It was a big first day of school for my three kids this year–kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade. Three different schools, three different start times. I thought I’d gotten up early enough, but I definitely did not. That morning, as I’ll bet you can all relate to, was a chaotic free-for-all. I was trying to convince everyone to eat breakfast, making lunches, applying sunscreen, checking everyone had brushed their teeth, and then making sure everyone got out the door in time for their school start time.
It felt a little bit miraculous that my daughter and I managed to get into the car on time for the short drive to the elementary school As we climbed out and started walking the few blocks to her kindergarten classroom, I was already starting to congratulate myself on getting it all done.
But as the sidewalk started to fill with other new students and their parents, my daughter slowed down. The morning had been so chaotic that it wasn’t until she saw her fellow students (and how big some of them were) that it hit her for the first time what was really happening. “No, I don’t want to go,” she told me. Still walking along the sidewalk with her little hand in mine, I said lightly, “Oh, let’s go check it out. It’s right there.” She slowed down even more and repeated, “No, I don’t want to go!” in a firmer tone. I squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m right here. I’ll stay until you’re feeling settled.”
Despite my calm words, my heart was sinking. My little girl had loved preschool from Day One and run ahead of me to get to the door and see her teachers and friends, even on the first day. She’d always been outgoing and extroverted in every walk of life, from plopping down in the laps of random other mothers in music class to approaching new kids on the playground. Amid the hustle and bustle of the morning, I hadn’t anticipated this day being any different. I’d been so focused on brushing her hair, getting her dressed in her special rainbow dress and packing her backpack that I’d forgotten to ask how she was feeling about this big change.
Despite her reluctance, she kept walking with me. We reached the outside door of the classroom, and then I realized that because of Covid restrictions, I wouldn’t be able to go in with her and help her find her desk and make sure she was settled before I left, as I had just promised her. She hung her backpack on a hook and clung to my leg for a minute before walking ever so slowly inside the classroom and toward the desks clustered at the far side. Instead of finding her name and sitting down as the other children were doing, she just stood there, looking uncomfortable. I realized the desk must be labeled with her full name (Catherine) rather than her nickname (Kate), which was the name she was looking for. She looked so lost and uncertain.
Watching her, I could feel myself transform into what my husband calls Mama Bear. Frankly, I’ve never liked that image. As much as I respect Mama of Berenstain Bears fame, I’m not really trying to look or act like a bear. Mam Bear, however, might have been an apt description for that morning. It took all I had not to charge into that room, knock everybody else of out the way, find her desk and guide her to it, possibly remaining behind her uttering the occasional protective growl.
Even as I hovered anxiously at the door, I felt surprised by my own reaction. I mean, I’m an experienced parent! This is my third go-round with the first day of kindergarten. Yet I was one of the last ones left outside the classroom that day. Before walking away, I moved from the door over to the window on the other side of the classroom just to make sure she had finally found her place to sit down. Eventually, with the help of her teacher, she did. And as she and her new classmates gathered on the floor for checkin, I peeled myself away from the window and walked back through the now-empty campus to my car, worrying all the way.
New is hard. I felt a little bit of her pain as I returned home to an empty house, something that has been an incredible rarity since the start of this pandemic. I was unsure whether to celebrate or to cry. I have lots of work piled up for this fall, writing, editing, volunteering, MOPS coordinator stuff, and I realized part of me wanted to hold on to the summer and not get down to the work stuff. I’m doing final edits on a new book, and the thought of sending it out into the world is more than a little scary. In many ways it would be so much easier to just continue as I was in the summer bubble.
Of course, God doesn’t really let us stand still. There’s a reason the Christian life is referred to as a journey rather than a pause. While there is of course value in being still, I don’t believe God lets us stay that way for too long.
For me, since I became a mom anyway, the fall season has always been a time for movement: a time to refocus my work priorities, to get serious, to get down to tasks I’ve been putting off. In other words, a new beginning, with all the excitement and nervousness those tend to contain. Just like my daughter’s first day at kindergarten. And one thing I’ve learned about new beginnings is that the things that scare us the most tend to be the most rewarding. They are certainly the most exciting.
Maybe you’re figuring out what to do this fall with your kids finally in school again. Maybe you’re figuring out how to get anything done at all with your kids still at home. Maybe you’re ready for a new beginning or maybe you’re afraid of anything changing in a world where everything seems to change way too much. Wherever you are, I hope you feel a strong sense of God’s purpose this fall. I hope you find the courage and the strength to begin or to step more fully into something you’ve wanted or felt called to do. And I hope you let me know how it’s all going.
As for Kate, guess what she said to me when I picked her up the afternoon of her first day? “It was the best day ever!”
Beautifully said, Julia. Takes me back to September of 1973 when we took our older son to Kindergarten. Even though he had attended a nearby Methodist preschool, there was something about Kindergarten at Central Elementary that seemed downright daunting. I still remember hearing the steel door close behind us as we walked away, leaving our son to the mercy of the public school establishment. I almost felt that we were abandoning him. ¶ That night at dinner, Chad said: “When you left me at school today I felt lonely in my heart.”
Lonely in his heart! I love that you remember his exact words! I try to write those special ones down in a book so I will remember the exact phrasing they use. The other day Kate told me she was perplexed in her head. 🙂