My social media feed has been full of back to school pictures for several weeks - and whether we have kids in school or not - there is a unique feeling of new beginnings in September that Carol Kuykendall reminds us of in her insight on celebrating this season.
September's New Beginnings
By Carol Kuykendall
September has a unique personality. It's filled with First Day of School experiences and launching into New Beginnings. My memories have shaped me and created a rhythm I live into every September, even now.
I'm six years old, standing at the end of our driveway on my very First Day of School, waiting for the yellow school bus with my older sister. I'm wearing new shoes and carrying a Big Chief tablet and box of perfect cone-tipped crayons. Everything feels all brand new. I'm excited and a little bit scared. I'm too young to know that today I'm entering a whole new world which will create September's personality for many years to come. Of course, I didn't consider at all how my mom might have felt about this First Day! Also, I couldn't possibly imagine being a mom, walking alongside my own children through their First Day experiences, and how the layers of those launches would become important steps in the process of letting go.
I'm a mom. It's the First Day of elementary school for all three of our children, and I'm looking forward to getting back into a predictable routine with opportunities to do things differently. Preparing all three kids started weeks ago, shopping for new backpacks, lunchboxes and countless other items on the school supply list. Then the nervous anticipation to see the class lists and teacher assignments posted just yesterday, and the resulting drama over being split up from their best friends. I've learned to navigate their disappointment, knowing from my own experiences that the hardest beginnings can turn into the best endings. Before piling into the car, I force them to stop at the front door for the annual pictures that will add to our growing family collection of First Day photos.
"Hurry, mom! We can't be late," I'm told. I recognize the nervous anticipation in their facial expressions. We get there in plenty of time and I watch them go through the doors into new classrooms ... without looking back.
I'm surprised by the lump in my throat as I drive away.
Today is our oldest's First Day in high school. Tonight, we attend an orientation meeting at school for parents and students. Our son walks in with us but sits with his friends as the principal welcomes the crowd. "On this day, as you enter high school," he tells the students, "the date of your graduation is already on our school calendar. This begins an important launching season for you." He continues to talk but I only hear the echo of his last words which clearly makes our son's leaving home a reality. I feel a sudden heart ache. Our family has always functioned as a unit. Five people, each with their own chair at the dinner table. Five people visiting grandparents together. Five people in our impromptu family photos. I cannot imagine one person missing in those pictures. How will he ever be ready to leave? Maybe harder, how will I ever be ready?
This is the First Day I've been dreading for years. I'm the mom of a college freshman. Today we will be saying goodbye and leaving our oldest on a college campus more than 1,000 miles from home. A couple days ago, we loaded the car and the whole family piled in to drive halfway across country together. We've finished unloading his stuff into his dorm room, helped him get organized and I know the moment of goodbye is nearing. I imagined we'd walk out to the car together where we'd have a private moment for a family prayer. Then the four of us would get in the car and drive away. But suddenly, while pulling the comforter across his top bunk, I hear him announce, "It's 2 o'clock! I gotta' be at a meeting right now! Quick goodbye," and so we all gather in a clumsy circle hug and he's gone. Out the door. I stood there numbly; then turned to look out his window to see him turn on the sidewalk, head down, and walk away from us. Alone.
It's one year later and again, our whole family is about to say goodbye to our freshman daughter on another college campus halfway across the country. Even our son, now a different and more seasoned college sophomore, is with us. We've helped our daughter settle into her dorm room which is chaotic with two other roommates doing the same thing. I have the familiar sick-stomach-feeling, knowing the moment of goodbye has come. "Want to walk out to the car with us?" I ask. She nods and off we all go, with awkward small talk. We hug; her father prays and her younger sister starts crying. My son quietly tells me, "Let her walk away. Don't let her watch us drive away." So we do and I watch her slowly walk away. Alone. She turns briefly and waves before disappearing into her dorm. Thankfully she can't see my tears. Slowly we get in the car and drive away. It doesn't feel good, but this time I understand, and it feels right.
It's September again and though I'm beyond launching kids, I'm still drawn into the season's familiar rhythm, with an instinctive desire for New Beginnings. Our children are grown now, with families of their own and launching their kids into new school years. As the ongoing cycle of Septembers continues and a new generation accumulates their own "First Day" experiences, I trust they will learn that every child's launch into a new school year is one more healthy step in the gradual process of their growing up and our letting go. New Beginnings increase our capacity for change and hard beginnings can turn into good endings. And the painful anticipation of change, such as kids leaving home, is worse than the reality. After all, kids need to leave home before they can come back as our friends. That creates another New Beginning.
Carol Kuykendall writes and speaks about all things family: mothering, growing up, getting along, letting go, reshaping. Carol is the author or coauthor of nine books, mostly recently the updated and revised Give Them Wings: Preparing for the Time Your Teen Leaves Home. She is also is a regular contributor to Guideposts. Carol knows the power of stories to shape and connect us. She has taught storytelling and helped launch a storytelling ministry. She lives with her husband, Lynn, in Colorado. Connect at carolkuykendall.com or on Facebook @carolkuykendallauthor or Instagram @carolkuykendall.