the parents in the cars in front of me actually pay attention to the school and police staff members waving them forward and pull all the way up to the front of the line?
Will they pull their car up to the middle of the line, get out and start walking into the school, ignoring the directions shouted to them by the teachers and police officer to get back into their vehicle and park in the parking lot? (By the way, I feel pity for those poor teachers and police officers each morning. What a dreadful way to start their day.)
Will they instruct their child to unbuckle their seat belt and gather their belongings while their car glides to a stop at the front of the line, making for an almost imperceptible stop of their vehicle?
Will they pull their car into the line, put it into park, and slowly get out of the driver’s seat, meandering around to the passenger’s side to help their cherubs out of the car? And will those little angels move with the slow oozing pace of a young child who has to “do it myself!!”?
Will they respectfully and without any deviation follow all of the drop off line rules that have been repeatedly posted on social media, sent home with children and plastered in front of the school building?
Will they pull up to the curb and then take 5 minutes reviewing homework slips, giving big hugs and kisses to their child, and getting engrossed at the open passenger side door in a lengthy conversation about after-school plans?
Will they complete the early morning drop off of their child without any incident?
Will they stop their car self-righteously in front of the main entrance, blocking the crosswalk from the parking lot and cause traffic to back out onto the main road, inevitably making many of us late for work?
The madness of the carpool drop off line is enough to drive any parent crazy, especially if you are like me and have a carefully choreographed morning that allows you to pull into work *just* in time after dropping your child off at school. But what happens when we allow this maddening free-for-all to dictate our morning? Does it mean that we then find ourselves short tempered for the rest of the morning? Do we carry that stress with us into our work or into the rest of our day with our children? How can we take away the power that damn line has over us?
I found myself pondering these very questions the other day when the mom in front of me stopped right in front of the main entrance and then opened every single door of the car to help children climb out — front seat, both back seats AND the rear hatch. Each child got an individual hug and kiss, a check of their backpack and lunchboxes, and time for some exchange of words that made each child smile. The eye rolls from the other parents stuck behind them were almost audible and the mom could not have cared less about the directions being yelled at her by the school staff.
While this display only held me up by about 3 minutes, I felt it physically in my body. My face turned red, my hands clenched the steering wheel tighter, and I began adding up all the extra time that was now being tacked on to my commute to work. It set off that familiar anxious chatter in my brain of all the things that could now go wrong. Now I would be stuck behind the school bus picking up kids in the next town and then I would be stuck for at least 3 light cycles at that big intersection near my work. I would not have much time to get myself prepared for my first patient and would have to wait to send that important email to my students.
When I of course got stuck behind that school bus, I started to realize how silly it was to let that one mom’s goodbye to her children ruin my day. My day had only just begun. I still had hours and hours ahead of me. So what if I was a few minutes late for work? The world wouldn’t end and, truthfully, if my schedule is really that tight then I should make sure I leave the house early enough to be the first parent in that line.
As I followed the bus down the main road, stopping every few houses to let on another child, I wondered if there was a way to re-frame the way I experience the drop off line. Rather than allowing myself to feel anger and frustration towards the parents who are breaking the rules, would it be possible to try to find a way to feel empathy for them? Perhaps something in their lives is so stressful, so painful, so exhausting that they simply don’t have the mental or physical energy to follow the drop off line rules. Maybe it’s all they can do to get themselves and their kids out the door on time. Maybe that mom really needed all that extra time with her kids that morning.
Maybe in the grand scheme of life it doesn’t really matter that much. These days where we get to roll the dice every morning with the drop off line are going to be over soon. Soon our kids will be choosing to walk with their friends, ride their bike, or take the bus to school instead of sitting with us in that drop off line. Eventually, some day sooner than we’d like to admit, they will be driving themselves. Not too soon after that, they won’t even be living in our house anymore. Maybe these extra few minutes with them each morning are really a gift. Maybe we are winning after all.
A little over one year ago I wrote about The Bridge between childhood and adolescence. Back then, I found myself somewhere in the middle of that bridge, longingly looking back towards the childhood side yet hopeful as I moved apprehensively towards the adolescence side.
Well, it appears my bridge was an express bridge.
Here I am; on the other side.
You know what's here? Cell phones, mustaches, adam's apples, deep booming voices, attitudes, challenges to limits, and boys who suddenly stand at eye level to me.
You know what else is here?
Meaningful conversations, random tight hugs, trust, and young men who are mostly kind and learn from their mistakes. Surprisingly, it's sort of nice over here; albeit a bit smelly and messy. On this side of the bridge, I am the parent of a young man, not a young boy, and I get to start taking a step back to let him take some risks on his own.
One of the first big events on this side of the bridge happened today: the first day of middle school. Or, as my son's new principal told the parents last week, Day 1 of the 540 school days of his middle school career.
In some areas of our life, 540 seems like a lot.
