It's that time of year again! The sun is setting a little earlier each day and the night air is beginning to cool. Sleeping with the windows open is becoming much more pleasant. Television series are returning to our screens. Football teams are gearing up for the season. Pumpkin flavored beer, muffins and coffee are returning to menus and shelves. But, perhaps most importantly (or at least tied with the pumpkin flavored things and football), schools are back in session. During this time of year, parents everywhere are exchanging looks equal parts relieved and overwhelmed.
Last week my family and I dashed to the bus stop, the very last ones in the neighborhood to arrive to the corner for the first day of school. Despite laying out outfits the night before, having all required paperwork signed and packed neatly in backpacks, lunches prepped, schedules reviewed and everything in order, the last 15 minutes before we left for the bus stop turned into a panicked frenzy, the likes of which are often captured in sitcoms. Tied shoes suddenly became untied. Water bottles began leaking. Dogs refused to come inside. Keys were nowhere to be found. It was chaos and madness. We rushed out of our house, 5 minutes late, quickly snapped our obligatory first day of school photos in front of our house and then headed down the street in two cars so that my husband and I could scurry to work as soon as the bus left. I'm fairly certain a cartoon-like cloud of dust surrounded us as the four of us pretty much fell out of the car and crossed the street to the bus stop, me with my lint brush in tow as I had, of course, forgotten, about the dog hair all over my black pants. In case there was any doubt, our family is a disaster in the morning and the first day of school was no exception.
As the neighborhood kids lined up for the annual bus stop photo, I was slapped in the face by reality. My oldest was THE oldest at the bus stop. He wasn't just the oldest by age or grade, he towered above the other kids and looked completely out of place. He looked like he already belonged in middle school and was lined up at the wrong bus stop. It was in that moment, as I looked around, that I realized my neighborhood bus stop has become a microcosm of childhood. It is as if every single phase of childhood is now reflected in our bus stop. Factoring in siblings, our bus stop ranges from newborn to toddler to preschooler to kindergarten and then all the way through 5th grade. It's like looking at my family's life in slow motion.
There is the newborn baby who everyone hovers over and asks the same questions about; the toddler playing in dirt and eager to dart into the traffic; the preschooler with a million questions and comments about the world; the pre-kindergartner who desperately wants to be getting on that bus this year; the kindergartner dressed in his very best khaki shorts and polo shirt who is about to the ride the "big bus" for the very first time; the first grader who feels so much more confident this year than last year and can't believe they cried their first day a year ago; the second grader who boards the bus with secure confidence - they've got this; the third grader who is now just about half way through their elementary school experience and is feeling great; the fourth grader who gets to sit near the back of the bus and now begs to wear Under Armour shirts and basketball shorts on the first day of school; and the fifth grader who is beginning to feel out of place and ready to move on. They are all there - every single stage of childhood.
But, the bus stop isn't just a snapshot of each stage of childhood, it's also a cross section of parenthood. There is the single parent managing it all on their own; the work from home parent who can only be away from her computer for so long before her boss gets mad; the parents who work opposing schedules and are handing off child care responsibilities in the morning; the stay at home parents who are somewhat grateful for one less child to entertain that day and the new-to-the-neighborhood parents who don't know anyone. They are all there too!
If I were to hit "pause" in that moment, I could see myself, my husband and our children reflected in almost every family and every child. We've been there. We remember the sleepless nights, the non-stop chasing of the toddlers, the expert way a 3 year old can make their body go limp when a parent tries to pick them up, the blood curdling screams that a 4 year old can make during a tantrum, the nervous fear of a shy 5 year old getting on the bus for the first time, the battles over independence that happen when children begin choosing their own outfits for school. We've lived those moments. Looking back on each of those stages, I remember feeling as though those moments, those really hard moments, lasted forever. They dragged by slowly. Yet, standing at that bus stop last week, I remembered that someone recently told me "the days go by so slowly but the years go by too fast." Yes! In each of those challenging moments, the moments where our inner dialogue sounded something like "I suck at this" or "I'm the worst parent" or "I can't do this anymore" or "What am I doing wrong?" time felt like it was moving too slowly. Yet, there I stood, with my 5th and 2nd graders, thinking that all of those years had flown by too fast. Where did the time go?
As I drove to work just a few minutes later, I reflected on our morning - from the chaos of getting out of the house to the few minutes at the bus stop with everyone else. Perhaps on some level my family wasn't ready to officially say goodbye to what had been one of our best summers. Perhaps we were nervous about what this school year would bring. Perhaps I wasn't the only one who had come to realize that this morning would be our last "first day" all together at a bus stop. Next year my oldest will be off to middle school and my boys won't ride the bus together again until my oldest's final year of high school - 7 years from now.
Maybe we were trying to force time to slow down a little bit. Maybe we all were feeling a bit like the years are moving by too fast.
In just a few days fall sports officially kick off, homework assignments will start to be sent home in my children's folders, my teaching semester begins, and the leaves will prepare to change from green to the colors of fall. In the blink of an eye, winter will be upon us and 2016 will soon be behind us. Before we know it, we'll all be standing back at the very same bus stop, this time on the last day of school and, once again, it will sink in that the years are moving too fast.
While I haven't figured out how to make time slow down or how to really live in the moment, I know I need to try to focus more on the here and now. I need to appreciate the small stuff. I want to find a way to enjoy the chaos of our morning routine and pause for just a beat each day before my kids transition into their school day to be thankful for these moments. Even when the moments are crazy, test every ounce of my patience and make me feel unhinged, they are still my moments and these crazy moments that fill so many of our days as parents will soon be gone. One morning we will wake up and no longer need to go to that bus stop at the corner. One day, sooner than we think, the bus stop will no longer be our bus stop.
"Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." - Omar Khayyam
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