Mornings Like This: An Ode to Back-to-School

Gone are the arguments of summer, keeping my kids engaged while they roll their eyes past the day's offerings. It's up to someone else to offer them great opportunities, ones they can't refuse.
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Well, it happened. My daughter is in high school. My son in middle school. Both as of this morning. It was pretty much the way I pictured it.

I woke at 6:30. I've been trying to catch up on sleep all summer so the awakening was indeed rude. But I had butterflies in my stomach because after months of mothering deliberate sloth, I had purpose again. As I filled the teapot, reached for the eggs and toast and perfectly ripe plums, I felt energized at the prospects of their days ahead. The hallowed halls of education. I'd fill their bellies, sign those forms, plan those early dinners on game nights, get back to the chore chart...and with it would come organization. Daily laundry instead of Mt. St. Laundry. I'd make my bed. I'd go to the gym. I'd get back to my old writing schedule.

As I reintroduced myself to mayonnaise and deli meat at the crack of dawn, I thought "Gone are the arguments of summer -- engaging them and keeping them engaged while they roll their eyes past the day's offerings: huckleberry picking, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, reading "James and the Giant Peach" and "My Antonia" and hanging in hammocks. Someone else will make them read the classics now. Someone else will offer them fantastic opportunities -- ones which they can't refuse."

But still, it's sad. I love being around my kids. It's why I cut them so much slack. They're kind and conscious and curious, and I find them doing things like writing thank you notes and playing Monopoly together without me having anything to do with it. So I sadly made those sandwiches and packed them into brand new lunchboxes. Especially since in just four years, I'll be packing lunch for one. And in four more years, for none.

I tried not to think of that as I went up to wake them, the shower already on, the light glowing under the bathroom door. I guess I won't be gently stroking my daughter's hair, waking her into the world I've been preparing her for: the perils and joys of high school. I guess we won't start this together. She's already well into it. I can smell the conditioner. It smells like melon. Like teenage girls.

I know not to bother her. I'll switch to present tense for dramatic purposes.

I take a breath and enter my son's room. Take courage from the Legos that engrave my feet. Childhood is alive in this room, though it smells like protein and a dirty aquarium. I stroke his head. He sits up fast. "You made me wash my hair last night and now it's poofy." He flops back down. "I was supposed to get a haircut. You can't have long hair in middle school. They'll probably kick me out the first day. And I don't have any shorts that fit. And I'm not wearing those pants you bought me until at least October."

I put my hand on his forehead and run it down his hair, which really is poofy. "Why don't you wet a brush and brush it down."

"And put on a hat. That'll work." He smiles and says, "Give me a kiss."

I feel the roller coaster flattening; respite before the big climb and the drop.

Downstairs, the kettle is screaming. I put the food out. There are sunflowers from the garden on the table. Place mats. It's the way a table should look for two kids about to embark on taking life seriously again after a summer of lolly-gagging.

Then it begins:

"I popped the button on my shorts and the other ones don't fit!"

"Mom, we have school pictures today and I can't find the form! What did you do with it?"

I breathe and go to the stairs. "I folded three pairs of shorts and put them in your drawer just last week."

"Yeah, well I'm not wearing those shorts. They're queer. The only pair I like doesn't have a button. Can you sew it?"

Of course I can't find a button. Or a needle. Or thread.

"Mom, I need the form! What did you do with it?"

"I've never seen any form. That's your responsibility. You're in high school now. I'm sure we can get one at the office."

Her face implodes and extricates mad tears. "You can't come into the school! Just give me a signed blank check."

I explain to her why that's a really bad idea. "I'll come in after you're in class. None of your friends will see me."

She looks at my outfit. I'm taking a walk after and I'm in leggings and a fleece and a big flannel shirt and running shoes, because it's 49 degrees on August 30th this year in Montana. "You can't come into the high school wearing that!"

I breathe and walk downstairs, muttering profanities. Two seconds ago I could do no wrong. Two seconds ago they were racing across the playground to leap into my arms.

He finds a pair of shorts. She finds the form. I drink my tea.

They spend the seven mile drive accusing me that they're going to be late and it's all because I made them eggs instead of cereal. I breathe and get each of them there ten minutes early. I get two swift kisses. Two slammed doors.

And I weep as I walk the bike path. Knowing that this is what it is to be a mother to kids this age. Knowing that I will even miss mornings like this.