But, when we are talking about time in middle school, 540 days is nothing. It's half the length of time he spent from Kindergarten through 5th grade (1080 school days for math dorks like myself). That period of time went by in the blink of an eye. Surely these next 540 days are going to fly by even quicker!
So, how do we, as new middle school parents, survive these next 540 days?
Well, I know how I spent the days leading up to Day 1 - letting the middle school version of me find her way to the surface. I color coded binders, folders and schedules, circled rooms on maps, plotted out the best way to organize his backpack, role played some scenarios, and had a nightmare that I was him and I couldn't find my math class on Day 1. I just wanted his middle school experience to not be awful like my own.
But, then I stopped myself. (Because, seriously, a nightmare??)
Adolescence is messy and painful. It's supposed to be awkward. It's supposed to be emotional. It's supposed to be challenging. Some days are supposed to feel awful. And, aren't middle school and adolescence synonymous?
Like most challenging, uncomfortable and unpleasant things in life, when we look back on them later, we can see the good they brought to our lives. They are the catalytic events and change agents that shape our lives. Although I would never want to relive my own 540 days, I do see how they helped to shape me into who I am today. I see how some of the people I still care deeply for today are friends I made during those 540 days. I can see that in those 540 days were where many of my interests were born. My 540 days were certainly not filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies, but maybe I should be thankful that they weren't.
As my middle schooler hugged me goodbye today, I tried to tell the middle school version of myself to settle down. I know many of his 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons and uncomfortable moments. I know there will be lots of times where he feels just as I did during my 540 days. His 540 days will not be filled with unicorns and rainbows and butterflies.
So, how am I going to navigate my own 540 day journey as a parent? I am going to realize that in many ways the parental journey of 540 days mirrors the student's journey. These 540 days will be challenging for me as a parent. If adolescence is awkward and painful, so to is parenting an adolescent. For parents, many of our 540 days will be filled with some tough decisions, hurt feelings, hard lessons and uncomfortable moments too.
It has been suggested that the most influential people in a teen's life are not his teachers, coaches, parents or professional athletes. It turns out that for many teens, their peers are the most influential presence. Middle schoolers need each other. I suspect that this holds true for middle school parents as well. Parents need other parents.
My plan for surviving the next 540 school days is simple: lean on my peers, be kind when mistakes are made, learn lessons where they can be learned and remember that this time is going to fly by. While I am not in any rush, I look forward to seeing who we all are on Day 540.
Only 539 more days to go...
How did we get here?
Weren't we just filling out beginning of the school year forms, buying and labeling folders and school supplies, picking out first day of school outfits and gleefully sending our kids off to a new school year?
Now here we are, thickly in the midst of end of the school year activities. Concerts. Plays. Performances. Field Days. Graduations. Field Trips. Summer camp registrations.
This year is different, though. This year is my oldest baby's last year of elementary school. As this school year comes to an end, this chapter in his life is closing.
I thought the only way I would make it to this point would be by someone dragging me unwillingly as I clung desperately to the thought of my baby staying in elementary school. Just 9 months ago I watched him get on the bus for his first day of 5th grade and I couldn't believe middle school was coming. This point in time seemed so far away then. It was completely on the other side of The Bridge. But now, when I send him off to school each day, I think "He's totally outgrown elementary school." He's ready. His friends are ready. I'm ready.
Or so I thought,
Last week he took the stage in his final elementary school talent show in a group number with over 40 of his 5th grade classmates. When at the end of the performance, the students grouped themselves together so that their shirts spelled out "THESE WERE THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES." I let out an audible gasp and then cried for the first time about him leaving elementary school.
It hit me in that moment - not only were these the best years of his life (so far), they also have been the most influential. It was there, in classrooms, recess playgrounds, cafeterias and hallways that he learned how to build solid friendships, how to be himself, how to learn, how to play, how to manage independence, how to ask for help and how to give help. It was here that he transitioned from a short, squishy, shy, self-conscious 6 year old to the tall, athletic, outgoing and confident 11 year old he is today.
As I tried to see through my tear-filled eyes, I looked around the stage at our 5th graders and then at some of my fellow 5th grade parents. From here on out, we start letting them go a bit more and trusting that the foundation they built during their elementary school years is strong enough for them...for us.
Recently my Timehop showed me a picture of my current 5th grader as a 5 year old, preparing to transition into kindergarten. We were at a "Touch a Truck" event and he had excitedly climbed onto a big yellow school bus with me. There on my Timehop was a photo of me and my baby, peering out the school bus window, both of us filled with excitement about the years to come in elementary school. If I could go back in time and interview that version of us, I don't think either of us really had any idea what the elementary school years would bring us - moments of pure joy, fear, laughter, sadness, new friendships born, old friendship broken and mended and immense amounts of growth.
These years of elementary school weren't always easy.
But, you know what?
They truly have been the best years of our lives.
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